Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @deanofcomedy. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. Learn more about comedy on CNN’s “The History of Comedy” Thursday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
Dean Obeidallah: Baldwin's much-touted appearance as host on SNL wasn't all about his portrayal of Trump
SNL gave airtime to portrayals of key Trump administration staffers and made some great political comedy, he writes
Saturday Night Live is clearly no longer content to just comically fillet Donald Trump. As we saw again in this Saturday night’s episode, they are increasingly going after key members of his staff. And if recent media reports are accurate, this seems to be rattling Trump and causing dissension within his administration.
When I worked on the production staff of SNL for eight seasons, we never knew if the politician or the celebrity the show would be mocking that weekend would be watching. But of course with Donald Trump, we do know. It appears he can’t help hate-watching the show. Trump has taken to Twitter on multiple occasions to slam the iconic comedy show, even demanding back in October that it be canceled because he was outraged by the way Alec Baldwin and the show depicted him.
Baldwin hosted the show this past Saturday, and if the sole goal of SNL was to drive Trump to Twitter to lash out, they could’ve featured many sketches with Baldwin lambasting the President. After all, Trump offers comedians an abundance of material. But instead, the show made a decision to focus more on key members of his administration like Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway.
The show opened with Melissa McCarthy reprising her hilarious role from last week as Spicer. This time Spicer tried to remain in control but as time went on he lost it. Soon Spicer was hawking goods for Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, which Nordstrom pulled this week for poor sales. And Spicer even comically commented on the racist underpinnings of Trump’s “extreme vetting” plan by using a white Barbie doll who easily walks by TSA security agents before a brown skinned “Moana” doll is immediately subjected to a pat down.
Assuming the media reports are accurate that last Saturday’s SNL depiction of Spicer got under Trump’s skin since a woman was playing Spicer, then the next moment of the cold open must really have angered Trump. That’s when his newly sworn-in Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, entered the sketch, played by the amazing Kate McKinnon. And she delivered a great comic line, touching on Session’s alleged racist past, “We all know there are two kinds of crime…regular and black.”
In the span of a few short minutes, SNL had again undermined Spicer, depicted the “Muslim ban” as racist, and spotlighted Sessions’ controversial past. That’s great political comedy.
But SNL was far from done with Trump’s team. Next came an entire sketch about Trump’s senior advisor Kellyanne Conway, which began with CNN’s Jake Tapper, played by Beck Bennett, commenting on how he didn’t want Conway on his show because of her peddling of fictitious stories, including “The Bowling Green massacre” that never happened.
Moments later when Tapper arrives at his apartment, he’s confronted – in a loose parody of the classic film “Fatal Attraction” – by an angry lingerie-clad Conway played by McKinnon. She declares she’s “not going to be ignored” by Tapper or any in the media because, “I just want to be part of the news.”
It wasn’t until the Weekend Update segment where Trump really became the brunt of the jokes. One of the most cutting came from Update co-anchor Michael Che when he commented that Trump looked miserable as President and noted that Trump was eating a truly unhealthy diet of KFC fried chicken. Che wryly added that Trump should quit now as President, “I mean, Donald, is this really how you want to spend the last two years of your life?!”
And finally, one hour into the show, we saw Baldwin as Trump. This time it was in a People’s Court parody of Trump appealing the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision. Sure, it was funny – especially when Trump calls as a character witness a shirtless Vladimir Putin – but clearly, SNL had made a conscious decision to not use Baldwin as Trump in sketch after sketch in this highly anticipated episode.
Giving comedic airtime to parodies of Sessions, Conway, and Spicer instead of wall-to-wall Baldwin was both funny and an important commentary on the volatile first weeks of the Trump administration. Obviously SNL alone can’t undermine the credibility of a presidential administration. But it can play a key role. (Hence Trump lashing out at SNL.) And given that SNL is at a 22-year high in ratings this season, the show is off to a good start. Its reach has not been this great in decades.
So in a time when polls show many Americans distrust the mainstream media, it may just take SNL and comedians to be the voices of reason. Here’s hoping that week after week SNL helps make America laugh again at Trump – and his administration.