Column: Saturday Night Live’s political satire

“Saturday Night Live” has never been shy when it comes to airing satirical sketches about our presidential candidates, and they are definitely not holding back this year.

Four episodes into its 42nd season, “SNL” has been relying heavily on the current election and its two main candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, for material before Election Day on Nov. 8. The show has opened each episode of the season with a mock debate, one being the vice presidential debate.

Kate McKinnon, who won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series this year, has been portraying Clinton for a couple of seasons now. Her portrayal of Clinton has been acclaimed by critics and fans alike. Portraying Clinton as a strong figure, but also as “a politician still struggling to make personal connections,” McKinnon acts with ease as the female nominee.

In the second mock debate, McKinnon highlighted Clinton’s capabilities and level headedness. Responding to a comment about Bill Clinton’s affairs McKinnon said, “Mistresses? How could I go on with the debate? I’ll never be able to remember my facts and figures now. Oh no!” Before turning serious and saying, “Get real, I’m made of steel, this is nothing.”

McKinnon has been acting opposite of Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of Trump. Baldwin, who is not a series regular, originally did not take the job.  In an interview with ElleDecor.com, Baldwin said he was talked into it by “SNL” creator and producer Lorne Michaels.

“I’m not out there campaigning against Trump by doing this, but I hope people who might be going ‘I’m not interested in the election because both candidates seem questionable,’ I hope that it motivates them to vote,” Baldwin said. “Now maybe they’re going to see Trump in the right context [on “SNL”], which is that he’s just wrong for the job. Pretty much anybody but [him], at this point.”

Trump has been portrayed by a few different actors over the years on “SNL.” Last year cast member Taran Killam portrayed the presidential candidate for a short while. Mocking Trump’s endless collection of vague answers and vocabulary, Killam answered a question about Trump’s economic plan saying, “I get in there, taxes go down, everybody gets a job, salaries go way up, we build a wall — it’s yuuuge — over in China, they’re gonna say, ‘Now that’s a wall.’”

Trump has spoken out about his distaste for Baldwin and other actors portrayal of him on “SNL.” On Oct. 16, Trump tweeted, “Watched “Saturday Night Live” hit job on me. Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!”

The fact that a candidate is actually afraid how “SNL” could influence the election speaks to the show’s power.  “SNL” has earned itself a trustworthy reputation among national audiences over the past 40 years. After it became known for its satirical impressions of presidential candidates and its ability to put them under a microscope, “SNL” has often said they make a point to try and be as fair as possible with their criticism, highlighting aspects of both republican and democratic candidates.  Some critics have said “SNL” is at its best during election years.

In an article on Politico.com, Dean Obeidallah, an “SNL” production staff member for eight years, discussed the importance of late-night comedians in the election. Obeidallah said that there is a moral obligation to highlighting the “darker elements” of Trump’s candidacy.

“Eighty million people watched the debate, 130 million people will vote, 50 million others are still looking for places to get their news, and comedy can fill that gap,” Obeidallah said. “Maybe it’s going to take comedians to do the job that cable news has relinquished for so much of the campaign.”

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Zack DeLuca

Zack studies Journalism and Film/Media at the University of Rhode Island. He studies
narrative screenwriting and production, as well as documentary production. Zack is the
Entertainment Editor for The Good 5 Cent Cigar, URI’s school newspaper, and has had
articles appear in publications like the Cranston Herald.