The first presidential debate of 2020 will take place Tuesday at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, finally giving voters a chance to see Donald Trump square off against Joe Biden in person. The event is airing on every major network and all across the internet, meaning that upwards of 100 million Americans are expected to watch at least part of it.
Among those viewers will be the writers of Saturday Night Live. The 46th season kicks off on Saturday with host Chris Rock, and the show is almost certain to begin with a mock debate. Alec Baldwin is returning as Trump, but this will be the first time anyone will see Jim Carrey portray Biden. He was previously played by Jason Sudeikis and Woody Harrelson, but SNL producer Lorne Michaels decided to go in a different direction this time out.
“Jim is brilliant, and he cares deeply about the country and what’s going on,” Michaels recently told The New York Times. “He wants to have a voice in this. Every time he’s done [SNL], he’s always come through brilliantly, and I think what he will bring to this part will be stunning and possibly transcend comedy. Because we’re in a period where comedy is only part of it.”
Saturday Night Live has been parodying presidential debates going all the way back to the 1976 season when Chevy Chase played president Gerald Ford and Dan Aykroyd took on the part of Georgia’s Gov. Jimmy Carter. They’re some of the most memorable sketches in the long history of the show, especially when Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman joined the team in the Eighties and perfected the art of spoofing George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
One of the greatest SNL debates aired 20 years ago almost to the day when Darrell Hammond’s Al Gore took on Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush. All these years later, more people probably remember Hammond’s constant references to his Social Security “lock-box” (“to all outward appearances, it would be a leatherbound edition of Count of Monte Cristo“) and Ferrell’s closing line of “strategery” than anything said at the actual debate.
Amazingly, “strategery” became such a famous term that even Bush came to think that he himself had said it. “I damn sure said, ‘strategery,'” he told Jimmy Kimmel in 2017.
We’ll have to wait and see what the SNL writers come up for Carrey and Baldwin to say on Saturday. And then just one week later, Beck Bennett’s Mike Pence will take on Maya Rudolph’s Kamala Harris. The show always shines brightest in election seasons, and we have little doubt that this year’s crop of candidates is going to give them a lot of material.