Donald Trump Fails To Make Saturday Night Live Great Again

Donald Trump was on Saturday Night Live last night. It wasn't even remotely funny.

Trump SNL

Last night Donald Trump accomplished the dual task both further revealing the absurdity of his entire campaign for President, and demonstrating for those of us who hadn’t watched the show in years just how bad Saturday Night Live has become:

Donald J. Trump, making his first appearance on “Saturday Night Live” as a presidential candidate, was satirized by two well-coiffed doppelgängers, who attempted (admirably) to outboast him in matching red ties.

“Now that I’m here, this is actually the best monologue in ‘SNL’ history,” one of them declared.

Mr. Trump was loudly and provocatively heckled by the actor Larry David, who repeatedly called him a “racist” from off stage.

And he was lavished with praise by a fictional White House aide, who told him that “everyone loves the new laws you tweeted.”

Mr. Trump, a man famed for his self-aggrandizing ways, seemed to relish the chance to show that he could take a joke — a point that he made explicitly in his opening monologue as host on the NBC show.

But it was a stilted and sometimes unfunny performance, suggesting Mr. Trump is most at ease when hosting his own, seemingly never-ending TV show, rather than appearing as a guest host on somebody else’s.

Mr. Trump, who previously guest hosted in 2004, appeared in a variety of skits, amid protests from Latino activists who had demanded that the network bar him from the show because of his controversial remarks about Mexican immigrants and his stated position that he would deport millions of undocumented residents.

Outside the show’s studio in Midtown Manhattan, at least 200 demonstrators marched with signs in English and Spanish. Carrying placards declaring “We are the people” and “Shut it down” to the beat of drums, they also brandished large papier-mâché masks depicting Mr. Trump and held aloft such other messages as “Trump: La Cara del Racismo” and “SNL: This is how you fix your diversity problem?”

“Saturday Night Live” seemed sensitive to the critique: Mr. David’s prominent, defiant cameo during the opening skit seemed designed to both acknowledge and answer the protesters.

But over all, Mr. Trump was his usual, colorful and playful self: When Mr. David explained that he had heard he would be paid $5,000 to shout that Mr. Trump was a racist, Mr. Trump said he understood.

“As a businessman,” he said, “I can respect that.”

It was a family affair. Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, played herself during a sketch inside a fake Oval Office, informing her father of plans to cover the Washington Monument in casino-style gold-colored glass.

The businessman trotted out plenty of bravado. After reciting a list of his attributes — rich, funny, handsome — he answered the question on everyone’s mind:

“So why are you hosting ‘SNL’? Why? And the answer is I really have nothing better to do.”

As the show dragged on, that seemed apparent. Mr. Trump’s sketches seemed to become increasingly less compelling. In one, he appeared as a profoundly unwelcome guest — a musician crashing a family dinner and offering a wide, somewhat menacing grin as he thrust a microphone into the hand of the man at the head of the table.

Mr. Trump also appeared aware of the perils of live sketch comedy. Referring to episodes of “Saturday Night Live” past, he said: “This show has been a disaster for me.”

Jenna Johnson at The Washington Postmeanwhile, points out how the scripted nature of the show revealed just how unscripted Trump is on the campaign trail, where he’s generally successful. But perhaps the summary that best sums up the night for those of you who didn’t stay up, and those of us who, due to lack of better judgment or anything better to do, watched the show, is that notwithstanding the fact that the guy who has been the butt of jokes on SNL for three decades now was hosting for at least the second time, the show was incredibly boring:

The Donald Trump-hosted Saturday Night Live wasn’t a secret triumph. It wasn’t a rolling catastrophe, rocked by protest and anger, as some thought it might become. It was mostly just … kinda there — bland and boring and toothless.

All of the anger surrounding the episode might have fallen away if it were funny, but it simply wasn’t. The sketches fell dead. The actors seemed checked out. Trump has clearly not been taking comedy classes in between campaign appearances.

In many ways, this is the worst possible outcome for everybody but NBC — which will likely see huge ratings thanks to curious viewers who dropped in for the episode. All told,SNL endured weeks of protest, culminating in threats of boycotts, for one of its weakest outings in ages (and this is a show that’s had plenty of weak outings). If Trump sees some sort of polling boost as a result, it will be truly inexplicable. He didn’t seem funny or approachable or even ornery. He mostly seemed stiff.

SNL has been hosted by politicians and candidates before, and as with any host who doesn’t have acting as their first vocation, the series usually tries to play off an established persona, or to minimize the politician’s involvement in individual sketches. It’s often a chance for SNL‘s main players to have some fun.

That wasn’t really the case with the Trump-hosted episode. After an amusing opening sketch about the recent Democratic candidate forum, featuring the return of Larry David as Bernie Sanders, the episode quickly settled into a torpor, where sketches seemed at once unwilling to satirize the host or celebrate him.

The best the episode could offer was a kind of “satirization through celebration,” as in an early sketch where a Donald Trump-ruled America was so great and had solved so many of its problems that it quickly became ridiculous, before Trump stated that the sketch’s vision of the US in 2018 was a pale imitation of what the country would actually be like if he were elected. Sure.


For Trump’s political opponents, a boring episode of SNL might be the best possible outcome, all things considered. If the episode had exploded in controversy, with heckling and booing, that would have dominated headlines. If Trump had been unexpectedly great at sketch comedy, it could have humanized him even more. Instead, the episode was a dud, and it’s unlikely we’ll be talking about it when Monday morning rolls around.

But Trump’s hosting has still prompted interesting and important conversations about late-night’s role in holding candidates’ feet to the fire. As more and more broadcast journalism either slides into irrelevancy or gives in to horse-race campaign coverage that doesn’t offer up substantive policy discussion, late-night comedy has slowly but surely become the way lots of Americans hope to see political candidates kept honest, even if that’s a weird burden to place on a bunch of people who are, after all, only comedians.

