As Bernie Sanders prepares to take the legendary stage of “Saturday Night Live,” he is undoubtedly hoping to come off as likable, self-aware and, most importantly, funny. And it’s safe to assume that the Democratic presidential candidate would also like his appearance to translate into actual votes.
But has the “SNL” strategy worked in the past? Well. . .. The annals of the sketch comedy show’s history reveal a pretty mixed bag. And that the less the candidate actually says at 30 Rock, the better.
Gerald Ford showed up in 1976 as he was preparing to run against Jimmy Carter. And while he won points for playing along with Chevy Chase’s impersonation of him as a bumbling butterfingers — even closing the cold opening with “Live from New York, Gerald R. Ford!” — he ultimately lost the election to Jimmy Carter.
Steve Forbes hosted in 1996, which was, perhaps, a gross miscalculation on the part of his advisers. Because, you see, he was Steve Forbes: good with numbers, not so good with punchlines. The Atlantic recently ranked Forbes one of the “Most Awkward/Unfunny” hosts in the show’s history. Of course, he lost his bid for the Republican nomination to Bob Dole. (Dole also appeared on the show, but not until after he lost the election to Bill Clinton.)
Comedically speaking, Al Sharpton fared better when he hosted during his bid to be the 2004 Democratic nominee. As he said in his opening monologue, “Maybe tonight, people can finally get to know the real Al Sharpton. President Al Sharpton.” Although he got laughs playing off of Tracey Morgan, he withdrew from the race several months later.
John McCain is an old friend to “SNL,” first hosting the show in 2002. By the time he ran for president in 2008, he was almost a regular. McCain did a cold opening during the primaries, coming back just days before the general election to hawk campaign swag on a QVC sketch, opposite Tina Fey’s glorious Sarah Palin. While it may have helped him with the Republican nod, it wasn’t enough to win the general election.
That same year Hillary Clinton was praised for showing up in matching pantsuits with her impressionist, Amy Poehler, asking “Do I really laugh like that?” While it may have humanized Clinton, it wasn’t enough to beat her Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, who made a much briefer cameo on the show. (Of course, it didn’t stop Clinton from coming back to “SNL” during the current election, showing up as a bartender to console Kate McKinnon’s version of herself.)
Several 2012 Republican candidates, including Jon Huntsman and Chris Christie, made stops at 30 Rock during their run. But Mitt Romney, who won the nomination, took a pass, despite a widely reported personal invitation from Lorne Michaels.
And obviously Donald Trump’s turn at hosting SNL in November didn’t sway a majority of Iowa Republicans to vote his way.
But Sanders is probably in good hands with doppleganger/comic genius Larry David hosting the show. He just shouldn’t say too much. Because on “SNL,” it seems, candidates do best when they let the real comedians do most of the talking.