Lorne Michaels has a lot to answer for when it comes to Donald Trump—which is why this season, he’s enlisted a ringer.
Although Saturday Night Live has not always been kind to the inexplicable presidential candidate, Michaels did invite him to host an episode last season, despite NBC’s breaking ties with The Orange Menace over his comments about Mexican immigrants. Giving such a divisive demagogue a platform was a bad look to begin with, and it’s only become more regrettable as Trump’s campaign has further devolved into a xenophobic, misogynist shitshow. Samantha Bee rightfully called SNL and NBC out for normalizing Trump, following Jimmy Fallon’s recent hair-jostling fluffpiece. In an apparent bid to remind viewers that hosting Trump did not put the show in his pocket, Michaels has hired Alec Baldwin to play the role this season. It’s a move that can be read as a signal of doubling-down on mocking the candidate. (Or a transparent ratings-grab. It might be that too.)
This past Saturday, Baldwin debuted his Trump, and it’s a total banger. He’s got the varying vocal inflections down, along with the cadences, the scowl, the mouth-puckering, and even some of the weirder things he does with his eyes. It’s a nuanced portrayal that suggests Baldwin has been working on this for a while, despite the surprise announcement last week. But where does Baldwin right in the pantheon of Trump impressions? Let’s have a look at who he’s up against.
The Upright Citizens Brigade stalwart and minor 30 Rock player has been riding the Trump wave all year–most notably on the Trump vs Sanders debate tour, but also with appearances on @Midnight and many other shows. It’s a fine impression, but Atamanuik’s key strength is his ability to improvise with the character. With the script shouldering some of the heavy lifting, Baldwin gets to focus further on accuracy and minor exaggerations.
Before SNL brought Baldwin on board this season as a single-serving impressionist, the show set a precedent last year by re-hiring Darrell Hammond strictly to play Bill Clinton. Because he was on-hand anyway, though, Michaels and company gave the master chameleon a shot at Trump. Hammond is a pro and Trump is such a specific and well-defined specimen, it’s hard to miss the mark. But ultimately, this portrayal is a touch too broad.
Taran Killam was a utility player on SNL (until very recently) and he also had a Trump in his pocket. Killam can do the voice fairly well and he has some of the mannerisms on lock, but he’s a little over-reliant on making a deep frowny face. The impression also suffers from the fact that Killam in no way resembles Trump physically, even beneath a caked-up layer of ochre makeup residue.
Fallon’s impression is surface-level only, and it’s only as strong as the writing. Could this opinion be colored by lingering resentment over that recent Trump interview? Possibly.
Okay, Conan O’Brien doesn’t actually have a Donald Trump impression. He did, however, imitate the six-times-bankrupt businessman’s preening and posturing on his show about a decade ago, which seems worthy of inclusion.
Nobody is looking to Stephen Colbert to make impressions, and he knows it. When he did a Trump on his show last year, he did it through the lens of portraying a Trumpian version of himself. Not only did it work for the premise, but it saved him the indignity of a wig. (Inwignity?)
Dana Carvey is another impersonation impresario, forged in the fires of Saturday Night Live. When he was on the talk show circuit this past summer, promoting The Secret Lives of Pets, he debuted his inevitable Trump. It’s a serviceable effort that would probably go down smoother with some costuming. It might make you laugh, but it might also just make you want to see Carvey do Regis Philbin some more.
Proving that just about any white male in the SNL cast was allowed an at-bat, Jason Sudeikis tried his hand at Trump too. It’s mostly just a collection of hand gestures and lip-pursing, though, with little finesse. He also gives the voice too much oomph and it doesn’t sound quite right.
Back in the day, when a Donald Trump presidency wasn’t even a nightmare most people’s subconscious would possibly produce, Phil Hartman took a stab at the real estate magnate. While there is a glimmer of the Donald Trump we’ve come to know lurking in there, the late-’80s version is mostly just a heavily accented narcissist prick. He would go on to pick up a number of eccentricities in the coming decades.
As of this moment, Co.Create endorses Anthony Atamanuik as the best unscripted Trump, and Alec Baldwin as the new master of SNL sketches. We’ll be following closely this season to see if he finds new wrinkles in the character. Tweet at us if you think one of these other Trumps is better, and if we left anyone off the list.