Anyone seeking a reminder of the longevity and occasional ridiculousness of the Clinton political dynasty need look no further than Saturday Night Live. Although SNL’s main target for many years was Bill, with his passions for junk food, ladies, and lots of sax, Hillary Clinton has taken center stage during her two presidential campaigns. From early depictions of Hillary as slightly inscrutable shrew to latter-day visions of a wooden yet zealous striver, these ten sketches highlight the best jabs at HRC since Bill was the “first black president.” Given the wild ride of this presidential campaign, it’s no surprise that many of SNL’s best Hillary sketches were created after she announced her run for the presidency in 2015.
10. “Hillary Clinton / I Can’t Make You Love Me” (February 2016)
Also known as: The one where Hillary sings Bonnie Raitt
A terrific sketch that addresses Hillary’s trouble during the Democratic primary, in particular, the millennials who won’t stop mooning about Bernie’s “vibe.” Hillary goes full diva in response, descending from the ceiling on a flowery swing while singing Bonnie Raitt’s mournful ‘90s hit, “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” (The brunching youngsters can neither see nor hear her as they decide it might be even more feminist to vote Bern.) The success of the sketch comes not from tackling the issues in a unique way, but for its grand, lyrical tone and for the free reign it gives Kate McKinnon to shimmy, flounce, and twirl. The real Hillary would never butt-spin across the top of a white piano while kicking her legs into the air, but in this doleful, quasi-dream sequence, McKinnon justifies every pout and quiver. It’s a real shame that it isn’t available to watch online. Maybe the real Hillary Clinton can do something about that if she wins?
9. “Dole / Clinton Cold Open” (May 1993)
Also known as: The one where Clinton fights Bob Dole
It would be a shame not to include the late Jan Hooks, with all the Southern sunniness and occasional savagery she brought to her Clinton impression. Though her Clinton was a distant, stern presence who primarily played backup to Bill (the late, great Phil Hartman), Hooks has fun in this one. After dismissing her husband’s reservations about a health-care bill, she goes toe to toe with a jabbering Bob Dole (Dan Ackroyd) — “I happen to be co-president of the United States,” she says, crawling over the Oval Office’s Resolute Desk — before slap-fighting and bullying Dole until he mutters, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night.” The sketch aired early in Bill Clinton’s tenure, long before his indiscretions dragged Hillary into an unflattering spotlight. Americans were still getting to know Hillary, but it’s nevertheless surprising to hear the crowd cheer when Dole jabs her with lines such as, “Hillary, why don’t you give it a rest?”
8. “3 a.m. Phone Call” (March 2008)
Also known as: The one where Barack needs advice
As constrained and stoic as Hillary may seem, it’s fun to imagine that she has the potential to be petty and a little bit nasty. This 2008 post-primary sketch, which presents an “unfair and deceptive” ad, gives Poehler’s Hillary free reign to fantasize how hapless her rival would fare in the White House. In this dramatization, Obama (Fred Armisen) calls Clinton panicked at 3 a.m., smoking and panicking about everything from keeping a nuclear device out of Iranian hands to relighting the White House furnace. Hillary, clad in curlers and a mud mask, solves all of his problems with patience, grace, and ease. Eventually, the inept and sniveling Obama has to admit, “I am amazed by the range and depth of your experience. I would gladly trade all my superficial charm and rock-star appeal for part of it.” For her part, Hillary endures it all with patience and kindness, hoping voters will contact the DNC to say, “Wait, we’ve changed our minds.”
7. “Hillary Campaign Ad ” (March 2016)
Also known as: The one where Hillary feels the Bern
This ad parody sums up the thorn in Hillary’s side and one of her great weaknesses at the same time: The sketch suggests that she won’t just glom onto whatever ideology gets the most traction, she’ll do so even if it means adopting an idea she’s not particularly fond of. While Bernie made life hard for Hill in the primaries, she looked for ways of appeasing the millennial voters who seemed indifferent or outright hostile to her campaign. “We need a revolution in the streets!” McKinnon’s Hillary exclaims, marking the beginning of what will become a complete transformation into Bernie. By the end of the ad, McKinnon is wearing a full Bernie costume, compete with ring of fluffy white hair, and proclaiming to be the “biggest outsider Jew in the race.” This commercial goes hand in hand with SNL’s Presidential Barbie bit — in which tweens won’t play with the doll just because she’s a woman — but this one features both McKinnon’s Clinton and her shot at a Bernie impression. The tagline is also really well done: “Feel the Bern … for Her.”
6. “Clinton Cold Open” (February 2000)
Also known as: The one where Hillary runs for Senate
Ana Gasteyer’s Hillary slowly morphed from a disapproving, strident ice queen coping with Bill’s bad behavior to something more stiff and cluelessly calculating — though Gasteyer always hinted at something warmly sympathetic right behind the First Lady’s eyes. In this sketch from 2000, back when the real Hillary Clinton ran a Senate campaign against Rudy Giuliani, Gasteyer’s Hillary compares and contrasts what she calls “old Hillary” and “new Hillary.” As Bill (Hammond) inches into the frame, Hillary tells her audience that the old “dykey and threatening” Hillary is being replaced by a “motherly and warm” Hillary, among other unconvincing promises. The last item on her list is the clincher: Where old Hillary was “driven by blind ambition and fueled by rage over her wasted potential and her husband’s chronic skank-pronging,” the new Hillary features “shorter hair.”
