Jim Carrey Dazzles as Biden in “SNL” Season Premiere

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Jim Carrey starred as Joe Biden in the most recent “SNL” segment. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Dylan Balsamo, Assistant Sports Editor

Last Tuesday’s presidential debate was, as the White House’s current occupant might say, a complete disaster. As a nation divided watched in despair our two options for what is to come in the next four years, the only true guiding light through it all has been a beacon of American humor and political levity over the last 45 years: “Saturday Night Live.” 

The sketch comedy show that has now become an American institution has, along with the rest of the world, been dealing with how it will return to normalcy in a world that is still struggling with COVID-19. After approval from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the show found a way to be back in their famous 8H Studio with a live audience while maintaining proper safety precautions.

Despite their personal woes, “SNL” knew it had to truly bring it in its season premiere this past weekend to satirize a messy debate. And it did.

Regular “SNL” guest Alec Baldwin returned to his usual post as President Donald Trump, a role that has led to multiple Emmy nominations in the last four years. The show looked to find an actor to take on the role of Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, long-term, replacing a revolving door of actors and comedians, including Woody Harrelson, Jason Sudeikis and even John Mulaney. There was plenty of speculation as to who would take on Biden in these debates against the current president (personally, I was pulling for Norm MacDonald), but “SNL” Executive Producer Lorne Michaels ultimately decided on a comedy giant.

On Saturday night, out from stage right, walked Jim Carrey.

Carrey, who has hosted the show three times and once unsuccessfully auditioned for the show early in his career, has always been known for his eccentric and energetic performances, as well as his ability to imitate people’s voices and facial expressions with precision. The two-time Golden Globe winner has been experiencing somewhat of a career resurgence in the last few years. He received praise for his role on the Showtime series “Kidding,” returning to the spirit of his earlier film roles for a turn as Dr. Robotnik in this year’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” film, co-authoring a semi-memoir called “Memoirs and Misinformation” and receiving continual praise for his politically-driven and occasionally absurdist artwork. Apparently, he also pitched himself for Biden’s role, an energy that was evident during his performance.

Carrey walked out onto the stage Saturday night with his hair and eyebrows greyed, showing a few Biden-esque birthmarks on his face and even sporting the former vice president’s signature aviators. And that’s where the performance began. Some of the best impressions start with direct imitation and are then bolstered by cartoonish exaggeration.

Those are Jim Carrey’s two fortes, and his performance was one only he could give. 

All of the expected points from Tuesday night’s debate were hit: “Look, here’s the deal,” “Will you shut up” and, of course, the former vice president losing his train of thought. Then came a few extra gags, like Biden keeping himself from turning angry and violent when his opponent interrupted him, Trump distracting Biden with a laser pointer, Kamala Harris (played by former “SNL” cast member Maya Rudolph) coming out of the woodwork to defend Biden and even Biden pausing Trump to speak directly to camera without interruption. All of the ingredients were there in the script, but they were there to varying degrees of success.

Perhaps the script for this opening sketch could not stand alone as an effective piece of comedy, but Carrey is the kind of comedic actor and outrageous personality that makes it work anyway. Carrey’s first breakout film, “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” was not necessarily a movie that was funny on paper, but Carrey made it a blockbuster just by throwing his hand into his vast toolbox of comedic skills and seeing what came out. And that is exactly what he did in this first appearance as Biden.

Those who have studied Jim Carrey’s extensive comedy oeuvre (specifically his early stand-up act) may have noticed that the actor’s imitation of the former vice president was a combination of quite a few Carrey inspirations. For one thing, the unpredictability of Harrelson’s Biden and the relentless positive energy of Sudeikis’ Biden seemed to sneak their way into his performance. And then came Carrey’s own bag of tricks.

Carrey was known in his early career for being a master of not only voice impressions but facial impressions as well, an ability that made him perfect for his role in “The Grinch.” One of his best known facial impressions at the time was Clint Eastwood, an imitation that required intense control of the eyebrows and a tight jawline to look like Eastwood. This influence was evident in Carrey’s Joe Biden. So was Carrey’s Jimmy Stewart impression, which helped mold the impression into one of a sweet (if not occasionally goofy) old man who just wants to make the country better.

And then came the main course. When Carrey’s Biden was telling himself to “stand here and look lucid,” Carrey lifted his eyebrows and opened his eyes wider, and in those moments, his resemblance to the former vice president was uncanny. That’s Jim Carrey. His control over his facial muscles is his greatest comedic gift, a gift he gives generously.

All of that combined with the comedian’s usual outrageous mannerisms made for an incredible masterclass in impersonation, control and pure channeling of the funny. And this was just his first go of it as Biden.

Jim Carrey is a comedy virtuoso, and he’s already made this dismal election season just a little bit brighter.