(CNN) -- Chevy Chase didn't look like Gerald Ford and didn't sound like Gerald Ford. But in the mid-1970s, when "Saturday Night Live" first went on the air, Chase -- then a writer and cast member of the show -- made his impression of the president, rife with pratfalls and slapstick, the talk of the country.
He also made the president a butt of jokes, which was intentional, Chase told CNN in an interview.
"[Ford] was a sweet man, a terrific man -- [we] became good friends after, but ... he just tripped over things a lot," he said. "It's not that I can imitate him so much that I can do a lot of physical comedy and I just made it, I just went after him. And ... obviously my leanings were Democratic and I wanted [Jimmy] Carter in and I wanted [Ford] out, and I figured look, we're reaching millions of people every weekend, why not do it."
Al Franken -- now the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate from Minnesota -- and his then writing partner, Tom Davis, wrote a wicked takeoff of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's book, "The Final Days," which included Dan Aykroyd as a bitter Richard Nixon and John Belushi as a toadying Henry Kissinger. In the mid-'80s, a sketch starring Phil Hartman as Ronald Reagan showed the president, often lampooned as forgetful, with a razor-sharp command of the Iran-Contra situation, cutting deals in Arabic and barking orders at his staff.
More recently, Dana Carvey's malaprop-laden impression of George H.W. Bush, Hartman's puppy-dog Bill Clinton, Will Ferrell's George W. Bush and Tina Fey's Sarah Palin have embedded themselves in the culture.
Though Chase believes the show leans left, and Fey's Palin is an attempt to hurt the Republicans, Marc Liepis, NBC Universal senior director of late night publicity, had no comment.
Certainly, "SNL" -- which began as one of the old '60s counterculture's first forays into network TV -- has also mocked Democrats. Indeed, sketches about the Democratic debates in the spring, one of which portrayed the media as fawning over Barack Obama, gave Hillary Clinton ammunition in her pursuit of the nomination. The writer of that sketch, Jim Downey, has been described as leaning conservative, though he was quoted in a March New York Times article as calling himself a registered Democrat.
In the same article, "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels said, "We don't lay down for anybody."
Chase talked about his Ford impression and the political impact of "Saturday Night Live" with CNN's Alina Cho. The following is an edited version of that interview.
CNN: Let's go back to '76.
Chevy Chase: It was Gerald Ford that was president but hadn't been elected and was running again and I just ...
CNN: Some people say he was an accidental president and you made him accident prone.
Chase: Actually, he was accident prone and he was a sweet man, a terrific man, became good friends later, and a relatively good athlete in college too ... but he just tripped over things a lot. ... You know, after a while, you just start writing the jokes and start doing it.
So it's not that I can imitate him so much that I can do a lot of physical comedy, and I just made it, I just went after him. And I certainly, obviously my leanings were Democratic and I wanted Carter in and I wanted [Ford] out and I figured look, we're reaching millions of people every weekend, why not do it.
CNN: You mean to tell me in the back of your mind you were thinking, hey I want Carter ...
Chase: Oh, yeah.
CNN: And I'm going to make him look bad.
Chase: Oh yeah. What do you think they're doing now, you think they're just doing this because Sarah's funny? No, I think that the show is very much more Democratic and liberal-oriented, that they are obviously more for Barack Obama. [In the '70s], out of the Nixon era, and it was not unlikely that I might go that direction.
CNN: I talked to one political pundit who said, I think Chevy Chase cost Ford the presidency.
Chase: When you have that kind of a venue and power where you can reach so many millions of people and you've become a show that people watch, you know, you can affect a lot of people, and humor does it beautifully, because humor is perspective and has a way of making judgment calls. ... So I think there was no question that it had major effect and in fact, in speaking with his family and then later him, and even reading some of his books ... he felt so, too.
CNN: What do you think of Tina Fey's portrayal of Sarah Palin?
Chase: I think it's actually very spot on. ... I think, though, what Tina is saying is -- and she has also admitted it -- "This woman is not a dumb woman, she's a smart woman, so am I, Tina Fey. Neither of us are smart enough to be the president, though."
CNN: So having said that, what do you think then the impact is? You touched on your impact on Ford and his presidency ...
Chase: I think more now then ever the impact is great because of how much larger the impact of the media is generally on people's lives, all sorts of media. ... I mean so there's so many outlets, but people just spend so much of their time in front of their computers and watching television in their computer.
CNN: Is ["SNL's" politics] fair?
Chase: Fair? What do you mean fair? They're an all-purpose comedy show. Of course it's fair, it's satire, it's what it is, and it's fair, if you have your own television show, to give your own opinion. ... They didn't let Barack off the hook a lot either, you know, when they said, "Is there anything you would like sir, a little more coffee. ... "
Of course it's fair. I mean really, the whole thing about that show is get the laugh; it always has been, and it always will be.