SATURDAY Night Live writers have devastatingly lampooned Mitt Romney as a corny, coreless candidate who evokes an ‘Eh, I guess’ response in voters. Now they’re worried that we’re heading, comedy-wise, toward an ‘Eh, I guess’ election. “I don’t think it’s going to be as much fun as 2000 and 2008,” Jim Downey, the show’s inimitable satirist, told me. “When you have an incumbent president, it’s not wholly new. And because of the long Republican primary debate stretch, I’m already tired of Romney.
I wish there could be a crazy brokered convention with someone we’ve never heard of to keep it fresh. But you don’t get a gift like Sarah Palin very often, and I’m sure it’ll never happen again.” You’re telling me. “Comedy writers are incredibly promiscuous, and we want as many targets as possible,” agreed Seth Meyers, the clever ‘SNL’ head writer and ‘Weekend Update’ anchor.
“We really slowed down in the second four years of Bush.” Stuck with a Tin Man-versus-Spock race, the writers perk up at the thought of Romney’s picking the crackling Chris Christie as his running mate. But Mitt seems too programmed to risk his hard-won chance at the brass ring on a brassy partner who might overshadow him. Two of the most hallucinatory moments in ‘SNL’ history came in 2008, when Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin and the real Palin sashayed past each other, and when John McCain roguishly appeared in a skit with Fey’s Palin going rogue. “Sarah Palin was a once-in-a-lifetime situation,” Meyers marvelled.
“She was incredibly magnetic and came with a built-in catchphrase.” She, like Joe Biden, inspires what Meyers calls ‘wet comedy’ (as opposed to dry), and they both have what Downey calls ‘handles,’ quirks of speech and personality that both writers and performers can latch onto. Having played John Kerry in 2004, Meyers has experience puncturing a stiff, rich guy who has a hard time getting anyone to like him. “The fun thing with Mitt Romney is, here’s a guy who has to look in the mirror every day and see that he looks exactly the way a president should look,” Meyers said, and yet he can’t catch fire.
“There’s a creepy youth minister kind of squareness to him, especially combined with that goofy eagerness to please,” Downey said. “People are perfectly willing to accept people different from them as long as they don’t try to pretend otherwise.”
In a sketch last week written by Downey, Jason Sudeikis’ Romney pandered three exits past shameless talking to different groups. He told the American Diabetes Association, “No one wants to get sick, you know, but frankly I’ve always thought that if I had to develop a chronic disease, you know I hoped it would be adult onset diabetes, I mean what a fascinating illness.” The five Romney sons have also taken a ribbing.
The hilarious Bill Hader, playing an Anthony Perkins in ‘Psycho’ version of the Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, interviewed the ‘SNL’ sons, noting: “I like creepy things and I love these guys. ... Our thanks to Stephen King for creating those boys.” Meyers says that ‘there’s something funny about a candidate with all these fully grown adult sons. When it comes to an adorable competition, they certainly don’t beat Sasha and Malia.’ Lorne Michaels, the show’s executive producer, has offered a guest spot to Romney, who is considering it. “He was funny on Letterman, giving the Top Ten list,” Downey said.
‘SNL’ has always struggled with its Obama impersonation because Obama is ‘smooth without big handles,’ as Downey puts it. To the dismay of the president, Fred Armisen plays it more as pedantic white guy than cool black guy. In The New York Times, the writer Jason Zinoman complained: “What’s frustrating about these performances is the same thing that has left many in Mr Obama’s base disillusioned. Mr Armisen seems sometimes to blend into the background.” Meyers recalled that, after the Navy SEALs raid that killed Osama last year, the show did a sketch with Obama ‘getting his mojo back.’ “It would be really fun to see that Obama again on the show, the confident Obama who comes out on the campaign trail,” he said.
When Rick Santorum dropped out, Meyers tweeted about the Santorum impersonator Andy Samberg: “About to sit down Samberg and tell him he’s not going to play the president. This part of the job is never easy.” But with rumours buzzing that Samberg, plus Sudeikis and Kristen Wiig, who plays Ann Romney, are leaving the show, will different whitebread Romney mimics be required? “I’m sure they would stick around for the pre-election shows,” Downey said. Maybe Stefon can moderate the debates.
But meanwhile, Downey is leavening the prospect of an ‘eh’ campaign by plotting to follow up his hilarious Keith Olbermann sketch (performed by the host Ben Affleck) with a send-up of Sean Hannity. “I think I’m right in saying,” Downey observed, “that he’s the dumbest person who’s ever been paid to speak on television.”