14 ‘Saturday Night Live’ Political Sketches That Are Like a Comedy Time Capsule

14 ‘Saturday Night Live’ Political Sketches That Are Like a Comedy Time Capsule

As reputations are soiled or laundered, and they come to be remembered as supervillains or saints, it’s fun to look back on public figures as they were in their prime: idiots and assholes.

1977: ‘Ask President Carter’

While the real-life President Carter struggled to make any real progress in Washington, Dan Aykroyd’s Carter proved adept at everything from remotely fixing a small town’s glitching mail sorting machine to talking down a guy freaking out on an acid trip.

1984: ‘The Question Is Moot!’

As Jesse Jackson was gaining steam as a potential Democratic nominee for the presidency, the real Jesse Jackson hosted this fictional game show where every answer is: The question is moot; the Reagan administration has run the country into the toilet; we’re on the brink of war and we’re all going to die.

1997: ‘Janet Reno’s Dance Party’

Will Ferrell repeatedly portrayed the lighter, more fun-loving side of the aggressive U.S. Attorney General. This particular sketch features an accidentally cathartic cameo from a still-beloved Rudy Giuliani, who gets his solar plexus pummeled, live, on a billboard in Times Square. 

1995: Chris Farley’s Newt Gingrich

After Gingrich became the Speaker of the House, Farley portrayed him as muscling through the policies associated with his Contract With America. He was later invited to do his impression at a House Republican Conference.

1996: Norm Macdonald’s Bob Dole

After the real Dole announced he was leaving the Senate to focus on his presidential campaign, Macdonald’s Dole announced all the additional frivolities he’d be cutting out of his life in order to more fully focus on his political aspirations. 

1992: Dana Carvey’s Ross Perot

In this sketch, Carvey’s big-eared, manic Perot expounds upon his famous “dirty tricks” comments.

2010: Fred Armisen as New York Governor David Paterson

Lots of Armisen’s impressions wouldn’t fly today, not least of which is the partially blind Paterson. Armisen played a sharp, if occasionally blundering politician, but his blindness was used for easy slapstick laughs. 

2018: Matt Damon’s Brett Kavanaugh

A far cry from their kid-gloves, meme-generating treatment of Trump a couple of years earlier, the show made sure to call out the sickest freaks in Trump’s circus. Damon played an enraged, sniffling hero of the be-victim-complexed right.

2008: Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin

After she’d already moved on from the show, SNL roped Tina Fey back in to repeatedly play the ditzy Palin as no one else could. The phrase “I can see Russia from my house” was coined by Fey (and producer Mike Shoemaker), but was pinned permanently to Palin herself.

1986: ‘President Reagan, Mastermind’

During the Iran-Contra scandal, the real Reagan was being portrayed in the media as a swiftly deteriorating pawn of corrupt underlings (which, in retrospect, makes a lot of sense). Meanwhile, Phil Hartman was portraying him on SNL as a brilliant supervillain hiding behind a mask of weakness and senility.

1992: ‘President Bill Clinton at McDonald’s’

Hartman’s Clinton enters a McDonald’s with his security detail, against Hillary’s wishes, in order to mingle with real Americans. He doles out the charm, and receives in return the accolades (and leftovers) that would fuel his political career (and appetite) for decades.

2000: Al Gore and George W. Bush Presidential Debate

Darrell Hammond’s Dole is lampooned for bringing intellectualism to a charisma fight, as Will Ferrell’s lovable frat warlord sweeps the floor with him. It’s the ultimate showdown of “lockbox” vs. “strategery.”

1988: George Bush and Michael Dukakis Presidential Debate

Dana Carvey’s dorky George Bush was about to rocket him to such comedy heights as “guy in a turtle costume,” while Jon Lovitz’s exhausted Michael Dukakis was about to immortalize the phrase “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”

1976: Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter Presidential Debate

Chevy Chase’s Gerald Ford is overflowing with gaffes, anecdotes and tranquilizers, while Dan Aykroyd’s Jimmy Carter dithers philosophically, expounds boringly and rebuts hornily.

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