- Saturday Night Live -Yes, Jim Carrey Should Leave 'SNL' — But Not For The Reason You Think
Saturday, Nov. 7, was the day we found out that Joe Biden would be leading the next four years from the White House. And Saturday, Nov. 7, was also the day that the realization hit that Jim Carrey would likely be leading the next four years from Saturday Night Live's cold open. The world (or, rather, those who felt it worth sitting through a sportsball double overtime to watch a new episode of the House that Lorne Built) wondered that night, would Jim Carrey be staying on SNL, much like Alec Baldwin before him? It's easy to request that, in the words of Stanley Ipkiss himself, somebody stop him please.
Not for the reasons that you might expect. Much has been made of Carrey's stint on the series, which has been received as tepidly as a Luke Null featured player bit. (Sorry, Luke.) Complaints have ranged from Carrey's Biden being too gentle to Carrey's Biden being too Fire Marshall Bill to Carrey's Biden being not Sudeikis enough. (Though, the Ted Lasso actor thriving while SNL fans beg for him back seven years after he faded away from Studio 8H during Kristen Wiig's grand finale seems like the ultimate revenge.) Either way, the message from fans seems clear: No more years for Carrey's Biden.
But there's little indication that he's going anywhere. Not only because reports indicated he would be hired for the entire season, but also because political stunt casting has become the norm for SNL. Baldwin's Trump, Melissa McCarthy's Sean Spicer, Robert De Niro's Robert Mueller, Matt Damon's Brett Kavanaugh, Brad Pitt's Dr. Anthony Fauci, and even Woody Harrelson's Biden — this administration has been quite good for actors searching for the headlines and goodwill that a Saturday Night Live cold open offers. But SNL's stunt casting has been marketably bad for one group of individuals: SNL's own cast. And that — not the Silly Putty-esque, pliable grin that spawned years of impressions from 13-year-old boys — is precisely why Carrey's Biden should resign.
How We Got Here
Ever since Gerald Ford fell down a set of airplane steps, and Chevy Chase followed in kind, the Saturday Night Live political cold open became a star-making vehicle — one that was not only watched by sketch comedy nerds like me, but administrations themselves. Soon after Chase debuted his Ford, the president's press secretary, Ron Nessen, even guest hosted an episode in 1976. No matter how inaccurate Chase's impersonation of President Ford was (the crew didn't even bother using any makeup to force a resemblance), the impression was so pervasive, it was forever attached to Ford's reputation. (Much in the way that, decades later, "I can see Russia from my house" was colloquially attributed to Sarah Palin, even though it was only ever uttered by Tina Fey's impersonation of the former vice presidential candidate.)
It was clear: SNL represented a sort of Greek Chorus for the American public, and, thus, America and American politics needed to pay attention.
From there, it's easy to list off the U.S. presidents based on the Not Ready For Primetime Players who most famously portrayed them: Jimmy Carter (Dan Aykroyd), Ronald Reagan (Phil Hartman), George H.W. Bush (Dana Carvey), Bill Clinton (Phil Hartman, if you're Gen X or devoured your The Best Of Phil Hartman VHS; Darrell Hammond, if you're Millennial and somehow missed out on the aforementioned VHS), and, of course, George W. Bush (Will Ferrell... we will be kind and not discuss Will Forte's turn as 43).
If Chase lit the match that brought heat to SNL's cold opens, Ferrell's Bush walloped a set of ACME TNT into the ether, becoming so popular that "strategery" has its own Wikipedia page. And, to prove its enduring legacy, just look at the YouTube numbers of the 2000 cold open: 4.6 million (and counting) have viewed the sketch, whereas even Carvey's immensely popular Bush debating Governor Michael Dukakis sits at just 700,000.
You could claim Ferrell was already headed for fame before the 2000 debates — his very small role in 1997's Austin Powers was one of the film's best moments, and he already had top billing in 1998's A Night At The Roxbury (but, c'mon) — but the cold open served to embed him in the consciousness of anyone who had never heard of the Butabis. Zoolander's 2001 release followed shortly thereafter, then 2003's Old School, and, well, take a look at his hundreds of credits. Ferrell might have instantly made Bush bumble-y and goofy; but Bush instantly made Ferrell a pop culture icon.
