On Nov. 7, 2015, Donald Trump hosted Saturday Night Live.
The decision to extend such a coveted platform to the candidate was puzzling given that only months earlier, the variety show’s network, NBC, had severed business ties with Trump following his xenophobic presidential announcement speech targeting Mexican immigrants (delivered in front of a gaggle of paid actors, as it were). But there he was in Studio 8H, making light of the racism charges against him during his monologue and dad-dancing to Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” Most egregious of all was a sketch called “White House 2018” that envisioned a Trump presidency wherein the real-estate mogul had eliminated ISIS, stood down Putin, convinced Mexico to fork over $20 billion for his dumb wall, and not only brought peace to Syria but given its refugees jobs as blackjack dealers at a Trump-branded hotel and casino in Damascus.
And there was only one person to blame: Lorne Michaels.
“It actually started off as a skit,” Trump told CNN’s Chris Cuomo of the SNL gig. “And I said, ‘All right, I’ll do it.’ And they took it up to Lorne Michaels, who’s an amazing guy, he’s run Saturday Night Live brilliantly for many years, and he’s a friend of mine. He said, ‘Well, wait a minute: Donald’s agreed to do this skit. Would he do the whole thing?’”
The following February, Michaels gave an interview to The New York Times Magazine and compared Trump’s candidacy to that of Reagan while hailing his “populist” bona fides. “Donald’s giving voice to what polite society has sort of sat on for a while, things that are felt but that no one is articulating. There is something happening there, or it wouldn’t be resonating,” said Michaels, adding, “[Trump] could end up being the moderate.” Seven months after that, the other crown jewel in Michaels’ media mini-empire, The Tonight Show, saw host Jimmy Fallon infamously tousle Trump’s hair. In the wake of heavy backlash, SNL announced its casting of outspoken liberal Alec Baldwin as Trump thirteen days later.
Over the weekend, Baldwin’s Trump made his first appearance in Saturday Night Live’s 44th season in a sketch alongside “Kanye West” (played by cast member Chris Redd), lampooning the MAGA-hat-wearing artist’s surreal Oval Office performance. Just as its string of humorless, Trump-bashing Baldwin cameos have felt like cultural reparations for the hosting fiasco, so too did this, coming two weeks after West was afforded the opportunity to deliver a rambling, fact-deficient rant defending his Trump love from the SNL stage, flanked by most of the cast (that it supplanted the post-show handshaking ceremony added insult to injury).
The West episode, teased with promos of the musician sporting his red MAGA hat, was the second-highest rated SNL premiere since 2012, bested only by the Baldwin-as-Trump debut on Sept. 29, 2016. Because that’s what really seems to matter when it comes to Saturday Night Live: ratings.
SNL’s stunning Trump-Kanye hypocrisy notwithstanding, a few other eye-opening revelations about the sketch-comedy show have emerged recently. On Oct. 9, former cast member Taran Killam, who used to portray Donald Trump (including in the aforementioned Trump monologue), opened up about Michaels’ comedic approach toward his longtime friend on the podcast I Was There Too.
“Lorne was being so specific about what we could and couldn’t say about him, and he was dictating a lot of the settings,” Killam said. “At that point—the first CNN interview he was doing—and that was sort of looking like what we thought we were going to do, and Lorne’s like, ‘It’ll be too old news by then, and you know, you don’t want to vilify him. You know, he’s like any New York taxi driver. I know him, I’ve seen him around at parties for years and years, and he just says whatever it is he’s thinking, and that’s his thing. But you know, you have to find a way in that makes him likable.’”
And on Oct. 12, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Michaels had donated $5,000 to Senator Susan Collins’ (R-ME) midterm re-election bid—the senator who made a big show of casting the decisive vote to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, sexual-assault allegations be damned.
Naturally, Sen. Collins’ speech was parodied on the Oct. 7 edition of Saturday Night Live.