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The Best Saturday Night Live Political Impersonations

by | October 23, 2016 | Comments

Saturday Night Live, episode 1705 - Alec Baldwin as Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump and Kate McKinnon as Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton (Will Heath/NBC)

The 2016 election season has blessed the American public with a new crop of Saturday Night Live political impersonations that give us reason to reassess the longstanding “best of all time” list. Below are a few of our new favorites along with some enduring classics.


1. Sarah Palin as played by Tina Fey


When 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain tapped Palin as his vice presidential running mate, her resemblance to former SNL cast member Fey was too strong for anyone — including the actress herself — to ignore. Fey took on the role of Palin for the September 2008 premiere of season 34. Her first skit, opposite Amy Poehler’s Hillary Clinton, won Fey a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. “Fey reprised the role four times leading up to the 2008 election, delivering SNL its highest ratings since 1994 – and its most political relevance ever,” noted Rolling Stone in its list “50 Greatest ‘Saturday Night Live’ Sketches of All Time.” Fey returned most recently in January 2016 following Palin’s endorsement of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
More: 8 videos at NBC.com


2. George H.W. Bush as played by Dana Carvey

Nominated six years in a row for the Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program Emmy award, Carvey finally won the award in 1993. HLN in 2012 chose Carvey’s Bush Sr. as its top presidential impersonation, in part, on Bush’s own approval of the comedian’s portrayal, at one point he even impersonated Carvey’s impersonation of him.
More: 21 videos at NBC.com


3. George W. Bush as played by Will Ferrell


An SNL cast member from 1995–2002, Ferrell was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Music Program in 2001 — his impersonation of “43” being only one of the versatile comedian’s many and various political impersonations, including U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and even U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. “The impression was so good,” noted Thrillist of his Bush impersonation, “it had a life after the show, inspiring Ferrell to write and star in You’re Welcome America, a Broadway play with Bush as the protagonist.”
More: 20 videos at NBC.com


4. Donald Trump as played by Alec Baldwin


News of Baldwin’s casting as Trump in the new season of SNL delighted fans on social media. The impersonation’s popularity with viewers showed no signs of slowing by this weekend’s show, hosted by actor Tom Hanks, with the show posting the highest overnights since Oct. 25, 2008, just prior to the 2008 presidential election, Deadline reported.
More: 5 videos at NBC.com


5. Bill Clinton as played by Darrell Hammond

SNL has gotten huge mileage out of Hammond’s Clinton. The comedian, who was a regular from 1995-2006 (the longest tenure of any cast member), continues impersonating the former president in cameos. Hammond also portrayed the most celebrities on the show: 107. He took over as announcer on the show following the death of Don Pardo in 2014.
More: 60 videos at NBC.com


6. Bernie Sanders as played by Larry David


The resemblance between Curb Your Enthusiasm star David and Democratic presidential candidate Sanders is so strong that the comedian’s appearance on SNL as Sanders was pretty much a given. SNL co-head writer Rob Klein told Vulture.com in February that David’s appearance came about during the first primary debate, when SNL writer Sarah Schneider noted that Sanders was the obvious choice to appear in the skit, while at the same time the show’s creator Lorne Michaels was being told over dinner that Sanders should appear, and, most notably, David offered his services via his agent. “It was a case of massive parallel thinking,” Klein said. “Within, like, 10 minutes, it went from ‘Oh, that would be so funny if it were Larry David’ to ‘Larry David is on the phone with Lorne making a hotel reservation.’ It was pretty great.”
More: 7 videos at NBC.com


