The voluble Donald Trump stopped talking just for a moment during his opening monologue on “Saturday Night Live” when a shout from the audience interrupted him: “You’re a racist!”
The cry spurred thoughts that perhaps one of the “Dump Trump” demonstrators outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza had made it inside Studio 8H to call out the billionaire presidential wannabe for his derogatory comments about Mexican immigrants. But the camera quickly panned to Larry David, fresh off reprising his Bernie Sanders imitation in the show’s cold open. “Trump’s a racist,” David said before joking he’d made $5,000 for saying the line.
David was playing himself in a bit. You could say the same for Trump, who spent the night satirizing himself with an all-in gusto that suggested he might not want to be president as much as he wants to be on “SNL.”
For all the ire the Republican White House hopeful’s appearance sparked among his detractors, the show packed a season’s worth of Trump-lampooning into 90 minutes, willingly aided and abetted by the candidate.
Sure, other major office seekers, among the Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, have shown themselves good sports by joking with their “SNL” doppelgangers. But Trump, sandwiched between imitators Darrell Hammond and Taram Killam during his monologue, jumped into sometimes unflattering skits that would have worked just as well with either impressionist in the role.
Case in point, a sketch depicting the U.S. in 2018 under a Trump administration with “Apprentice” star Omarosa Manigault as secretary of state and the Mexican president handing the U.S. president a check for the controversial border wall Trump wants to put up. Adding a touch of the surreal, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, turned up to report the Washington Monument had been covered gold-mirrored glass, while Cecily Strong revived her unflattering take on his wife, Melania, as pampered eye-candy.
“The White House, it’s the smallest place Donald and I have ever lived,” she purred.
Trump later played along as Strong and Vanessa Bayer’s addled former porn star characters campaigned for “Donald Tramp” in an ad brimming with double entendres. In the most uncomfortable misfire of the night, Trump brusquely turned down a potential running mate, reggae star Toots of Toots and the Maytals.
“You know I carry a gun, don’t you?” Trump told Toots, played by Kenan Thompson.
The best shot at Trump, though, came in his absence during “Weekend Update” when Bobby Moynihan’s blowhard, bigoted Drunk Uncle character endorsed The Donald: “Finally someone is saying the things that I have been thinking – as well as saying. It’s like I’m running for president!”
Trump had some harmless “SNL” fun dancing and singing in a takeoff of Drake’s much-parodied “Hotline Bling” video, and in portraying a smarmy music executive. But his most telling line, which came during his monologue, wasn’t played for laughs.
“Part of the reason I’m here is that I know how to take a joke,” Trump said. “They’ve done so much to ridicule me over years, this show has been a disaster for me.”
Given the divisions exposed by his unlikely presidential run, it’s too soon to gauge the impact of Trump’s “SNL” turn on his electoral prospects. But if his goal was to extend his bizarre brand of celebrity, one built on getting attention at any cost, then, as Trump might put it, his “SNL” gig was huge.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.