On Tuesday, Sept. 29, the American people witnessed the presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Vice President Joe Biden. Given our nation’s divisive political atmosphere, it was expected that the debate would be heated and controversial and would likely be talked about long after it was over. It certainly did leave an impression nationwide. However, I don’t think the American people expected the nature of the debate to be as chaotic as it was.
The topics discussed in the debate included the economy, the state of the Supreme Court, plans for COVID-19 and race and violence issues in American cities. With such serious matters on the docket, it was especially unnerving that the event ensued as it did. Right from the start, the candidates’ behavior was rather unpresidential and overly argumentative — two qualities that surely do not signify a successful debate. President Trump attempted to demonstrate his dominance by constantly interrupting Biden during virtually all of his responses, eliciting a frustrated “Will you shut up, man!” from the vice president. Not only were the candidates interrupting and yelling at each other, but they were also ignoring the moderator’s pleas for a civil and fair discussion.
The moderator, Chris Wallace, was unsuccessful in compelling the candidates to adhere to their respective time slots for discussion. Wallace was even interrupted in the same moment that he was advising the candidates to refrain from interruption. At one point, there simply remained the persistent sound of both candidates’ incoherent voices shouting over each other. Moments like these were both embarrassing and disappointing to viewers and made it seem like a petty fight instead of a productive conversation. This disorderly and uncooperative debate would provide the perfect opportunity for satire, seen just a few days later on “Saturday Night Live.”
“The SNL writers are going to have a field day with this!” was what my friend said to me the morning after the debate. Many people on social media even mused on the idea that the real debate itself could’ve been mistaken for an SNL skit, with the emotional interjections and nasty side comments made by both contenders. Given the outcome of the debate on Tuesday, it was evident that the comedy writers would have sufficient material to work with. The 14-minute skit starred Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump and Jim Carrey as Joe Biden. Baldwin’s impression of President Trump was not far off from Trump’s actual debate performance. He interjected into all of Carrey’s responses throughout the skit and interrupted between every word of the moderator’s introduction. Like Trump, Baldwin went on various tangents and irrelevant discussions that ignored the moderator’s questions. On the other side of the stage, Carrey responded to Baldwin’s aggressiveness with goofy smiles and nods. He also exemplified Biden’s debate performance by giving wavering and insecure responses to his questions. He even began with an amusing introduction: “I’ve got the beginning of 46 thoughts.” The skit elicited much laughter from the audience, as well as an apparent widespread feeling of shame for the fact that this is how our country is being represented.
Other events that SNL imitated included the vice presidential debate and the dueling town halls between the presidential candidates. In the vice-presidential debate skit, SNL covered all of the necessary ground: Kamala Harris’ meme-worthy facial reactions, Mike Pence’s inadequate responses, and, of course, the fly that broke the internet. Maya Rudolph and Beck Bennett went head-to-head as Harris and Pence and portrayed that night’s events in a somewhat exaggerated yet accurate way. Rudolph’s Harris amusingly explained to the audience the different facial expressions she would make throughout the debate and proceeded to offer various smiles, smizes and side-eyes during her opponent’s response time.
Seated across the stage, Bennett as Pence explicitly darted the question of why his leadership on the COVID task force was so poor and ineffective: “I’d like to begin [the answer] by stalling hard.” The skit’s biggest hit was perhaps Jim Carrey’s Joe Biden turning into the notorious fly that sat comfortably atop Pence’s head during the debate. The skit showed Carrey’s Biden on his way to lend Harris a helping hand through a transportation machine but accidentally morphing into a fly on his way there. He then is seen in a fly costume wreaking havoc on Pence’s head. This humorous and dramatized skit poked fun at the fly that Pence took no notice of, as this moment was what became more of a national conversation than the components of the debate itself.
All in all, this skit was both lighthearted and amusing. While it was exaggerated at times for comedic effect, it still depicted authentic moments from the debate. It allowed the audience to see the unintended humor behind the vice presidential candidates’ personas and performances.
A week after the vice presidential debate skit, SNL released a parody of the dueling town halls between Biden and Trump. It begins with Joe Biden (Jim Carrey) entering the stage enthusiastically yet maintaining a grandfatherly presence throughout the debate. In addition to this elderly persona, Jim Carrey echoed Biden’s insecure and irrelevant responses during the town hall right from the get-go. In response to the very first question posed to him about his plans for COVID-19, Carrey mused that he did in fact have a plan … he just never got around to saying what it was. Throughout the entirety of the skit, we see Joe Biden’s character giving long and substance-lacking answers to the audience that were entirely irrelevant from the questions asked (not so different from the real-life event).
Biden’s poor conversation and argument skills were illustrated in this skit and Trump’s irrational and unreliable responses during his own separate town hall. Alec Baldwin, continuing his reign as SNL’s official Trump, performed so accurately it was scary — perhaps almost as scary as the actual town hall was. Among the many highlighted moments from Trump’s discussion with NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie, Baldwin delivered on Trump’s fickle replies, hostile attitude and even his hesitancy to condemn white supremacy yet again: “I’ve always more or less condemned it.”
The skit also highlighted the striking difference between Biden’s underwhelming and tame discussion to Trump’s heated verbal match with Guthrie. It showed Jim Carrey channeling several gentle and delicate characters like Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross, and then quickly cut to Trump and Guthrie entering in a lively Wrestle Mania brawl. SNL’s comedy was precise in illustrating both of the town hall events in all of their absurdity. It is safe to say that after watching each program, the American people have probably become even more conflicted about this election than they already were.
While some viewers found it rude and inappropriate to mock something as significant as a presidential debate, I believe two reasons justify the mockery. Firstly, the debate was in no way civil or successful; it was just as embarrassing as the skit made it out to be. If anything, I think many would agree that it was not that skit that was inappropriate but the real candidates’ behavior throughout the debate. Additionally, anyone who watched both the debate and the SNL parody would say that most of the acting in the skit was not an exaggeration. Thus, I think the problem lies in the harsh reality that this behavior was in fact exhibited by the potential leaders of our country.
Secondly, I think that it is essential to share in some form of comic relief in times of confusion or anxiety. I feel that SNL provided the necessary respite to help America cope with its unsatisfactory political climate. It is daunting to realize the current state of our country when we see how relatively unrefined our presidential candidates are, or at least how they are in a debate setting. However, by making light of this situation we are able to gain some peace of mind in realizing that our anxious sentiments are universal. Hopefully, this realization will motivate the American people to do their part and vote in the upcoming election this November. If we want to see change and prevent further political disarray, we must take advantage of our right and duty to vote.