7. Richard Nixon as played by Dan Aykroyd

U.S. Sen. Al Franken revealed in The Washington Post that the 1976 skit “Nixon’s Final Days,” which he wrote with fellow SNL writer and performer Tom Davis, was one of his favorite sketches. “You almost feel sorry for Nixon when Danny says to Lincoln’s portrait: ‘Abe, you were lucky. They shot you!’” Franken wrote. “‘Why, Abe? Why me?’ he continues. The portrait’s lips move, saying, ‘Because you’re such a schmuck.’ At least, in our script. But the censors made us change it to ‘dip’ because, they insisted, ‘schmuck’ means ‘penis’ in Yiddish. This was 1976, and we lost that one.” The sketch appears on numerous “best of” lists of SNL’s greatest skits, including landing at No. 48 on Rolling Stone’s list of “50 Greatest Saturday Night Live Sketches of All Time.” Unfortunately, video of that sketch isn’t currently available, but Aykroyd‘s Nixon can be seen in other videos on NBC’s site.
More: 3 videos at NBC.com


8. Jimmy Carter as played by Dan Aykroyd

Aykroyd captures President Carter’s genial Southern charm in a skit titled “Ask President Carter,” fielding unscreened questions from callers, including one from a nervous teen on a bad acid trip. “Just remember, you’re a living organism on this planet, and you’re very safe. You’ve just taken a heavy drug. Now just relax, stay inside, and listen to some music, OK? Do you have any Allman Brothers?” He also takes a call from a “former White House employee” looking for a stash of cash in small bills he left behind in the presidential bedroom.
More: 5 videos at NBC.com


9. Rev. Jesse Jackson as played by Eddie Murphy


In a 1984 interview, presidential candidate Jackson referred to Jews as “Hymies” and New York City as “Hymietown.” Murphy then delivered a skit skewering the reverend. “Ironic impersonation had a deadly effect,” the New York Times editorial board wrote in response to the controversy. “One of the prime qualities that candidates display in a campaign is how they react to pressure. Do they have the character, or at least the deftness, to manage a crisis well? This was not a crisis, only a flap, yet for almost two weeks Mr. Jackson bungled it.”
More: 1 video at NBC.com


10. Hillary Clinton as played by Amy Poehler


Sure, Fey’s Palin made a splash and scored an Emmy, but Poehler’s straight-woman role as Clinton anchored this September 2008 skit, providing a nice, sober balance. Plus, Poehler had been regularly impersonating Clinton from 2003-2008 and then again in later guest appearances. Rolling Stone named the skit 16th in its list of the greatest SNL skits ever.
More: 11 videos at NBC.com


11. Hillary Clinton as played by Kate McKinnon


McKinnon’s bug-eyed Clinton teeters between disbelief and mania — managing to capture broad-stroke Democratic and Republican perceptions of the candidate simultaneously. Her appearance in SNL’s first presidential-nominee debate skit opposite Baldwin’s Trump kicked off the newest season on Oct. 1, 2016.
More: 16 videos at NBC.com


12. Ross Perot as played by Dana Carvey

Others have tried — notably Cheri Oteri — but Carvey nailed it as the 1992 independent presidential candidate.
More: 10 videos at NBC.com


13. Ronald Reagan as played by Phil Hartman

In 1986 SNL season 12 skit “President Reagan, Mastermind,” Hartman presents President Reagan as feeble and dim to the public, but a brilliant polyglot with deep knowledge of world affairs and an evil master schemer behind the scenes.
More: 5 videos at NBC.com


14. Barack Obama as played by Jay Pharoah

Longtime SNL fans will remember well Fred Armisen playing it cool as president-elect Obama after the 2008 election, but Pharoah has perfected the current president.
More: 22 videos at NBC.com


15. Bob Dole as played by Norm Macdonald

Macdonald’s pen-grasping, droning presidential candidate was maybe not the most flattering portrait of decorated World War II veteran Dole, but is regularly cited as one of the show’s best political impersonations.
More: 11 videos at NBC.com


And More

Saturday Night Live - Maya Rudolph as CONDOLEEZZA RICE (nbc.com)

So many stellar performances. Here are a few others:

Gerald Ford as played by Chevy Chase
Dick Cheney as played by Hammond
John McCain as played by Hammond
Al Gore as played also by Hammond
Joe Biden as played by Jason Sudeikis
Condoleezza Rice as played by Maya Rudolph
Michael Dukakis as played by Jon Lovitz

What’d we miss? We know you want to tell us. So do it in the comments!

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