BROOKE GLADSTONE: Cartoonists are not the only ones struggling with the complexities of portraying certain candidates this election season. So are comics. Just before the writers’ strike, the cast of NBC’s Saturday Night Live staged a Halloween party thrown by the Clintons. [CLIP] [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
MAN [PLAYING JOHN EDWARDS]: Hillary, thank you so much for throwing this Halloween party. WOMAN [PLAYING HILLARY CLINTON]: John Edwards, I'm so glad you came. [LAUGHTER] I just thought it would be good for all of us Democrats to get together after Tuesday’s debate. [LAUGHS] [LAUGHTER] [END CLIP] BROOKE GLADSTONE: We also saw comics playing Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, even Mike Gravel. As for Barack Obama, he played himself. [CLIP] WOMAN [PLAYING HILLARY CLINTON]: So you dressed as yourself? BARAK OBAMA: Well, you know, Hillary, I have nothing to hide. I enjoy being myself. [LAUGHTER] I'm not going to change who I am just because it’s Halloween. WOMAN [PLAYING HILLARY CLINTON]: Well, that’s - [LAUGHTER] - that’s great. [END CLIP] BROOKE GLADSTONE: Seth Myers is head writer as well as cast member of Saturday Night Live. We spoke to him Thursday because we learned that after holding auditions, SNL had finally found its in-house Obama, to debut this weekend. For a while, he was looking like cast member Maya Rudolph. SETH MYERS: Maya was our sort of like, we were considering her as a potential break-glass-in-case-of-emergency situation [BROOKE LAUGHS] if we really came down to the point where we needed to do something and didn't have a fallback plan. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let me ask you about your Hillary Clintons, played by Amy Poehler – [CLIP] AMY POEHLER AS HILLARY CLINTON: Should I be unable to run again in 2016 and should one or all of you, my former fellow candidates, then decide to make a second, this time more realistic bid for the White House - [LAUGHTER] - well, I think that would be just super. [END CLIP] SETH MYERS: Some people’s impressions are based on how they look and other people can get the sound down. You know, other people just sort of get the essence of somebody. I think, you know, she is approaching it more from the sort of attitude of Hillary Clinton.
You know, someone like Darrell Hammond is obviously sort of a magician with his voice. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yeah. SETH MYERS: He can sort of find the way people sound. BROOKE GLADSTONE: His Clinton is amazing. [CLIP] DARRELL HAMMOND AS PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Campaign? [LAUGHS] That’s not why I'm here. [LAUGHTER] I'm in Florida 'cause these hurricanes have put a lot of trailer park ladies on the street, and the only thing better than a trailer park girl is one that is desperate. [END CLIP] SETH MYERS: His Clinton is amazing. But, again, he can't play Hillary Clinton so we [LAUGHS] had to go [BROOKE LAUGHS] in another direction there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, maybe this is the wrong question to direct to the head writer of Saturday Night Live, but some have said the problem with depicting Hillary and depicting Obama is that the sorts of characteristics that you would exaggerate in a white man become fraught with racial or gender implications when you apply those same tricks of the trade to depicting a black man, or a woman. SETH MYERS: Well, you know, I think that’s a fair thing, and I think, you know, we have to take that under consideration. Of course, obviously, we're not going to exaggerate things in ways that people might find offensive or anything like that, but, at the same time, if you worry about that too much in comedy, you handcuff yourself. BROOKE GLADSTONE: But did you find Obama harder than most simply because he didn't have any obvious quirk, or were there other considerations? SETH MYERS: You can sound a lot like Obama and you can act a lot like Obama. The real question for us, and the issue that’s more on the writing side than actually the impersonation side, is how are you going to write it funny? Because up to this point, you know, there’s not that much to exaggerate about him.
For us, a lot of times, you know, humor comes from exaggeration. Darrell’s Bill Clinton, you exaggerate the charm. With Will Ferrell’s early George Bush impression, he sort of exaggerated the silliness. [CLIP] WILL FERRELL AS PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: So how we all doin' out there, huh? [LAUGHTER] Yeah, not so good. I broke the Hoover Dam. [LAUGHTER] We had that war thing happen. But, I mean, who ever heard of a civil war anyway? What is that? [LAUGHTER] [END CLIP] SETH MYERS: And, you know, I don't think we quite know yet which way we're going to exaggerate the Obama. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yeah. It’s a pretty potent political statement when you think about it. When you go back to Rich Little’s, you know, Nixon’s “I am not a crook” it was his mendacity and his general sort of sweaty suspiciousness. SETH MYERS: Right. BROOKE GLADSTONE: When you go to Dana Carvey’s brilliant depiction of Bush, Sr., it was his general wishy-washiness, the kind of thing that Doonesbury also sent up. [CLIP] DANA CARVEY AS PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH, SR.: As commander-in-chief, I am ever cognizant of my authority to launch a full-scale orgy of death there on the desert sand. [LAUGHTER] Probably won't. But then again, I might. [LAUGHTER] [END CLIP] BROOKE GLADSTONE: So when you decide to do a candidate, and I guess in the case of Hillary it was her insistence that this job was hers, that she deserved it, that she'd worked for it and that it ought to be bestowed on her, that sort of preternatural confidence - SETH MYERS: Yeah. BROOKE GLADSTONE: - that Amy Poelher was going for, also a potent political statement. So then you come to Obama, do you do hope?
SETH MYERS: [LAUGHS] I mean, I think the same way that the media has an issue with Obama right now, which is everybody really likes him but, you know, if you dig really deep I don't think anybody really knows that much about him, so that’s sort of the trick we're having as well.
Because the issue, as well, is, you know, we don't have to really crack who a candidate is. We have to crack how people see the candidate. We're sort of a mirror on the already projected perception of the people who watch our show. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And so once you have the Obama nailed down, will you just draw a huge sigh of relief? SETH MYERS: Yes, absolutely. And I will say – and I'm going to throw this out there to the candidate – any time he wants to come back and play himself on the show, it would solve everybody’s problem. BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Seth, thank you very much. SETH MYERS: Thank you. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Seth Myers is the head writer at Saturday Night Live. This weekend, they debut their Barack Obama. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]