I’ve never understood why anybody thinks Alec Baldwin’s impersonation of Donald Trump is good. When Baldwin first showed up as Trump on Saturday Night Live a month before the election — never dreaming that he’d end up impersonating a sitting president — everybody oohed and aahed over him. “A technical marvel,” proclaimed Wired. “Uncanny,” swooned Popcrush. Meanwhile, I can’t help but notice that Baldwin looks and sounds more like a heavier, even raspier Lloyd Bridges. The wig and ill-fitting suit are doing most of the work. Alec Baldwin does not and cannot impersonate Donald Trump. He’s just a fading movie star in a Halloween costume.*
This is one reason I haven’t sat through an episode of SNL since they held a funeral for Hillary Clinton’s political career. As I noted about that sad spectacle at the time:
I know this is supposed to be cathartic for the Hillbots, but does SNL really think everybody else is as devastated by Hillary’s loss as they are? Do they really think any of the 60 million Trump voters were going to tune in and weep along with Kate [McKinnon]? Don’t they understand that this sort of insularity is why the Democrats got blindsided on Tuesday night?
SPOILER: They didn’t understand that. They still don’t.
Now that the novelty of seeing Alec Baldwin on the show every week has worn off, even some of our friends on the left are starting to notice that the Trumpersonator has no clothes. In a takedown of SNL’s “liberal propaganda” by Harry Cheadle at Vice(!), there’s this note about how terrible last week’s cold open was:
Stormy Daniels gets a pass because she’s a bit of stunt casting anyway, but Baldwin’s Trump impression also stands out as awful. He keeps his mouth open for reasons I don’t understand, squints, and talks in a deep voice. That’s it. The real Trump and Rob Schneider are correct: It doesn’t work.
It doesn’t have to work. It just has to make Trump and his supporters angry. That’s the goal.
Comedy used to be about making people laugh. Now it’s about trolling people you don’t like, and reminding the people you do like that you still belong to the tribe. “Look at me, guys, I hate the same guy you hate! I’m one of you! I belong!”** So if you can’t stand Trump and you see a guy dressed like Trump but sounding nothing like Trump, telling jokes that aren’t very funny but will anger Trump, you call it brilliant because that’s what partisan hacks do. Rah-rah, hooray for your side. Go team.
It’s not often that I say this, but Sonny Bunch at the Washington Free Beacon is right: “Donald Trump Is Killing Humor.” Or, more accurately, he’s driving all the humorists to mass suicide. Most of America’s comedians took 8 years off from political humor before Trump (barring the occasional Dick Cheney joke, just for old time’s sake), so I guess they’ve lost the art. They think just saying “Trump is a jerk” over and over is sufficient. And the audience applauds because they’re hearing what they want to hear.
It’s not funny, but it makes them feel better. Close enough, right?
*I keep begging Lorne Michaels to hire Anthony Atamanuik instead. Or at least I kept begging him before the restraining order.
**I don’t like Trump either. The difference is that nobody’s asking me to go on SNL. At this point I’m an outcast from both tribes. The only people who care are the ones who hate me because they think I’ve somehow betrayed them. They loved it when I stood up to a cult of personality between 2009-2016, and they hate it when I stand up to a cult of personality now. That’s how cults work. Either you’re in or you’re out. And when you’re out, you’re an enemy.