When President Donald Trump is railing against a Christmas rerun of Saturday Night Live—as he did last month to unintentionally comic effect—it’s sometimes easy to forget that he actually hosted the show less than four years ago.
That episode, which aired almost one year to the day before he won the 2016 election, came months after Trump rode down that golden escalator and announced his presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists.” That alone should have disqualified him from the comedy gig, my guest on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast says.
“Shame on them,” former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett tells me when I ask about Saturday Night Live’s decision during our recent taping in his Crooked Media studio. “He came down that escalator and he said Mexicans are rapists. He came down that escalator and he began one of the most despicable campaigns in modern American history. It wasn’t a joke, it wasn’t funny then.”
For the host of the popular podcasts Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It, it is just one example of “what we allow when you talk about the right people or the wrong people.”
“Look, if Donald Trump said the same types of things about gay people that he said about Mexicans, if he said the same kind of thing about Jews that he said about Muslims, there would be no chance that he could host Saturday Night Live,” Lovett says. “Of course not. I think it was a mistake.”
In one sense, Lovett “understands” why the show booked Trump. The fall of 2015 was still a time when most of America considered the idea of a Donald Trump presidency a far-fetched joke. Four years earlier, it had been the basis for many of the punchlines Lovett wrote for President Obama to deliver at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner when Trump was in the audience, something else we talk about at length in our podcast conversation.
“It was a moment when we were grappling with something, which is, what do you do when America—one of its two political parties—embraces someone who is morally unacceptable?” Lovett asks. “What do you do? I don’t know the answer, but you definitely don’t let them host Saturday Night Live.”
The fact that SNL helped legitimize Trump during his primary campaign makes the president’s relentless outrage at the show’s current portrayal of him all the more baffling.
“As a rule, Saturday Night Live reruns should not have this much power in our politics,” Lovett jokes. But at the same time he warns against dismissing as “idle threats” Trump’s tweets about taking away NBC’s license or having the FCC investigate the comedy show’s content.
“You know, the thing with Donald Trump is, it’s fascism for the cameras,” he says. “So he says he’s going to shut the border down, he says he’s going to go after their licenses, he says he’s going to get the post office to go after the Washington Post. And usually, he’s just saying it. But once in a while, he means it. Once in a while he shuts down the border for a couple of hours.”
“So you have to take him quite seriously while at the same time recognizing that he wasn’t thinking, he wasn’t planning, he wasn’t imagining the policy,” Lovett continues. “He was spouting off because he’s an angry old man who’s slowing down and can’t believe that after his entire life of seeking the respect of people in Manhattan, his whole life of trying to get these people to like him—though unwilling to do the work or show the discipline required to get it—he is the president of the United States and he still doesn’t have people’s respect.”
“And deep down, I think he knows he doesn’t deserve it and that’s what he’s mad at,” he concludes, wrapping up this particular rant. “He’s mad at Donald Trump.”
Subscribe now to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, the Himalaya app or wherever you listen to podcasts to hear our full conversation—including Jon Lovett’s thoughts on the first comedy-free White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 16 years and what it was like to write jokes for President Obama. And look out for new episodes featuring a different comedian guest every Tuesday.