Alec Baldwin’s career can be traced through a series of phases. You’ve got the Beetlejuice/The Hunt for Red October/The Shadow phase of the late ’80s and early ’90s, when he was young and trying a little of everything. Then the phase where he stretched more into “serious” but largely forgotten dramas like Ghosts of Mississippi, The Confession, and, well… Pearl Harbor. (Yeah okay, whatever.)
It was around the mid ’00s when he committed fully to comedy, a move that culminated with his hilarious portrayal of the droll Jack Donaghy on the celebrated NBC sitcom 30 Rock. And because the universe requires balance, his brilliance on 30 Rock has to be contrasted with his phoned-it-in-for-the-paycheck work on the ludicrous animated flick Boss Baby.
2016 is when he unofficially joined the cast of Saturday Night Live, debuting what has become one of the best-known Donald Trump impressions in the world. Baldwin’s ability to contort his face into a resemblance of the President is uncanny, but his performance is obviously a caricature. (Just how much it’s an exaggeration of the real thing it is, is open to interpretation.)
Based on your feelings about President Trump, you either love Baldwin’s impersonation or loathe it. But no one can deny it’s been a big win for the actor. Few Saturday Night Live sketches over the last few years have enjoyed the viral popularity that Baldwin’s Trump skits have.
Baldwin was red hot in his Trump debut, which came after the real Trump’s first debate with Hillary Clinton. There, he hilariously presented a wildly self-absorbed but largely clueless candidate with a knack for making inappropriate comments. It was his follow-up in a “breaking news” spot that interrupted the vice presidential debate where he cemented his place in pop culture/political history. Coming right on the heels of the real Trump’s infamous “locker room talk” video tape alongside Billy Bush, Baldwin looked into the camera and with complete sincerity asked viewers, “Are you not entertained?”
Indeed we were. He’s never been sharper or more on-point than he was in those earliest sketches, where he frequently faced off against Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton in SNL‘s send-ups of the presidential debates. In retrospect, those skits were far too congratulatory to Clinton’s expected victory, but every time he was on screen, Baldwin killed it. It helped that his chemistry with McKinnon was always on point, whether she was appearing as Clinton, Jeff Sessions, or her hysterically self-loathing Kellyanne Conway.
Whether stalking McKinnon’s Clinton like Jaws at the second debate or excitedly describing his first weeks as president in an interview with Michael Che’s incredulous Lester Holt as if his entire presidency was an over-the-top reality TV show, Baldwin quickly became one of SNL‘s most reliable go-to cold openers. Saturday Night Live, on the other hand, wore its politics on its sleeve, never masking its feelings that the entire United States had gone mad. “Nothing matters?” asked Che during that same interview sketch, talking to his producers after catching Trump in a lie. “Absolutely nothing matters anymore?”
Right after the election, SNL presented a searing look at a panicked Trump in hiding in Florida. He was freaking out at having won and now faced with actually being the president, fretting over not knowing what ISIS is, and learning for the first time the realities of building his promised Mexican border wall. At one point he tried to stop himself from hyperventilating by muttering “big beautiful boobs and buildings” over and over.
Trump’s actual first post-election press conference was a madcap event that was hard to top, but Baldwin stole the president’s thunder in a parody that included a curt response to a reporter who asked him about the millions of people who could die from losing their health insurance if he was to repeal Obamacare. “Listen sweetheart, I’m about to be president, we’re all going to die.”
Reporters pestered him about the supposed Russian “pee-pee tape,” which Baldwin refused to answer. But he then immediately went into a goofy diatribe about how he would be bringing jobs back to the U.S., yet describing his strategies in terms that could also describe a urine fetish. It was the kind of double-meaning, biting critique that SNL does best.
A Weekend Update TV special began with a cold open that featured a Trump rally after the white supremacy marches that turned violent in Charlottesville. In that sketch, Baldwin’s Trump bemoaned the media’s treatment of him instead of focusing on the riots and lives lost. The moment was only funny in a painful kind of way, because it wasn’t much of an exaggeration of the self-involve.
Baldwin showed up audio-only on a Morning Joe skit as a Trump who was masquerading as his own “White House publicist John Miller.” He called in to brag and celebrate about repealing Obamacare when in fact only the House of Representatives had passed the bill. (The Senate later overturned it.) He also showed up briefly in Melissa McCarthy’s last Sean Spencer sketch, having retreated to Florida, where Spencer had to track him down. Rather predictably, it ended with the two of them embracing in a passionate kiss.
Alec Baldwin shows no signs of slowing down with his Trump impersonation, and Saturday Night Live seems happy to have him for as long as he’s willing to do it. It should be interesting to see what else Baldwin and the show come up with as Trump’s presidency continues to play out.
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