5. “Hillary Christmas Cold Open” (December 2015)
Also known as: The one where Hillary meets Hillary
The power of this sketch comes from silliness, sisterhood, and the return of not one but two SNL impressions of the early aughts. McKinnon’s Hillary, preparing for a long winter’s nap (by hopping into bed in her pantsuit, naturally) is visited by a specter from the past: Amy Poehler’s 2008 Hillary. 2015 Hillary spends the next couple of minutes catching 2008 Hillary up on how to say, “Yas, queen!” and who exactly the Republicans nominee for president is. (“Grab onto something to brace yourself because you are going to hit the effing floor.”) There’s stage fog, tittering, mock fighting, hugging, dancing, simultaneous dialogue and Tiny Fey delivering one of Palin’s nonsensical monologues about … America, I guess? As always, Fey’s Palin impression threatens to steal the show, but McKinnon and Poehler play wonderfully together, as when 2008 Hillary warns 2015 Hillary not to get too confident: “I was cocky, too. Then someone named Barack Obama stumbled out of a soup kitchen with a basketball and a cigarette and stole my life.”
4. “Hillary and Bernie Cold Open” (May 2016)
Also known as: The one where Hillary dances with Bernie
The sketch has everything you need from an SNL cold open. First off, it’s got the dynamic duo of this political season: McKinnon as Hillary and Larry David as Bernie Sanders. Its skewers the headlines with smart, barbed writing and it climaxes with an irresistible dance number that bursts from the cloistered confines of the set. The sketch finds Hillary and Bernie dissecting the primary season while using lots of metaphors:
Bernie: “I’ll have a beer. A new brand that people are flocking to. Something refreshing and revolutionary. Something that draws huge crowds.”
Hillary: “And I’ll have whatever beer no one likes, but gets the job done.”
After a tipple, Hillary leads Bernie in a dance duet through the audience (she refuses Bern’s offer to take charge), into the halls of 30 Rock, and past a hapless Bill (ubiquitous SNL impressionist Darrell Hammond). After being surrounded by a flock of dancers in top hats and tails, Hillary twirls Bernie into a closing elevator and begins the show. It’s a treat from start to finish.
3. “Hillary Clinton Bar Talk” (October 2015)
Also known as: The one where Hillary is a bartender
This Trump-hosted SNL episode was an awful ratings grab, but it did include this single, excellent sketch with the real Hillary Clinton. It begins with McKinnon’s Hillary shaking off the Trump-inspired blues with her adviser and a stiff one. As the candidate lets off steam with another “scalding-hot vodka,” it’s revealed that the real Clinton is behind the bar, playing a bartender named Val. Although Clinton’s Val is a little rigid, there’s some nice interplay between her and McKinnon, particularly in a playfully pointed exchange about gay marriage:
Clinton (as Val): “It really is great how long you’ve supported gay marriage.”
McKinnon (as Clinton): “I could’ve supported it sooner.”
Clinton (as Val): “Well, you did it pretty soon.”
McKinnon (as Clinton): “… could’ve been sooner.”
McKinnon, who is openly gay, smiles and locks eyes with Clinton, sliding out of character just enough to give the politician a little jab. The sketch also gives the real Hillary a chance to do her best frowning, blustery Donald Trump: “Isn’t he the one that’s like, ’Ugh, you’re all losers.’” It ain’t half bad.
2. “Hillary Clinton / Sarah Palin Cold Open” (September 2008)
Also known as: The one with Sarah Palin
In the annuls of political comedy, this sketch has already gone down as a Sarah Palin–centric takedown. Great writing and Fey’s loopy performance (as well as her physical likeness to Palin) made the invented exclamation, “I can see Russia from my house,” a liability for the actual Palin. But, of course, the other half of this election-altering sketch is Amy Poehler as a barely restrained Hillary. Clinton is not the flamboyant stunt pony that Palin is, but Poehler gives her Clinton a dogged, steely sense of determination with more than a hint of an edge. (At one point, Poehler’s Clinton giggles maniacally and tears off a part of the podium when it’s implied she didn’t want the presidency badly enough.) While the first half of the sketch is dedicated to Palin and her silly verbiage, the second half digs into sexist campaign coverage and lets Poehler shine. After hollering that the presidency “is supposed to be mine,” she excoriates reporters and sums up her position: “I invite the media to grow a pair. And if you can’t, I will lend you mine.”
1. “Hillary Clinton Election Video Cold Open” (April 2015)
Also known as: The one where Kate McKinnon took over
Kate McKinnon’s Hillary impression accomplishes something that no previous attempt has: It peels back the veil of the reserved, measured candidate to reveal a woman animated by an ambition so intense it’s prepared to consume her body and soul. Yet miraculously, it’s still a loving parody. This sketch about Hillary announcing her run for the presidency online was the first to let McKinnon get rabid, with fangs bared, clearly articulating the politician’s attempts to provide voters just want they want to see — and making those attempts feel awkward and desperate. “Citizens,” McKinnon’s Hillary cries at one point. “You will elect me! I will be your leader!” Given Hillary’s decades on the political stage and the scandals she has weathered, it would take a preternatural ambition to keep her going; it’s plausible to imagine the near psychosis of McKinnon’s impression roiling beneath Hillary’s placid exterior. While it’s true that McKinnon inherited her role as Hillary at an opportune time, this sketch is proof that the actor’s wide-eyed ferociousness takes the Hillary impression to new heights.