Prior to the election, Donald Trump tweeted that Alec Baldwin’s Saturday Night Live impersonation of him “stinks,” and that the show is “boring,” “unfunny” and evidence of “media rigging” the election.
Winning hasn’t stopped him from watching it and griping – and it doesn’t seem like he plans on letting it go.
“Can we agree,” Today host Matt Lauer asked Trump on Wednesday, “that at this stage, it would be better for you to simply stop watching SNL as opposed to watching it and then complaining about it?”
Trump proceeded to complain that the “skits are terrible.” He likes Baldwin, but “I don’t think that his imitation of me gets me at all and it’s meant to be very mean-spirited, which is very biased, and I don’t like it.”
So … why can’t he bring himself to stop watching something he finds so bad?
“Frankly, the way the show is going now, and you look at the kind of work they’re doing, who knows how long that show is going to be on? It’s a terrible show,” Trump responded.
Trump hosted SNL one year ago – his second time doing so.
The episode brought big ratings, controversy, bad reviews and protests from those on the left, with the producers and network accused of “normalizing” Trump’s behavior during the primaries.
“I feel like the media has already normalized his behavior,” SNL co-head writer Bryan Tucker said a year after that episode. “Our job is not to promote one candidate or the other. Our job is to take what’s already happening and make fun of it.”
Tucker said Trump was “already very close” to locking in the GOP nomination and that his hosting gig didn’t help win it for him. “What we do is take people who are in the news and try our best to parody what everyone is talking about,” Tucker said. “So if someone is talking about Donald Trump, maybe we want to bring him on.”
(To be fair, SNL also got some flack from those on the right for its first post-election cold open. A teary-eyed Kate McKinnon-as-Hillary Clinton played the piano in what was intended as an emotional, somber tribute.)
Lampooning politicians – particularly the president of the United States – is the bread and butter of the late-night comedy show, regardless of who’s in charge. Executive producer Lorne Michaels has always insisted that the show doesn’t take sides.
“The thing about SNL, from the beginning, is we were really not partisan,” he told the Dallas Morning News earlier this year. “In a time now where most of the news channels are very partisan, we don’t do that. We are doing what we think is funny.”
The show has done a better job making fun of some elected leaders than others. Will Ferrell’s impersonation of President George W. Bush is considered one of the best; Michaels has admitted that the show struggled with a President Barack Obama take that resonated with audiences.
Some presidents have been receptive to their SNL treatment – Gerald Ford embraced Chevy Chase’s “First Klutz” approach, making cameos on the show and appearing with Chase at a political dinner.
Michaels told the New York Times in 2006 that Ford “was just so incredibly decent and good-natured about the skit,” showing that, after Watergate, it was OK for America to laugh about the presidency. “You couldn’t imagine Nixon signaling that this was OK.”
At the time, “the media and general public still resented any hint of ‘imperial’ trappings in connection with the presidency or the White House,” Ford wrote in his book Humor and the Presidency.
Not every president has been so pleased with SNL, Michaels said earlier this year.
He declined to say who.
Still, we’ve never had a president or president-elect be as vocal in their criticism of the show as Trump is. Of the many norms that Trump has broken this year, one is an eagerness of politicians to show they can laugh at themselves.
“I watched parts of … Saturday Night Live last night,” Trump tweeted on Nov. 20. “It is a totally one-sided, biased show – nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?”
Two weeks later: “Just tried watching Saturday Night Live – unwatchable! Totally biased, not funny and the Baldwin impersonation just can’t get any worse. Sad”
His anti-SNL tweets have repeatedly drawn responses from Baldwin, too.
“Did you see that my friend Mr. Baldwin is in a Twitter feud with our president-elect?” said Tina Fey – who had been the one to suggest to Michaels that Baldwin play Trump – in an interview with David Letterman for the Hollywood Reporter. “At one level, it just makes me feel sick for the state of the world because it’s so beneath a president.”
Fey continued: “But also my feeling is: ‘You think you’re good at being a jerk on Twitter? You will now face the grandmaster of being a jerk on Twitter.’ “
Trump’s SNL tweets were even cited by a Republican elector in a New York Times op-ed explaining why he wasn’t going to cast his vote for Trump in the electoral college.
In addition to Baldwin, SNL cast member Pete Davidson posted a screen grab of Trump’s tweet on Instagram, adding, “never been more proud. F— you b—-.” Davidson’s account appears to have since been deactivated or set to private.
Another, Michael Che, said he agrees with Trump about the show being too one-sided, and it “should show all views and we make a conscious effort to do so.”
“But the thing that Donald Trump doesn’t understand is that when you’re that ridiculous, it’s kind of hard to talk about anything else,” the Weekend Update co-anchor told Esquire. “You have this ridiculous orange billionaire doing stranger and stranger things, what else is there?”
Che also pointed out “The Bubble” sketch, which skewered ultra-liberals, and the controversial move SNL made in inviting Trump to host the show.
“I don’t think he has much grounds to speak on that because, if anything, we’ve been the most friendly show to him,” Che said. “We’ve been accused of that. But comedy should take both sides. No matter who is in power, we should be making fun of them.”