The relationship between long-running show Saturday Night Live and The President defies the norms of satire – because the subject bites back. Larry Bartleet looks into a love affair turned sour
Late last year, Donald Trump accidentally coined the word ‘unpresidented’ – before deleting the tweet it appeared in. Let history not forget it. It’s the perfect way to describe the 45th President of the United States’ stormy relationship with America’s longest-running sketch comedy show, Saturday Night Live. With every jab SNL makes comes an unseemly response from the thin-skinned President. Three years on from reporting its lowest viewing figures ever, the ageing comedy show is enjoying a 22-year high in ratings thanks to the weekly scandal it’s now capable of providing. Improbable as it seems, SNL’s success now goes with Trump’s, hand in tiny hand – but was it always this way? Surprisingly not: the origins of this doomed romance go all the way back to 1989.
September 24, 1989
As he sits in the audience for SNL’s 15th anniversary special, popcorn is ‘accidentally’ poured on Donald Trump’s head in a slapstick routine by Chevy Chase.
Trump’s Response: Laughter
April 3, 2004
Trump makes his debut as SNL host, shortly after launching his TV reality show The Apprentice. His sketches involve this advert for fictional chicken chain Donald Trump’s House Of Wings, where he dances with poultry mascots played by the likes of Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers.
Trump’s response: “Nobody’s bigger than me, nobody’s better than me: I’m a ratings machine.”
April 30, 2011
At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, SNL alumnus Seth Meyers’ roasting of Trump begins: “Donald Trump has been saying he’ll run for president as a Republican — which is surprising, since I just assumed he was running as a joke.” Trump visibly seethes. Five years later, with Trump just months away from the Presidency, The New York Times reflects: “That evening of public abasement, rather than sending Mr Trump away, accelerated his ferocious efforts to gain stature in the political world.”
Trump’s response: “There are many reasons I’m running, but that’s not one of them.”
November 7, 2015
Now a Republican candidate, Trump hosts SNL once more while minority groups protest at the NBC building. Sharing the stage with two impersonators, he says: “They’re great.” Ratings for the episode reach their highest point in four years.
Trump’s response: Tweets about the ratings smash 13 times over the next 36 hours, adding: “Very few protesters!”
October 15, 2016
For the third week running, Alec Baldwin impersonates Trump. The previous week he’d skewered Trump’s scandalous 2005 “grab ’em by the p***y” comments, to no reaction from Trump. But Trump does respond to this parody of the second Presidential debate, in which he habitually looms into shot behind Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s response: “Watched Saturday Night Live hit job on me. Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election.”
November 19, 2016
Following Trump’s victory in the US election, Baldwin’s Trump finds him in a crisis of confidence. He Googles: “What is Isis?”
Trump’s response: “I watched parts of @nbcsnl Saturday Night Live last night. It is a totally one-sided, biased show – nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?”
December 3, 2016
The show mocks Trump’s habit of retweeting members of the public on Twitter after the real-life President-elect retweeted a random 16-year-old called Seth.
Trump’s response: “Just tried watching Saturday Night Live – unwatchable! Totally biased, not funny and the Baldwin impersonation just can’t get any worse. Sad.”
January 14, 2017
Baldwin’s Trump holds a press conference prior to his inauguration. He bats away questions about the unverified dossier alleging he’d paid to watch Russian sex workers pee on a bed once slept in by the Obamas, instead focusing on the “stream of jobs” Trump will bring to the US. “Who’s with me? I know you’re in. How about you? You’re in? You’re in? Urine?”
Trump’s response: “NBC News is bad but Saturday Night Live is the worst of NBC. Not funny, cast is terrible, always a complete hit job. Really bad television!”
February 4, 2017
Now President, Baldwin’s Trump takes instructions from his chief strategist Steve Bannon in the Oval Office. Bannon is portrayed as the Grim Reaper and distracts Trump with toys.
Trump’s response: No comment. Trump’s Press Secretary Sean Spicer says: “Alec has gone from funny to mean, and that’s unfortunate. SNL used to be really funny. There’s a streak of meanness now that they’ve crossed over to mean.”
February 4, 2017
Melissa McCarthy debuts a manic, abusive impersonation of Spicer. The absurd skit becomes SNL’s most-watched YouTube segment ever, with 25m views.
Trump’s response: According to sources of US political journal Politico: “More than being lampooned as a press secretary who makes up facts, it was Spicer’s portrayal by a woman that was most problematic in the President’s eyes.”
March 6, 2017
Baldwin warns he may soon retire his impression of Trump. “The maliciousness of this White House has people very worried, which is why I might not [play Trump] much longer… I don’t know how much more people can take.”
Trump’s response: Silence. For now.