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A Brief History of Debate on “Saturday Night Live”

October 9th, 2016 by Liz Brown


If only politics were this funny IRL.


Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon brought the house down with their recent portrayals of Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the season premiere of “Saturday Night Live” last week, and we expect the next month will feature plenty more head-to-head late night comedy battles between them. The over-the-top world of politics is inherently comedic and the unprecedented bizarreness of this year’s campaign is certainly no exception. Campaigns are full of wild characters, public gaffes and easy-to-ridicule societal absurdities. That’s why political debates have been part of “SNL’s” bread and butter since the show premiered back in 1974.

In honor of one of the wildest presidential campaigns in American history, we decided to take a look at the history of political debates on “SNL”.

1976: Ford/Carter Debate

It all started with a showdown between Chevy Chase’s portrayal of a bumbling President Gerald Ford and Dan Aykroyd as challenger Jimmy Carter. During a time when the country was still recovering from the first Presidential resignation four years prior, “SNL” gave us a reason to laugh at the three ring circus that politics had become. Our favorite line of the sketch?

Chevy Chase’s President Ford responding to the allegations that Carter’s son admitted to smoking dope:

“I doubt that Mr. Carter’s son is any dumber than my own,” said Ford.

1988: Bush-Clinton-Perot Debate

It’s not that “Saturday Night Live” was so short on cast members that Dana Carvey pulled double duty playing both playing both George H.W. Bush as well as Ross Perot. It was that he was so brilliant at playing both, no one even dared suggest someone stand in for either role. Phil Hartman held his own against the Carvey double shot with his portrayal of the smooth talking soon-to-be President Bill Clinton, reminding us how much we still miss seeing Hartman on that stage.

2000: Bush/Gore Debates

Back in the year 2000 before hanging chads turned the whole world upside down, the election just seemed like a good old showdown between two Southerners debating the real issues. It was Darryl Hammond’s slow-talking, snooze inducing lockbox lovin’ Al Gore versus Will Ferrell’s bewildered, plain talking, vocabulary inventing George W. Bush. Those were good times. Also, “strategery.

2008: Palin/Biden VP Debates

When “SNL” alum Tina Fey returned to the show to take on the role of vice presidential candidate Governor Sarah Palin, it was such a game changer it was actually featured in the movie “Game Change” about the controversy surrounding her being selected. Fey’s portrayal of Palin is so epic that it’s almost a shame how it completely overshadows Jason Sudeikis’s hilarious impression of the exuberant, McCain lovin’, Scranton, Pennsylvania dissing Joe Biden. Honorable mention to Queen Latifah in this one for playing gobsmacked debate moderator Gwen Ifill who’s flabbergasted by Palin’s performance.

2016: Clinton/Trump Debates

And then, of course, there’s the mindblowing battle of Clinton vs. Trump. When “SNL” returned for their Season 42 premiere, they let us know they’d carry on their proud tradition of debate roasting by calling in special guest star Alec Baldwin to play the GOP nominee. Kate McKinnon became the first actress to win an Emmy for “Saturday Night Live” last month, no doubt due in part to her rock solid impression of Hillary Clinton, and Alec Baldwin reminded us why his amazing “SNL” performances landed him the lead role in “30 Rock”. He’s a comedic juggernaut that has us dying to take a long overdue vacation to J-HIIIIIIIIINA. (aka China).