The US presidential election may be over, but another well-watched contest is just beginning. Who should play Joe Biden on Saturday Night Live?
Jim Carrey put down the paper last Saturday after bad reviews. Alex Moffat, a regular member of the cast, chimed in for that night’s episode. But it’s still unclear which actor will play Biden on a show that helps define each American presidency in the popular imagination.
It is just one example of the new challenges political satire faces when Donald Trump leaves the presidential stage. The 45th president provided endless material for late-night TV hosts, comedians, and cartoonists. His Democratic successor appears to be a less obvious target.
“There is roughly a two-minute gap in every night monologue that begins on January 20,” he observed. Bill Whalen, former media consultant to former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Two minutes each night reserved for Trump jokes and attacks on Trump – that ends as soon as Biden takes office. So how do you fill the void?“
Based in New York, SNL started on the NBC network in 1975 and has pretty much been nailing presidents ever since. Chevy Chase played Gerald Ford so clumsy and accident prone. Dana Carvey was as successful as George HW Bush that she earned an invitation to the White House.
Will Ferrell captured the incoherence of manipulating George W. Bush’s words. Jay Pharoah was praised for his impression of Barack Obama, but he left the show prematurely. Whalen added: “Obama had a hard time making fun of them because Obama was Mr Cool, and how do you make fun of Mr Cool? So I think comedy took a little time during the Obama years and came roaring back with Trump.“
Alec Baldwin’s devastating portrayal of Trump as an ignorant, pursed-lipped, blonde wig jerk frequently went viral and earned the ire of the president. Melissa McCarthy’s fast and furious portrayal of her first press secretary, Sean Spicer, also hit gold in comedy.
It’s entertainment on one level, but SNL’s cultural significance shouldn’t be underestimated, he argues. Michael Cornfield, political scientist at George Washington University in Washington. “The central angle of focus of a president’s character is through the Saturday Night Live cartoon,” he said.
SNL has already found its Kamala Harris in Maya Rudolphbut Biden is proving to be a tougher nut to crack. He has been portrayed by cast members and guest stars such as Jason Sudeikis, Woody Harrelson, and John Mulaney. Carrey signed on for this year’s election campaign, but arguably his manic performances missed the mark.
“Jim Carrey was doing Jim Carrey,” observed Cornfield. “He didn’t communicate to Biden.”
So Moffat, who previously played Trump’s son Eric, took over from Biden to an opening sketch in which the Vice President, Mike Pence (Beck Bennett), received a Covid-19 vaccine. But Moffat is only 38, less than half Biden’s age, which leaves the most important question of the coming year open, along with broader questions about where to find humor in the next presidency.
Cornfield commented: “For me, the management comedy is shaping up to be one of these workplace sitcoms where the central character, Biden, has to keep going while everything around him goes crazy.
“Biden’s personality is tough because you don’t want to make fun of his stuttering. You don’t want to make fun of their tragedies. What you want to make fun of is that he’s going to pretend that everything is fine: ‘Oh sure, I’ll negotiate with the Republicans. No problem. Oh sure, I’ll make the federal government work. No problem.’ That is his claim and that is to satirize because he will not.
“Having said that, I don’t think that’s what we’ve been through the last four years. We do not need [Armando] Iannucci-level evil because I don’t think it’s necessary. But it is necessary to mock the president. That’s very American. “
Cornfield has a suggestion for the role: Ted Danson, who turns 73 next week and appeared with Harrelson on the sitcom Cheers. “He has that big smile and that arrogant attitude about how you are and he knows how to react to people who just aren’t doing the job or are completely insane. There is a great comedy when someone tries to pretend that everything is fine when it is not. “
Still, just as cable news is bracing for a loss of viewers after the “Trump coup,” political satirists could be forgiven for thinking that a golden age is coming to an end.
Trump’s rude comments, poorly written tweets and bizarre behavior – from gazing at a solar eclipse to slowly walking down a ramp – have been the gift he continues to give. It’s safe to assume that Biden won’t suggest bleach as a cure for coronavirus.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver are among the television shows that have thrived on black humor in the Trump years, making sense of the chaos for viewers, channeling their anger and fear and convey a pointed message.
Colbert now draws far more viewers than his late-night rivals Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, neither of whom targeted Trump so directly. He also starred in Our Cartoon President, a spiked animated series about Trump and his entourage.
Stephen Farnsworth, The co-author of Late Night with Trump: Political Humor and the American Presidency said in an email: “From President Trump’s angry and violent falsehoods to his entourage of clowns, Saturday Night Live and late night comedy have never had it so good. . When America has an overblown president, one who needs to be in the public eye 24/7, the jokes practically write themselves.
“That ends in January. Compared to the current president, Joe Biden is a far less humorous character and doesn’t show the same need for public attention. What’s more, Trump’s exaggerated physical gestures and speech patterns, captured so effectively by Alec Baldwin, made him easier to emulate than many political figures. “
Farnsworth, professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, added: “Biden is much more measured in what he says and does than Trump, and that’s not good for comedy. Biden used to be known for a bad guy or two, but his 2020 campaign was a highly controlled exercise, particularly compared to Biden’s time as vice president or senator. “
However, Trump’s departure is also a relief for artists and comedy writers. There have been times when it can seem beyond satire and when it’s easier to cry than to laugh. A novelist might find it frustratingly two-dimensional.
Steve Bodow, former lead writer and executive producer of The Daily Show, told the Washington Post last month: “I feel confident in saying that most late-night writers will not only be politically and patriotically happier, they will be comically happier. The thing about Trump is that there is nothing new there; there just isn’t much to chew on the bone. It can be completely exhausting. “
Trump was a Falstaff figure, but the consequences of his actions, especially during the deadly coronavirus pandemic, were anything but amusing. Biden’s own life has been marked by personal losses and he inherits a country facing multiple crises, and where Trump is likely to remain a political actor.
Sidney Blumenthal, former aide and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, said: “The most important element in Biden is tragedy. Making fun of his speech is making fun of someone who with immense willpower overcame the disability of stuttering. “
He added: “The only person who gets better biden is Stephen Colbert, who, like Biden, is a deeply rooted liberal Catholic.
“The fundamental problem is that we still have to take into account the immensity of the duel and the pain of what will probably be half a million deaths, which should have been largely avoided by the sadistic clown who provided so much fun before he announced. a reign of death. “
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