(Seth Meyers as John Kerry, Will Forte as W., yada yada, like I said, let's be kind and just jump ahead.) Then came the 2008 election, more of a Big Apple circus than 2016 and 2020's G.W. Zoo, but a circus nonetheless. And no one was better equipped to handle it than Saturday Night Live, particularly given the series' secret weapon: a former cast member who bore a striking resemblance to vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
The 2000 debates so set up SNL into must-see election television that fans were begging for Tina Fey to play the former Governor of Alaska the moment she was announced as John McCain's running mate. Fey, who had left the show two years earlier and started work on 30 Rock, initially turned down the opportunity (“I was fighting them all week on it. I kept saying ‘I don’t want to do it, I’m not an impressionist,'" she had said at the time), but it's hard to refuse the call of the internet. (Or money, whichever screamed loudest.)
In a way, Fey was Saturday Night Live's first example of political stunt casting — since leaving Weekend Update, she had become a star in her own right — yet seeing her next to Amy Poehler's Hillary Clinton seemed familiar enough. After all, it had only been a couple years since they stood next to one another on the series, and zero years since they starred alongside each other in Baby Mama. SNL was still using a cast member for its highly anticipated cold open — just not a current one. (We see you, Maya Rudolph's Kamala Harris.)
The appearance turned into an election-long stint with the show, complete with now-iconic punchlines that, as in the case of Chase's Ford, managed to nearly overshadow the candidate herself. As for the visibility of the role? Well, not only does the above clip have 4.8 million views, but 1.7 million people have rewatched the moment Palin herself appeared on SNL, mistaken for Fey by Alec Baldwin. A total of 17 million watched it when it aired live. (Three more million viewers than the Game of Thrones finale.) And then came the Emmy — whereas Ferrell was never honored for his role as Bush (only nominated in 2001), Fey clinched the win, establishing the SNL cold open as a EGOT hot spot.
Eight years after Fey and Palin turned SNL into appointment television, and four years after Jay Pharoah and Sudeikis failed to be memorable as Obama and Mitt Romney came an election that made Palin's run seem downright quaint. While Kate McKinnon had started to make a name for herself with her smile-through-the-rage rendition of Hillary Clinton, SNL enlisted the help of Alec Baldwin for the role of Trump — if the show dipped its toes into stunt casting with Fey, it sunk deeper with Baldwin. That said, considering Baldwin is a 17-time host, and essentially an extension of the cast, the progression continued to feel natural.
Though Baldwin's run turned into an unexpected four-year gig (one that he was so desperate to get out of that he said on Hiking With Kevin that he often hoped a meteor would kill him so he wouldn't have to go on stage as Trump), it also came with three Emmy nominees, and one Emmy win. Also, the biggest ratings SNL has seen in ages.
But What About... The Cast?
Brad Pitt just won an Emmy for his very fine three-minute run as Dr. Fauci, and the most famous comedy star of the '90s from that other sketch comedy show is running this current sketch comedy show.
And that keeps the SNL conversation around Jim Carrey and the revolving door of celebrities eager for the headline; not the very talented 20-person cast that now can only hope to play a harried reporter or aide in the show's cold open. (Just look at the main image for this story released by NBC that advertises not the cast, but two guest stars.) It's entirely possible that not one of SNL's current cast members is capable of playing Biden (not every political impersonation is a home run that directly leads to a higher profile — see: Will Forte's Bush, but I said I wasn't going to talk about it), but that also seems very hard to believe given the fact that McKinnon has played everyone from Rudy Giuliani to Jeff Sessions, and I'm pretty sure that Chloe Fineman can play a loose Certs in Mike Pence's bag.
And given the fact that Season 46 is made up of some of the more talented players in recent years and already severely underplaying the likes of Alex Moffat, Melissa Villaseñor, and all of the featured players, the insistence on a celebrity-driven cold open could deprive the cast of meaningful exposure. Exposure that could lead to future, deserved opportunities for the cast members, and future, deserved comedy for us. Like, guys, I really need another Elf.
It's also possible I'm worrying for nothing. There's a chance our political atmosphere could wear a little thin (or, at the very least, get a little more boring), reducing the need for a political cold open, and, thus, Carrey. But, given, it's been a year and a half since we had a non-Trump-related cold open, and celebrities = ratings, well, we might just have to stream Brigsy Bear for our Kyle Mooney fix.
So, yes, please, somebody stop him. Not because Carrey's bad, but because our cast is so, so good. And I need more of this.