The 10 Best Political Impressions in SNL History

Will Ferrell's impression of Janet Reno is one of the most memorable moments of his career.
Will Ferrell's impression of Janet Reno is one of the most memorable moments of his career. Scott Gries/Getty
The 46th season of Saturday Night Live was christened over the weekend with musical guest Megan Thee Stallion and the show’s legendary alumnus Chris Rock as host, and in typical SNL fashion, reception among fans and critics was mixed.

In the show’s defense, however, its season premiere is notoriously awkward and off-kilter, as it takes time for the new class of cast members and writers to get into their groove. Moreover, no amount of preparation could smooth the trajectory of the topical curveball that was President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis. As "Weekend Update" co-host Colin Jost pointed out, “This news was a lot for us to process a day before we came back on the air after four months off.”

Still, the season premiere proved antiquated the notion that SNL is an institution that effectively speaks truth to power and has the potential to restore the morale of a disenchanted audience. The opening skit, which was a parody of the Sept. 29 debate between Trump (Alec Baldwin) and Joe Biden (Jim Carrey), couldn’t reach the event’s nadir even in jest. Baldwin has been praised for his portrayal of Trump, but the president's petulant, bloviating man-child demeanor is beyond parody.

Trump is, of course, an exception to the rule. Every politician has their share of quirks and idiosyncrasies that can be effectively channeled as a comedic device, but Trump is so great at making himself look undignified that it makes the entire cottage industry of Trump impersonations pointless. SNL’s lampooning of political figures otherwise has an enviable batting average, as proved by these 10 impressions by its cast members.

Maya Rudolph as Kamala Harris
We’ll overlook the fact that Maya Rudolph made the painfully cringe-worthy joke, “America needs a WAP — woman as president” on Saturday, and instead refer you to her performance 10 months ago as “America’s fun aunt.”

Chevy Chase as Gerald Ford

People tend to romanticize the John Belushi era of SNL, but let’s be honest: Many of the jokes made on the show during the late 1970s/early 1980s don’t pass the longevity test. However, original cast member Chevy Chase’s impression of former President Gerald Ford is one of many immortal fixtures in SNL lore.
Jason Sudeikis as Joe Biden

Jim Carrey’s recent impression of Biden is worthy of its share of acclaim, but former cast member Jason Sudeikis channeled the crass but toothless demeanor of the presidential candidate better. It’s entirely possible, too, that Sudeikis would have had better chemistry with Baldwin had he been given the opportunity over the weekend. 
Matt Damon as Brett Kavanaugh

We’re inclined to think that esteemed actor Matt Damon was cast as Brett Kavanaugh for the simple reason that the two share an uncanny resemblance, but the Good Will Hunting star surprisingly captured the Supreme Court Justice’s ill-temperament and general sense of entitlement. Sometimes Lorne Michaels and the-other-powers-that-be appear to make casting decisions for the sake of star power, but Damon would have been perfect for this role even if he was nameless. 
Will Ferrell as Janet Reno
In the context of SNL, Will Ferrell is perhaps most remembered for his portrayal of former President George W. Bush, but one of his more esoteric roles includes that of former Attorney General Janet Reno. Ferrell didn’t capture her voice and mannerisms to an exact T, but as he explained to the Washington Post in 1998, his goal in playing Reno was to be as ridiculous as possible. He frequently poked fun at her stoicism and cold indifference in the comically vivacious recurring skit, “Janet Reno’s Dance Party.”
Kerry Washington as Michelle Obama/Oprah Winfrey
Between her Oscar nominations for Django Unchained and primetime Emmy nods for Scandal, Kerry Washington was simply killing it in 2013. Even then, one of her greatest achievements of the year came in the form of her legendary appearance on SNL as Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey —  in the same sketch, no less. The reason for this double duty was clarified in the skit’s disclaimer, which read: “The producers at ‘Saturday Night Live’ would like to apologize to Kerry Washington for the number of black women she will be asked to play tonight. We made these requests both because Ms. Washington is an actress of considerable range and talent, and also because ‘SNL’ does not currently have a black woman in the cast.” This was corrected the following year, when comedian Leslie Jones joined the cast. 
Norm MacDonald as Bob Dole
Norm MacDonald was not only the best "Weekend Update" host, but he and Darrell Hammond also comprised the duo with the best chemistry in SNL history.

Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer
The real Sean Spicer is living life in the rearview mirror, as evidenced by the showbiz kiss-of-death that is an appearance on Dancing With the Stars, but also his greatest contribution to pop culture was giving Melissa McCarthy her best role yet. 
Chris Farley as Newt Gingrich
Sadly, there’s no YouTube footage of Chris Farley playing former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich on SNL, so this video of him reprising the role at the actual House of Representatives in front of the actual Newt Gingrich will have to suffice. 
Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

There was a time 12 years ago when politicians could be profoundly stupid without being beyond parody, and there’s no better relic of this long-forgotten period than Tina Fey’s famous portrayal of Sarah Palin. Fey nailed the former Alaska governor’s mannerisms and unabashed buffoonery so hard that it currently stands as one of the best, if not the best political impersonation in SNL history.

And that is said with no hint of recency bias, either. 
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Garrett Gravley was born and grew up in Dallas. He mostly writes about music, but veers into arts and culture, local news and politics. He is a graduate of the University of North Texas and has written for the Dallas Observer since October 2018.