After weeks of controversy, Donald Trump finally hosted Saturday Night Live. This wasn’t his first hosting gig; he hosted once before back in 2004 when he wasn’t running for the highest political office in the country. Yet, he seemed to have learned nothing from that prior experience. His performance last night was uncomfortable to watch, ill-fitting his skill set and certainly not funny.
That’s not just my opinion either. A cursory look across the Internet shows even Trump supporters blamed SNL’s writers for his bad performance (although there are certainly those deluded hundreds lost in a Trump-induced fantasia who think his performance was great). And perhaps there’s truth to the “blame the writers” theory – SNL hasn’t bad particularly good this year despite several capable hosts. It certainly wasn’t going to excel with one who has no business hosting a comedy show.
The great concern over “equal time” for a presidential candidate apparently whittled down his on-screen time to just under 12 minutes, although it certainly felt like a great deal more. By comparison, season opener host Miley Cyrus had over 21 minutes of screen time. In the end, having Donald Trump as a host seemed to be nothing more than a shameless grab for ratings and attention. He clearly didn’t belong and clearly has no comedy chops on which to rest. The studio audience didn’t help matters either as they were largely silent through the tortured evening, especially when Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, made a cameo. Crickets.
The funniest moment of the evening came from Larry David, twice actually. First, his brilliant turn as Bernie Sanders was, yet again, another highlight of the episode. Given the right amount of screen time through the upcoming year, his impersonation could approach the same legendary status as Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin. I do smell a Guest Actor Comedy Emmy nomination in the works for David. Second, he yelled “Trump is a racist” during Trump’s opening monologue, a direct reference to a group offering $5,000 to anyone who would yell it on the air. It was most likely a scripted moment – SNL isn’t about spontaneity these days – but it felt daring and subversive given the look of glee on Larry David’s face. Reportedly, he’ll receive that $5,000.
After all is said and done, SNL emerged as the big loser last night. It was a no-win situation for them anyway. There was no way to make Trump funny, but the talented cast seemed ill-at-ease and tentative in their comedy. Trump’s supporters and detractors would likely come away with their pre-disposed notions of him firmly in tact, and, while the ratings may be higher than normal, Trump’s appearance was unlikely to win the long-running comedy series any new fans. It’s fine to feature political candidates on the show as guest stars, but dedicating an entire show to a single active candidate (no matter your political persuasion) is ultimately a bad decision to make.
No matter how Trump performed, all of this attention (even from yours truly) is free publicity for a presidential candidate – a presidential candidate who excels at spinning his every move into self-perceived excellence. Although, honestly, I’m not even sure Donald Trump himself could spin last night’s weak performance into anything more than what it was – shameless self-promotion aided by a toothless comedy institution.