SNL: Shouldn't the Current Cast Play Sanders, Trump and Palin? Plus: Where's Jay Pharoah's Obama?

With Larry David set to host Saturday Night Live this weekend, viewers are all but guaranteed to see a sketch — maybe even two or three of ’em — featuring his beloved take on Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

While that thought probably makes you happier than Rosie O’Donnell fantasizing about a Donald Trump concession speech, allow me for a moment to sound as crusty and cantankerous as David’s version of the Vermont senator.

SNL outsourcing its impressions of major newsmakers — particularly in an election cycle — isn’t just puzzling, it’s downright boneheaded.

Trust me, I say this as a fan of David’s Sanders, Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin and Darrell Hammond’s Trump. (Yes, yes… Hammond is employed as SNL‘s announcer, but he’s not a current member of the core cast… so he fits into this argument, too. As does Will Ferrell’s recently resurrected George W. Bush.)

Think about it: If Palin makes another bombshell speech or Sanders scores a key win (or loss) on the primary trail — and Fey or David are too busy to moonlight in Studio 8H — then SNL has to take a pass on satirizing the moment.

Well, either that, or they’re stuck grabbing one of their 12 repertory players or four featured players to pinch-hit in roles that are too important to not be practiced, honed and perfected over the course of a season(s). For example, what chance does Cecily Strong have to develop her strong own take on Palin if Fey’s brilliant skewering is intermittently dangled in front of us?

Saturday Night Live - Season 41That might sound blasphemous — Fey’s Palin is one for the ages, after all — but in a similar vein, it’s not a condemnation of Amy Poehler’s hilarious Hillary Clinton if you’ve also come around to enjoying Kate McKinnon’s robotically ambitious rendition.

That, of course, raises a larger question: With 16 full-time comics on staff, is there really no one qualified or interested in taking over as Trump, Sanders and Palin? (To be fair, before Hammond stepped in, Taran Killam’s Trump wasn’t half-bad.) And isn’t it more than a little troubling that it takes outside blood to give SNL‘s political satire a pulse nowadays?

To that end, another head-scratcher: Whatever happened to Jay Pharoah’s Barack Obama (and the brutally underused Sasheer Zamata as Michelle)?

Last I checked, POTUS and FLOTUS were still pretty big newsmakers — and yet, in Season 41, SNL has shown more interest in Kyle Mooney video jams (ugh) and stomach-turning statutory rape sketches (double ugh) than looking for laughs in the Oval Office. Pharoah, in fact, hasn’t played Obama once over the course of the season’s 11 episodes.

Maybe that’s a problem that starts in the writers’ room. Maybe Lorne Michaels needs to poach a politically minded staffer or two from The Daily Show or Inside Amy Schumer or the now defunct Key & Peele.

In any event, let’s hope SNL bottles a little of Larry David’s mad-as-hell socialist energy this weekend, and finds a way to tap into it for the latter half of the season. That’s change I think we can all believe in.

Your turn. Does SNL have a political problem in Season 41? Do you find their outsourcing of Palin and Sanders — and the absence of Obama — peculiar? Sound off below!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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24 Comments
  1. Simon says:

    I’ve never disliked a cast member as much as I dislike Kyle Mooney, I actually feel bad about it, but he’s just not funny. I wonder if Lorne will cut him, Beck Bennett on the other hand is underused, and unfortunately always gets looped into a bad Kyle Mooney sketch, not sure how much he writes along with him.

    • Chuck says:

      I know other people who can’t stand Mooney either, but I got an earful when I made a comment about one of his cut sketches was a good thing because it meant less of him on the show. And now he’s going to grind Zoolander 2 to a halt. I hope he just has one scene in that.

    • Bob says:

      Mooney is great. You suck.

    • Min says:

      I get what you mean about Kyle, and I like Bennett too, but I hated Beck when he started off, and I think I’m starting to warm up to Kyle. I think I like Kyle because he stands out from the other white guys in the cast. Love Taran, but if you stood every while guy other than Kyle side by side, they all look the same. This would explain why the ladies of SNL are running the world, theyre all different looking and have a strong, fun personalities, vision and style. The white guys, are all starting to look a little Ken doll. So in closing, yeah, the guys are bad, but at least Kyle looks different from the rest. I cannot tell Jost and the newer guy apart now. Fire JOST!

  2. Christine says:

    Jay has been pretty busy doing Ben Carson this season which has been hilarious! Every time he crosses his hands I just start giggling knowing that it’s going to be good. I guess he could also do double duty as Obama but has any news about Obama been comedy worthy lately? Unless they put him in as a witness to the current debate sketches just throwing looks at the camera like on the office I don’t really know what they would write for the Obama character right now.

  3. Rob says:

    Where is Jay Pharoah in general let alone his Obama? Same can be said for Sasheer Zamata. For a show that openly had an issue with hiring black cast members a few years ago, they’re really dropping the ball. Love what they’ve done with Leslie Jones but there must be a place for Zamata, Pharoah, Jones, and Kenan Thompson to all be heavily featured throughout the season.

  4. JLS says:

    It’s the last year of Obama’s term and SNL still either doesn’t know how or, more likely doesn’t want, to satirize him. Pharoah does a good impression, but his Obama isn’t a “character” like Ferrell’s W, Fey’s Palin, McKinnon’s Hillary. They play him as a straight man to other wacky characters (Hader’s Keith Morrison etc.) but that’s it. Honestly the closest the show has come to making Obama a character is with guesting Dwayne Johnson’s “The Rock Obama”

  5. Some Guy says:

    Taran Killam was pulled from Trump duty since he was their best option for Ted Cruz.

