Polticial comedians' unending war with Washington

Alec Baldwin as President-elect Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live.” 

NBC/Broadway Video

“Saturday Night Live” offered its comedic take over the weekend on Donald Trump’s first press conference since the election. The president-elect fired back yesterday on Twitter, writing, “Saturday Night Live is the worst. Not funny. Always a complete hit job.”

Donald Trump Press Conference Cold Open - SNL by Saturday Night Live on YouTube

But for decades, American presidents have had to get used to being the butt of comedians’ jokes. A few, correspondent Jan Crawford notes, even tried to laugh along.

In 1975 Chevy Chase ushered in a new era of political humor, impersonating President Gerald Ford during the first season of “Saturday Night Live.” Since then, both Democrats and Republicans have been singed by comics probing for truth behind their political personas.

Jon Stewart honed his style of political humor over more than 15 years as host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” and explained it during a recent interview with Charlie Rose:

“I`m going to, with a scalpel, go at the crux of your identity as a politician and expose it for everybody to see, and then I’m going to have to make a joke about it, and walk away, and you’re going to laugh, and it`s going to humanize you.”

Many politicians have learned to laugh at themselves...

Bush (Dana Carvey): “This election’s about who can take the heat. It’s hot in there, very hot!”

When comedian Dana Carvey’s take on President George H.W. Bush became almost as famous as the president himself, the Bushes invited Carvey to the White House for a lesson.

As Carvey explained, “The way to do the president is to start out with Mr. Rogers -- ‘It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood …’ Then you add a little John Wayne: ‘Here we go. Let’s go over the ridge … ‘ You put them together, you got George Herbert Walker Bush!”

In 2008, Tina Fey’s impersonation of vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin may have been the first to go viral.

Palin (Tina Fey): “Hillary and I don’t agree on everything … “

Hillary Clinton (Amy Poehler): “... Anything! I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign policy.”
Palin: “And I can see Russia from my house!”

In 2015, President Obama embraced comedy duo Key & Peele’s creation of Luther the Anger Translator, inviting Keegan-Michael Key to help deliver his annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech.

CLIP: President Obama's Anger Translator (C-SPAN) by C-SPAN on YouTube

Obama: “But we do need to stay focused on some big challenges, like climate change.”
Luther (Key): “Hey, listen ya’ll, if you haven’t noticed, California is bone-dry; it looked like a trailer for the new ‘Mad Max’ movie up in there!”

Darrell Hammond impersonated numerous politicians during his 16 years at “Saturday Night Live,” including Vice President Dick Cheney and, perhaps most famously, President Bill Clinton. 

In a 2008 interview, Hammond told Charlie Rose, “The times that I have been around [Clinton] he has always been very gracious. Cheney, Cheney was very nice. Went to a couple of Christmas parties at his house.”

“I’ve made a pretty good living making fun of public figures,” said writer Christopher Buckley, who’s been making fun of Washington for decades. He argues the goal of satire is to show politicians how silly they really are.

“I also have an underlying respect for them,” Buckley said. “If you have no respect for them, what’s the point of making fun of them?”

After a hotly-contested election, voters could probably use a laugh. And as the president-elect settles into the White House, he’s probably going to have to get used to the jokes, says Crawford – or he can just turn off his TV.