Perhaps that was because SNL’s writers weren’t sure how to write for a politician who is also a front-running presidential candidate. (As PBS put it, “Despite a 40-year history of lampooning politicians while inviting some to mock themselves as on-air guests, booking a presidential candidate to host the NBC sketch-comedy show is almost unprecedented.”) Perhaps they weren’t eager to write good sketches for the man who once equated Mexican immigrants with rapists and with whom NBC had previously severed ties. Perhaps they felt, like the many protestors that picketed SNL’s studios on Saturday with “DUMP TRUMP” signs, that the network was selling out in providing Trump with yet another platform for free media. (Fox News’s headline before the show: “Trump hosts Saturday Night Live, with surrounding controversy expected to bring big ratings.”)
Whatever the cause, though, the show couldn’t seem to figure out what to make of Trump, or what to do with his second turn as SNL host (he’d done it once before, in 2004, shortly after the debut of The Apprentice). The candidate’s monologue, Larry David’s heckle-for-hire aside, was essentially a stump speech freed of obligations to policy and positioning and politics in general. (“People think I’m controversial,” Trump confided. “But the truth is, I’m a nice guy.” Later, he’d add that “part of the reason I’m here is that I know how to take a joke.”)
The show’s first Trump-starring sketch was set in the White House in 2018, and it consisted of Trump’s staff informing him how wonderfully the country was doing under the Trump Administration. A representative bit of dialogue:
Staffer: Well, Mr. President, you did it.
Trump: Just like I promised, right?
Staffer: Halfway into your first term, and prosperity is at an all-time high. In two years, you really made America great again.
Melania: See, I told you, it’s more than just words and a silly hat.
Trump: First Lady Melania is 100 percent correct.
Later, Trump asked a general, “How are we doing in Syria?”
The general’s reply: “Well, ISIS is completely eliminated, sir. The whole country’s at peace. All the refugees have returned, and they have great jobs as blackjack dealers in the Trump Hotel & Casino in Damascus.”
Pause for LOLs, etc. The sketch went on in this way, with mentions of Putin “withdrawing from Ukraine” after Trump called him a loser (“he cried for hours!”), and with a lengthy discussion of the single biggest problem facing Americans under the leadership of President Trump: “They’re just sick of winning!” a staffer explained. “They’re winning so much! It’s just too great, sir!”
The whole thing was ostensibly meant to poke fun at Trump’s sweeping, swashbuckling assurances of his unique ability to Make America Great Again; it was, in other words, meant to be a joke about Trump that was uttered by Trump itself. Which would have been quite a coup! But what this litany of President Trumpian accomplishments ended up doing, on the contrary, was simply to give Trump another chance to talk about how great he is. And to add to his long list of reasons for his greatness one more item: the fact that he can totally take a joke.