20 Best 'Saturday Night Live' Political Sketches - Rolling Stone
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20 Best ‘Saturday Night Live’ Political Sketches

From ‘Trump Voters’ to Tina Fey’s iconic Sarah Palin – the greatest, funniest, sharpest political ‘SNL’ sketches

Melissa McCarthy’s first surprise appearance of Sean Spicer — her hilarious version of the gum-chewing, Super Soaker-toting, media-bashing lackey — was the sort of reminder that, when SNL seizes a moment while running on all cylinders, the show can add to the political discourse that can be deep or downright damning.

But while the long-running comedy institution has been especially tuned in to policy matters in recent years, Saturday Night Live has always turned to political humor for inspiration (and served as the basis of many memorable impersonations). It’s been fertile ground for topical takedowns week after week, but that’s not to say that many of those skits aren’t timeless. Just say “strategery” or “lockbox” to someone and watch them crack up.

Here, we look back at the 20 greatest political sketches throughout the show’s history — from clumsy Fords to clueless Dubyas, from undecided voters to venomous debates. We’re leaving “Weekend Update” out of the mix: You could do a whole other list on SNL‘s top-shelf fake-news segments that have left bruised egos and belly laughs in their wake. These are the bits that have changed public outlook, occasionally spoke truth to power and still crack us up.


20 Best 'Saturday Night Live' Sketches

‘President Reagan, Mastermind’ (12/6/86)

Phil Hartman put his stamp on two Presidents: Reagan and Clinton. And his single best turn as the Gipper came during the thick of the Iran-Contra scandal, when some pundits were trying to paint the POTUS as a gullible, forgetful oldster, exploited by scheming underlings. Hartman, however, played Reagan as the consummate actor, who pretends to be dim for the masses but is actually bossy, brilliant and in full command of every detail – from Swedish interest rates to the nuances of the Arabic language. SNL was at its least savage politically during the 1980s, but here, the writers cleverly toyed with the public perceptions of a “dotty” politician accused of something shady. NM

20 Best 'Saturday Night Live' Sketches

‘Voters for Trump Ad’ (3/5/16)

What was arguably the most savage attack the show mounted toward the Trump camp didn’t even feature an impersonation of him; rather, it focused on the elements attracted by the dog-whistles he was sending out during campaign stops – as well as those pro-Trump folks that seemed willing to overlook such aspects. It starts with a bunch of “everyday” voters talking about how the Republican canidate is “authentic,” “a winner” and “an outisder … Washington needs that.” Then, thanks to a series of reveals, we meet the “real Americans” saying these things: a Nazi, a Klansman, a white nationalist, a conspiracy-theory nutjob. It’s jaw-dropping, brilliant, scathing and worth a dozen or more post-election Trump sketches in terms of hitting bone. DF

20 Best 'Saturday Night Live' Sketches

‘Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton Address the Nation’ (9/13/08)

If you were to construct an all-time, all-star cast stretching across the show’s entire history, you would put both Tina Fey and Amy Poehler into the mix – and this simply-staged cold open might be their best moment as a performing pair. Fey’s oblivious Palin is matched with the barely-contained rage of Poehler’s Clinton, and the result is dynamite: “I believe diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign policy.” “And I can see Russia from my house!” The writers didn’t have to make up much original dialogue for Palin, instead choosing to use many of the V.P. candidate’s own quotes in the sketch itself. (It’s a pattern the show repeated when Fey later portrayed the politician opposite Poehler’s Katie Couric, an equally brilliant sketch.) The head writer’s Palin portrayal was instantly iconic, and once again made SNL Must-See TV during an Presidential election season. RM

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