The fact that the show was just, well, bad, isn’t really Trump’s fault of course. I haven’t been a regular viewer of Saturday Night Live in years, and other than the videos that would show up on YouTube or whatnot when a sketch went viral it isn’t a show that I paid much attention to at all even when I wasn’t otherwise engaged or asleep at 11:30 on a Saturday night. Indeed, had it not been for the fact that the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for President was hosting the show, I either would’ve been asleep last night or watching Law & Order reruns. Instead, I made the choice to tune into SNL, because Trump was hosting and it was inevitable that whatever happened would end up being the talk of the political circuit today, and probably heading into a week that will include a Republican Presidential Debate on Tuesday.

It was, in the end, a regrettable mistake.

There’s really no point in going through a long review of the show, because you can find plenty of those online if you really choose to — perhaps the best I’ve found this morning are from Daniel Feinberg at The Hollywood Reporter, who called the show “toothless and uncomfortable,” and Maureen Ryan at Variety, who summed the show up with words that Trump himself might use, “not hugely entertaining.” Amber Phillips, meanwhile engages in the inevitable political analysis an asks whether it will matter that the show was, well, not very good. Perhaps the fact that the show’s writers had to find an entire show to build around Trump, rather than doing a one-off sketch like they did with Hillary Clinton several weeks back in an appearance that was actually fairly amusing I suppose, had something to do with how the show went. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t because they were lacking for material. As I said above, this show has been skewering Trump in one way or another for decades now, and he’s both hosted in the past and made cameo appearances that came across pretty well. That, of course, was in an era when the show had cast members who were actually funny, many of whom have gone on to have great careers of their own. Speaking as someone who probably last viewed a full episode of SNL back during the 2008 election season when Tina Fey was perfecting her Sarah Palin impression and people like Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers were still on the show, the only thing I can say is that I can’t see a single person in the cast right now who deserves to be a star in their own right. As for the political angle, if anything has been proven correct in this election season it is that there is no such thing as bad press for Donald Trump. He can insult Mexicans, Donald Trump, women like Megyn Kelly and Carly Fiorina, and make juvenile comments about his opponents and his supporters just love it. It’s unlikely that bad reviews for a Saturday night comedy show is going to hurt him at all.

Nate Silver summed the whole thing up best, with this Tweet:

If Trump had come out at the end of the night wearing a hat like that, and the writers had turned the whole show into an exercise in self-parody, then it would’ve all made sense. As it was, the night just revealed how painfully bad ninety minutes on a Saturday night can be when they cram it full of bad comedy and one of the most bizarre musical guests I’ve ever seen.

So what have we learned from all this? We learned that Donald Trump still doesn’t belong anywhere near the White House and Saturday Night Live needs to be put out of its misery. And I learned I probably should’ve just gone to bed early.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Entertainment, Popular Culture, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Davebo says:

    There was great opportunity there for SNL to make a hilarious episode but that certainly didn’t happen.

    Perhaps it’s for the same reason SNL has sucked for years, bad writers. Perhaps it’s because Trump put limitations on them as he does with debates. But surely no one can be surprised that SNL is still seriously unfunny.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    I don’t think I have ever watched SNL live. There was a time I would record it to watch latter but it was always on way past my bedtime. Haven’t even recorded it for years. There was a time that SNL was brilliant but those days are long gone. Everything has a shelf life and TV shows are no different. The last high point of the show was bringing back Tina Fay to play Sarah Palin in 2008. The shows main contribution was producing some of the best comedic actors around – it hasn’t even done that for several years. The Donald Trump appearance was an attempt to breath some life into a dying franchise and appears that failed.

  3. Lit3Bolt says:

    For God’s sake, Sesame Street is funnier than SNL now.

    (GoT parody)

    (Les Mis parody)

    (House of Cards parody)

    SNL is a 70’s anachronism. It’s no longer raunchy, the music is no longer good, the comics are no longer stars, and the talent is no longer there. Make the studio a museum piece and I bet NBC would make more money.

  4. Jeron says:

    I watched it twice and on the second watch after having read many of the reviews about it I was finally laughing out loud. On the second watch what I did differently was that I watched the second half of it first and then went back to watch the first part. The Weekend Update was likely the best part of the show for me and I got it better on the second watch.

    I expected the episode to be awkward. They needed to be careful not to offend even more people who were already protesting the show. And when they pictured Trump they were truthful. For better or for worse. Apparently they gave Trump about 12 minutes on screen and they did not want to give him even more in case they needed to give equal time to other candidates as well.

    TV is what Trump really likes. That’s the bottom-line. On TV he is the king that he wanted to be.

    I’ve enjoyed this season’s of SNL so far. I love the cast actually. Even the ones that were new to me have started to make more sense like Leslie Jones. The way that she portrays a powerful woman may tick folks the wrong way, but it mesmerizes us and in so doing may keep us further interested in what is going on. 🙂

    Some of the SNL cast have been making movies together in their old tradition. That’s how I got to know some of them. I wouldn’t worry about them. 🙂

  5. Jenos Idanian says:

    I’ve never really watched SNL, but I’ve noticed one consistent theme in critiques of the show: it hasn’t been funny in about five years. Consistently. There isn’t a specific era that was good; it was always five years or so ago.

  6. Grumpy Realist says:

    The best humor is now found on blogs and the group efforts found on some comment threads. (The comment via-a-via Sarah Palin that seeing the moon didn’t qualify someone to be an astronaut was made over at Balloon Juice IIRC.)