Politician’s Night Live

How politicians have fit into the SNL equation throughout the decades

Illustrator: Taylor Daniels

Illustrator: Taylor Daniels

Saturday Night Live has made a name for itself as delivering comedic material that is always timely, and often very political. Especially around election season, SNL parodies presidential debates, mocks the idiosyncrasies of politicians, and even occasionally features politicians as guests and hosts on the show. Below is an abridged history and a selected list of the politicians who have made their mark on Studio 8H throughout the more than 40 years of SNL.

 

Ralph Nader

On Jan. 15, 1977 in the second season of SNL, Ralph Nader became the first politician to host SNL. Although he had a slim chance at nabbing the presidential bid, Nader started the show calling himself “Ralphie” while wearing a blue cowboy outfit, right after Gilda Radner and Dan Akroyd expressed concerns about Nader’s reputation for being “too serious.” As he fearlessly made fun of his reputation, Nader was ultimately overshadowed by the debut of Bill Murray as an SNL cast member and the premiere of the first Conehead sketch. It is clear for many reasons that this episode is one for the history books.

 

George McGovern

After losing the Democratic nomination for the 1984 presidential race, McGovern found refuge in the SNL stage on April 14. McGovern took the stage and became the fourth politician to host SNL. In what appeared to be a cathartic call-back to his past, McGovern played himself in a sketch as his family ridiculed him as a failure him for losing the 1972 election to Richard Nixon. McGovern’s fake family gossips behind his back and discusses a plot to put McGovern into a “senior citizen apartment building.” It was certainly a bold move, but McGovern’s ability to laugh at himself gave audiences a wonderful piece of entertainment for their Saturday night.

In a way, Giuliani gave the nation the permission to laugh again as Lorne Michaels asked if, in light of the horrific tragedy, it was okay for SNL to be funny.

Rudy Giuliani

Giuliani first fearlessly hosted SNL on Nov. 22, 1997 as he dove into a variety of sketches, including one where he dressed in a floral dress and grey wig in order to be an Italian grandmother on Thanksgiving. Despite his hosting gig being the longest appearance on a single episode of SNL, Giuliani’s time at SNL is best remembered as he took over the opening monologue on the first episode of SNL after 9/11, by honoring the heroes and victims of the national tragedy. In a way, Giuliani gave the nation the permission to laugh again as Lorne Michaels asked if, in light of the horrific tragedy, it was okay for SNL to be funny. Giuliani’s response was simple and powerful: “Why start now?”

Fey said McCain was one of her favorite hosts that she worked with during her SNL career.

John McCain

McCain first visited the SNL stage on October 19, 2002 after losing the Republican presidential bid to George W. Bush in 2000. Although he has only hosted once, McCain has made a few other appearances on SNL during his 2008 presidential race with Sarah Palin. He visited the Weekend Update desk with Seth Meyers, and performed a sketch where Tina Fey played Sarah Palin. Fey said McCain was one of her favorite hosts that she worked with during her SNL career. Now if Tina Fey says something is good, than it is really, really good.

 

Donald Trump

When SNL announced that it would feature the most controversial republican presidential candidate as a host on their Nov. 7 show, the outcry in protest from the general public was almost instant. Many groups protested SNL stating that the show was simply grabbing for higher ratings, while also ignoring the various offensive comments made by Trump about Mexican immigrants and other minority groups. On the air date of the episode, Donald Trump was only on-screen for a meager 12 minutes, half the normal time typically given to hosts, making the appearance seem more like a ratings grab than a genuine interest to feature Trump on the show. Despite all of the controversy, Trump helped SNL gain one of the largest audiences it has had since Jimmy Fallon hosted back in December 2013. On Trump’s big night, an average of 9.4 million viewers tuned in, shattering the show’s typical average viewership of 5 to 6 million viewers.