'Saturday Night Live' Plays the Trump Card - NBC Chicago

'Saturday Night Live' Plays the Trump Card

Donald Trump’s controversial turn on “Saturday Night Live” marks the biggest test yet of a presidential run that started as a joke and has grown into something far more difficult to label.



    Dana Carvey, while appearing on "The Tonight Show" last week, offered a "Saturday Night Live"-worthy Donald Trump impression – and a Johnny Carson-worthy assessment of the White House wannabe. 

    “I’m not saying I want Donald Trump to be president – but I never want to live in a world where Donald Trump isn’t running for president," Carvey told Jimmy Fallon. "My quality of life has gone way up.”

    The line, funny and insightful, captured the paradoxical nature of Trump's strange place in the increasingly melded pop and political cultures. The developer with an ego as big as his real estate portfolio and hair as overblown as his rhetoric provides an easy – and seemingly willing – target for comedians. Yet he until recently stood atop the GOP presidential polls – a product, perhaps, of his self-created persona as an outsider who tells some people what they want to hear and puts on a show that’s amusing to some and vile to others.

    The former "Celebrity Apprentice" star's entertainment and political careers are set to collide this weekend when he hosts "SNL," setting the stage for the biggest test yet of a presidential run that started as a joke and has grown into something far more difficult to label.

    Trump's far from the first office seeker to appear on TV's longest-running, skit-driven platform for political satire. From President Gerald Ford's taped segment during the 1976 election cycle to 2008 cameos by Barack Obama, John McCain and Sarah Palin to Hillary Clinton's recent turn as an earthy bartender named Val, an "SNL" spot has proved a rite of passage for candidates, offering a way to display a sense of humor.

    But much of the lead-up to Trump's second "SNL" gig (he last hosted in 2004) smacks more of the furor that engulfed the 1990 appearance of Andrew Dice Clay. The comic's misogyny-laced act spurred then-cast member Nora Dunn and musical guest Sinead O'Connor to boycott the show. 

    Clay’s defenders have said he was playing an offensive, loudmouthed character. Sometimes, it seems like Trump is doing the same – and producing similar polarized reactions. Latino groups have called on NBC, which fired Trump from "The Celebrity Apprentice," to sack him from "SNL," saying venom he's spewed at Mexican immigrants is being unjustly rewarded with a major forum beyond the traditional campaign trail. 

    There’s little doubt that Trump loves the spotlight and is willing to say whatever he thinks necessary to stay in its glare. But, as Carvey essentially put it, Trump is worth a few laughs – until he isn't.

    Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.