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7 Subpar Saturday Night Live Presidential Imitations

Oct. 3 3:30 PM by Aaron_Koehn

Saturday Night Live has been home to some pretty memorable political impressions that sometimes become as remembered as the politicians themselves. From Norm MacDonanld's Bob Dole meeting the real thing after Dole's defeat to Tina Fey making a series of cameos to lampoon Sarah Palin, SNL's candidate impressions always catch the eye of the public. When the show falters in finding the right match, however, the end result can be pretty brutal. Like MadTV brutal.

7- Phil Hartman as Ronald Reagan

While this sketch's joke is that it would be funny if Ronald Reagan's clueless good intentions were just a sort of masquerade, and that actually he's an incredibly--almost dangerously--proficient politician, the majority of the impression hardly resembles Reagan. Some would assert that that's the intention, and it very well may be, but while they attempt to distance the viewer's notions of who the character could be, the impression becomes very difficult to associate with who the character actually was. That being said, the sketch is still pretty funny, especially when Hartman quickly snaps into his trademarked loud, overbearing persona, followed shortly then by his caricatured senior-president guise. The fact that Hartman was one of the greatest Clinton impressionists of all time makes his miss with Reagan all the more noticeable.

6- Will Forte as George W. Bush

If you were watching this impersonation without any context, it might be tough to recognize it as President George W. Bush. Will Forte's normal voice comes through much too strongly and instead of sounding like George Bush, it sounds like Will Forte with some bad congestion. Character-wise, and we're probably nitpicking, the bit in the middle where Forte takes on a sort of whiny, apologetic tone is completely out of character for the actual president. And I'd make the suggestion that when doing Bush, you need to include the infamous George Bush laugh. It's impossible to watch one of the President's speeches--regardless of how serious the topic--without witnessing that chuckle with a little head bob, followed by a scan of the audience looking for spectators who agree and are smirking with him.

5- Fred Armisen as Barack Obama

Perhaps the funniest aspect of Fred Armisen's Obama bit is how closely he physically resembles the potential President. Unfortunately, that's hardly a compliment on the quality of the impersonation. While the things Armisen says do sound like things Obama would say, credit for that really belongs to the people responsible for writing his lines and not Fred himself. And despite the fact that Armisen's cadence does bear some resemblance to Barack Obama's, his tone remains too similar to his own natural voice to render a positive verdict. Sautrday Night Live seems to be aware of this, and as a result Armisen's lines are usually kept to a minimum, with the show tending to give the bulk of each sketch's dialogue to Obama's opponent -- usually Darrell Hammond's McCain or Amy Poehler's Clinton.

4- Jimmy Fallon as Ralph Nader

While he had his fans, Jimmy Fallon wasn't what one considers to be a consummate impressionist during his SNL tenure, as most of his characters were either original creations, and ones that would crack up in the middle of a scene at that. Thankfully, Fallon rarely had the opportunity to play perennial third-party candidate Ralph Nader, but when he did, he couldn't parlay his skill at the update desk into skewering the campaign spoiler. There doesn't seem to be any video available of Fallon playing Nader online, but if you picture Fallon with some wrinkles, a droopy mouth, and uncontrollable twitching, then you've seen him playing Nader.

3- Seth Meyers as John Kerry

Seth Meyers nails one aspect of John Kerry: he sounds old. Unfortunately, it's not a very specific old-man impression, and it sounds like it could be any number of geriatric characters, than than exclusively Kerry. Meyers also demonstrates facial expressions that aren't recognizable as Kerry's, many of the lines he delivers are supposed to sound like exaggerated Kerry adages but they don't, and his trademarked strained smile plays second fiddle to the name-dropping that wasn't nearly as prevalent as this sketch asserts. It also doesn't appear that any makeup was applied to Meyers to make him look aged--an aspect of the sketch that seems to be heavily emphasized in the vocal impersonation, but is oddly absent from the physical impression.

2- Chevy Chase as Gerald Ford

Chevy Chase's impersonation of President Ford is pretty famous. Unfortunately that's not due to the high quality and accuracy of the impression, but to Chevy's willingness to repeatedly subject himself to some pretty big falls. In fact, if it wasn't for the skit's opening where he's introduced as the president, I'd think this was just Chevy Chase doing weekend update as himself, not him playing a character, and certainly not him doing an impression. However, credit should be given to the skit for recognition that indeed a bad impersonation is taking place and that humor can still be found abound. One might even make the case that the sketch is funnier with the weak impression, and that its poor quality is intentional. But I'm grading strictly along impression lines, and to Chevy I give an F.

1- Chris Farley, Chris Elliott, David Spade, Adam Sandler, and Tim Meadows as Bill Clinton

I won't be saying anything in this blurb that the cast wouldn't disagree with. Clearly the premise of the sketch is to detail how SNL had big shoes to fill with Phil Hartman departing, with nobody able to fill them properly--Michael McKean tried for a year before the capable Darrel Hammond arrived on the show. But since this list is critiquing bad impersonations, this one is ripe for the picking. Initially, Farley sounds like he's suffering from an asthma attack as he reads his lines, before completely abandoning the presidential impression to transition into his renowned Matt Foley character. Chris Elliot seems to be doing an impersonation of himself, as he quotes lines from famous movie stars of bygone eras, making himself sound cultured when his usual shtick is to appear as the dope. David Spade makes no attempt to alter his voice or sound even slightly Clinton-esque in anything he says. And Tim Meadows is the wrong race. That being said, clearly all of these bad impressions were intentional, and that in fact is the punch-line.


As a kid I never understood the appeal of Akroyd's interpretation of Richard Milhouse Nixon. he didn't even try and he had a mustache.
Hell, as an adult I still don't understand it.
I think he deserves at least an honorable mention here.


Holy crap, Chris Farley as Clinton? Awful.


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