How SNL has portrayed US presidents, from Gerald Ford to Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Donald Trump

Alec Baldwin continues to cause irritation in the Oval Office

Cast of SNL recereate 'It's a Wonderful Life' parody centred around Donald Trump

Long-running US sketch show Saturday Night Live (SNL) has provided Alec Baldwin with the role of a lifetime: impersonating Donald Trump.

In the latest instalment, SNL parodied Frank Capra’s classic Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) to confront Baldwin’s Trump with a world in which he was never born, featuring cameos from Ben Stiller, Matt Damon and Robert De Niro as Michael Cohen, Brett Kavanaugh and Robert Mueller respectively.

President Trump was again enraged by the portrayal, taking to Twitter to declare: “A REAL scandal is the one sided coverage, hour by hour, of networks like NBC & Democrat spin machines like Saturday Night Live. It is all nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts, can’t be legal? Only defame & belittle! Collusion?”

He previously hit out at the show and Baldwin in October 2016, writing: “Watched Saturday Night Live hit job on me. Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!”

First airing on NBC on 11 October 1975, the last two years have seen the show achieve a new degree of prominence thanks to the relentlessness of its assault on the Trump administration, frequently drawing favourable coverage in the mainstream press around the world.

The recent run has created plum roles for the likes of Melissa McCarthy (Sean Spicer), Beck Bennett (Mike Pence, Vladimir Putin) and the extraordinary Kate McKinnon (Kellyanne Conway, Hillary Clinton, Jeff Sessions), all of whom have outdone themselves.

But SNL has a long history of sending up the White House.

In its earliest days, Chevy Chase played Gerald Ford as a pratfalling buffoon, crashing a glass of water against his ear after picking up the wrong object from his desk when the phone rang.

Dan Aykroyd would follow him as Jimmy Carter, affably answering phone-in queries on everything from how to fix automatic letter sorters and treat acid overdoses but hardly inspiring confidence. Neither Chase nor Aykroyd seriously attempted a spot-on impersonation of their man, making it all the funnier.

In the Reagan era, the show had the unprecedented luxury of having Robin Williams, Phil Hartmann and Joe Piscopo to play the California Republican whose faded movie actor looks and warm delivery were a gift to any comedian.

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Dana Carvey's portrayal of George HW Bush was next and stands as one of the show's most successful endeavours. Playing a man 31 years his senior, Carvey skewered the president as an insecure weed determined to prove himself a strongman on the international stage.

Carvey’s President Bush was a man unable to hide his nasal Connecticut accent or discomfort in addressing the average working man – the president having spent his civilian career among the wealthy Texas oil set – coming across with all the style and ease of an Episcopalian pastor attempting to warn teenagers away from marijuana.

Little devices like an over-reliance on emphatic hand gestures and a habit of emitting nervous chuckles (“Little joke for ya there”) revealed a nervous man prone to hubris and mixing his metaphors.

Hartmann played Donald Trump in 1990 and was the show’s first Bill Clinton, memorably grifting fries in McDonald’s, before cast member Darrell Hammond (now the show’s voiceover announcer) took over in 1995 and made it his own. Hammond nailed Clinton’s Arkansas drawl and reassuring thumbs-up and went on to perform the part in character at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner in 2001.

His appearance as Weekend Update’s resident film critic, reviewing Independence Day in 1996 while embittered by the Monica Lewinsky affair, is particularly fine.

Hammond would later play Al Gore in debate sketches against George W Bush, the latter providing equally rich material for Will Ferrell, furrowing his brow, fighting not to be outsmarted and repeatedly warning opponents not to “mess with Texas”.

Ferrell, who has done much wilder character work in Zoolander (2001), Anchorman (2004) and Eastbound and Down (2009-13), was rarely more disciplined than as a hick “Dubya” and never better than when championing Minions (2015) or making hilariously outmoded references in the hope of appealing to younger voters: “The ‘W’ stands for ‘Wassup!’”

There was real bite here too, particularly in the attack on Bush's disingenuous presentation of himself as a rancher, undermined in Ferrell's interpretation by an obvious fear of horses.

Writer Tina Fey won new admirers as Sarah Palin in 2008 but the subsequent Obama administration represented a problem for SNL.

Controversy surrounded the casting of Fred Armisen in the role of Barack; the comic is of Venezuelan and German heritage, not African-American. Jay Pharoah later succeeded him but was not much better suited.

Jordan Peele was far more convincing on Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, executing the Chicago politician’s urbane mannerisms superbly, the conceit being President Obama had become so refined he now required a “translator”, Luther (Keegan-Michael Key), to enable him to speak to Michelle.

President Obama, always a good sport, had Luther speak for him at the 2015 Correspondent’s Dinner.

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As for President Trump, Baldwin on SNL is often admired more for the impersonation’s effect on its subject than its humour.

Arguably, Johnny Depp’s stab at Trump in Funny or Die’s spoof adaptation of the real estate mogul’s Art of the Deal (1987) business manual is the funnier of the two.

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