    • elf says:

      Exactly. In a skit featuring the GOP debates I’m surprised they didn’t have to bring in two dozen extra actors to cover all of the candidates. And I have no problem with Hammond taking over Trump full time since he’s right there and nobody is going to do it better. Sanders could be a problem since Larry David clearly won’t always be available, and of the current cast, I’d have to assume Mooney has the best shot at it. As for Palin, if she ever does anything newsworthy again and Tina Fey isn’t available, just have the propmaster build a Palin-bot that can spout nonsense terms just like the real thing.

    • Eric says:

      Taran Killam wasn’t their best option for playing Ted Cruz – Bobby Moynihan was. His Cruz impression was terrific.

      However, they needed Moynihan to play Christie. (I mean, who else was going to do it.) Now that Christie’s out, I wonder if they’ll let Moynihan play Cruz again. I doubt it, but I hope so.

  6. I feel like maybe Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin is so iconic, it would be very hard to live up to. It would be setting someone up for failure.

    I do think Beck Bennett would make a decent Trump, so I’m not sure why they aren’t using him for that. Even though, of the current cast, he’s the one I find terribly unfunny and can’t stand watching. But I feel the same dislike for Donald Trump, so it works out.

    Jay Pharoah is a better Ben Carson than he is Obama. And it would be odd to have him doing both in one political season. When Carson drops out and goes away, I assume the Obama skits will return with Jay.

  7. peterwdawson says:

    Thank you for posting this. I mean, I get it: these people do good impressions, but constantly relying on non-house talent just seems unwise (I originally put ‘insane’ but no, not that far). Hopefully with the candidates now culled a bit (Dems are officially down to Hillary and Bernie while the Republics basically have Cruz, Trump, Rubio and Carson) we can see some of the regulars at least try to do the impressions of those that aren’t currently being handled by them. Hell if all else fails do a hunched Larry David impression for Bernie with a somewhat deeper voice, that’s about all the difference there is.

  8. Theresa says:

    I think Taran Killman does a better Trump than Darrell Hammond.

  9. I’ve wondered this too. I liked Taran’s Trump more than Daryl’s. I think Jay stopped doing Obama because it was never funny. (His Ben Carson, on the other hand, is hilarious.)

  10. Chuck says:

    Killam’s Trump was better than his Cruz. That was kind of a slap in the face to announce him as the new Trump and two episodes later put Hammond in his place. Killam must have done something to piss off Lorne Michaels.

  11. Belle says:

    Well said!!! It’s time for Mr. Michael’s to do his own story-board using head shots of his current cast, and find some magic within them, or let them go…don’t string along those who really don’t fit SNL. I won’t name names, but I am pretty sure it’s the same ones you’re thinking of too :) “If you can’t count, cut” as they say in a game of domino’s.

  12. Bob says:

    Terrible awful article.

    They outsource for those impressions because those are the best choices. That’s who they SHOULD go to. They shouldn’t go to someone on the cast just because. These are special roles that only really come up during a certain time. It’s fine. Relax.

  13. Hammond was compared against Killian, and it was decided that Hammond was the best for Trump. Hammond is already working for SNL, so it was easy to find him.

  14. Meri says:

    They seem to be counting on Hilary winning since she is the only one who has a current cast member playing her.

    • Guy says:

      Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, etc are all played by current cast members. The only ones who haven’t been are Palin (who isn’t even a part of the election) and Bernie Sanders (because Larry David is just too perfect an option to pass up). And Trump too of course, but that was mainly to allow Taran Killam to portray Cruz.

  15. N says:

    I agree completely with this article. I have been a life long fan of SNL, but it feels lately like they have lost there backbone a bit, and just played it safe. Look at there parody’s of the Bachelor, where they wont even call it by name but refer to it as the bland man, or farmer hunk. There’s probably reasons they do it, but it comes off as Lorne being to afraid to offend it by name. They use to have Fred Armisens Obama on all the time, despite not being very good at all, then Jay Pharoah took over, showed some promise, and hes barely been on this season. Beck Bennett or Bobby Moynihan should, for the sake of the show, be given a shot at playing Sanders. Give Taran Killam’s Trump room to grow, or like the article said Cecily Strong as Palin is worth a shot. What will happen if they need Bill Clinton and Donald Trump in the same sketch. Hammond cant do both. SNL has such a poor job lately at satirizing politics, probably to avoid offending anyone, that they can afford to took chances in hope that it breaths life into the creative team.

  16. Guy says:

    Jay Pharoah’s Obama sucks. It’s his only impersonation that I’ve never liked so I don’t mind that we haven’t seen much of it lately. I’d much rather him continue doing Ben Carson.
    And like others have pointed out, the only reason Hammond was brought back to do Trump was so Taran Killam could portray Ted Cruz, which he’s been doing a good job with. Also, Beck Bennett’s Jeb Bush has been great too, as has been Cecily’s Carly Fiorina. Okay, a few roles have been outsourced to non-castmembers, but given the massive number of candidates in this election, it has been somewhat necessary. And I’m sure Cecily could pull off a quality Palin, but I just love Tina Fey’s take too much to complain.

  17. Dax says:

    Darrell should continue as Trump. I like Killam, but his Trump was nowhere near as good.

    I hope Tina isn’t needed much, but would prefer to see her Palin than someone else step in… Larry as Sanders was a great coup… and I do hope he stays available to them…