Trump’s unsettling return to “Saturday Night Live”
At the end of October 2020, just before the elections which were to dismiss Donald Trump and install his Big lie, Saturday Night Live broadcast a fake public service announcement. “Do we want four more years of Donald Trump, or a fresh start with Joe Biden?” the show’s cast members asked. “Can we survive four more years of scandals, name-calling and racial divisions? But then the ad took a turn. “He’s ‘historically bad for the country,'” said Alex Moffat, using exaggerated aerial quotes, “but he’s given us so much.” “Every day I say to someone, ‘Can you believe what Trump just said? “” Bowen Yang admitted. The PSA was ominously revealing, as, one by one, the cast members acknowledged that Trump was both a direct threat to American democracy and, for their purposes, comedy gold. “If Donald Trump is not president,” they asked, “then what are we going to talk about?
The last episode of the show ventured a new answer to the old question: if Donald Trump is not president … Saturday Night Live will talk about Donald Trump again. The cold opening of last night’s episode spent most of its time resurrecting Trump via an impression by comedian James Austin Johnson. Johnson’s take on the president, which had gone viral on social media before coming to SNL, embraces the truism that Trump cannot be mocked because he is already such mockery of himself. The impression is clinical in its precision. It’s strange. But its implications are grim. Trump has been misrepresented from Twitter and Facebook and from the US presidency; Still, he yelled from the sidelines, trying to make the case that an election that didn’t end with his victory is an election that didn’t count. Trump is a permanent emergency. But here he is, back SNL, treated as a comedy in progress.
The cold opening started in the typical way. He focused on US politics, offering an investigation into some of the big stories of the week billed as an episode of Fox News’ absurd talk show. Justice with Judge Jeanine. First, the jokes about Aaron Rodgers’ lies about vaccination. Then came a treatment of Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory as governor in Virginia. But these subjects were preludes. Most of the skit was devoted to the resurgence of the man Cecily Strong’s Jeanine Pirro called “the former and fundamentally current President of the United States.”
Trump, the politician, understands that attention – any kind of attention – is a bargaining chip. And the gist of last night’s joke was that Trump will always find a way to make sure he gets the attention he needs. As Moffat’s Youngkin watched helplessly, caught on a split screen with a guy determined to present his victory as a Trump victory, Johnson’s Trump rambled and railed. He spoke of Dune, and “Denny Villenoovey”, and Star wars, and lasers, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (“You know what, with Eternals, it was too diverse; it was too diverse, and nobody wants to see it. The film is rotten; just ask for tomatoes. ”) SNLThe version of visual previews that some Fox News hosts like to use to orient their viewers as they speak. Pirro’s show dissected one of Trump’s rants as follows:
The skit makes for decent comedy. Johnson’s impression is deeply skillful, and it blocks Trump’s tendency to surrender, even in his alleged absence, inescapable. The whole thing sent Trump’s greatest skill: his ability to distract. But doing this shipment also required SNL let Trump… divert his attention. The sketch effectively re-platformed him. And it turned Johnson’s grand impression of Trump into a paradox. Alec Baldwin’s version of Trump, inept and grotesque and avant-garde, was – say what you like about it – discussing the Trump monstrosity. He was trying to function as a satire. Trump’s version of Johnson, on the other hand, is manic and mechanical, and impressive because it is such a faithful replica of the original. But does such an impression add anything to the conversation about Trump? Or does it just kick more of Trump into the air?
One of the truisms of Youngkin’s victory this week was that the victory was also a victory for “Trumpism without Trump”. Corn SNL, last night, managed to give us Trump without Trumpism: all the nonsense of the person, none of the threat of his movement. Trump’s big lie is based on; you would have no idea, however, looking at SNLThe version of him talks about space lasers. This Friday, CNN started broadcasting a special report on January 6, a mini-documentary that focuses on the chaos of this day, the violence, the prelude and the consequences. He is intitulated Outrage over democracy: an American coup. “January 6 was an unconstitutional attempt by the President of the United States to overturn an American election and illegitimately re-establish himself in power,” one of the show’s commentators said, a House Republican, note in. You might add that power, for Trump, has always involved his ability to disguise himself through his glasses. SNL, for too long, took so much interest in Trump as a joke that he ignored him as a threat. Last night’s episode suggests that the show looked back on previous years and precisely learned nothing.