As you may have heard, Donald Trump graced the Saturday Night Live stage with his presence this weekend and was kind enough to let the cast and audience bask in his winning glow. Of course, when it came time to deliver the monologue — the bit that sets the tone for big-time celebrity guest-hosts — the man who loves to tout his overwhelming greatness was … underwhelming.
His opening got some laughs when he was joined by two different Trump impersonators, and again when Larry David showed up as Bernie Sanders and called him a racist. “I heard if I did that, they’d give me $5,000,” said David, and he wasn’t kidding. Though the bit was scripted, Advocacy group Deport Racism plans to make good on the $5,000 it had offered to any audience member who called Trump a bigot during the broadcast. When Trump was on his own, however, the jokes fell flat. He barely got a chuckle when he suggested that he was only hosting the show because he had nothing better to do and, overall, his strategy was flawed. While Trump tried to exaggerate his own rhetoric by saying this would be the greatest guest-hosting gig in the history of guest-hosting, he just ended up sounding like he does when trying to be serious. It’s tough to caricature a man who’s already a caricature.
That said, things improved once the sketches started and SNL’s talented roster was able to shepherd him through the appearance. Here’s a rundown of the different bits:
White House 2018
The Donald’s first sketch saw him deliver on his promise of making the American public “sick of winning.” Sitting in the oval office, flanked by his wife Melania (Cecily Strong) and a host of advisers and cabinet members, Trump fielded reports on how swimmingly everything was going now that he was President. He had backed Putin down and made him cry, convinced Telemundo to switch all programming to English, and strong-armed Mexico into financing a border wall. Trump also had some fun with those who have slammed him for failing to provide details, and explained his success by saying “I don’t have to get specific, with me it just works, it’s magic. It’s always been that way my whole life.” We learned afterwards that this was just a mock-up of what a Trump presidency might look like and that the real version would be “even better.”
Trump was behind the scenes for this sketch and, though he did not appear in the flesh, his tweets cast a comedic pall over the performers. During a bit set in a restaurant in Rome, he called Taran Killam an overrated clown, said Kate McKinnon was born stupid, questioned the validity of Kenan Thompson’s birth certificate (his first name being one ‘y’ away from Kenyan), and even suggested that Vanessa Bayer be deported. No one was free from his 140-character streams of vitriol — except for Leslie Jones. He tweeted that he has tremendous respect for the comedian and called her a winner, but quickly followed that up with a racially insensitive remark. The sketch ended as Jones stormed off-stage looking to confront him.
This sketch was the pièce de résistance of the episode. Jay Pharoah starred as Drake in a parody of the music video for Hotline Bling. The rapper/singer’s dance moves have been mocked and memed endlessly, but Pharoah changed the lyrics and defended Drake’s style as that of the everyman. “Dads are getting in on this, teachers getting in on this, your tax guy’s getting in on this,” he sang, and the crowd hooted and hollered as Tax Guy Trump gyrated awkwardly to the beat.
The Donald also appeared as laser harpist Gene Breadz, and as skeevy Startraxxx producer Scasey Steves, but neither sketch was particularly memorable. While some celebrities and politicians have succeeded in exposing the public to a different side of themselves on Saturday Night Live, Trump on SNL was Trump … on SNL. It seemed awkward and forced at times, but the sketches were creative and the cast was resourceful enough to stop him from crashing and burning. And if you want some insight as to why the show bothered to bring the controversial politician on board in the first place, just have a look at the ratings. The episode posted a massive 6.6 household rating, which is SNL’s best mark since January of 2012. Whether folks are watching because they love him or hate him, he’s going to continue to be on TV unless people start changing the channel.