All week, Donald Trump has been promising “huge” ratings for his highly anticipated return as host of Saturday Night Live this weekend. We won’t know the total numbers until sometime over the next couple of days, but it is fairly safe to say that this will be one of the largest audiences SNL has seen in a long time.
And what did Trump do with the type of exposure his struggling GOP rivals would have killed for? Mostly, the same old shtick that has caused the country to start losing interest in his candidacy and deliver Ben Carson to top of the most recent national polls.
When Trump’s monologue began, you could have been forgiven for thinking NBC was re-airing his 2004 appearance. Darrell Hammond even reprised his role as Trump impersonator, in addition to his recent replacement Taran Killam. Trump had to rely on SNL’s resident Bernie Sanders, Larry David, yelling, “You’re a racist!” from off-stage for the biggest laugh of the show up to that point.
For the first sketch after the monologue, the SNL writers valiantly imagined the White House as it will look in 2018 when President Donald Trump has been in office for more than a year. He tweets laws and added the word “huge” to the National Anthem! And there’s the president of Mexico delivering the money for that wall Trump promised along the border. “Consider it an apology for doubting you,” he tells Trump. “Nothing brings two countries together like a wall.”
After an underwhelming appearance by his daughter Ivanka that seemed to barely register as a surprise cameo with the crowd, Trump proceeded to break the fourth wall and commit the cardinal sin of comedy: explaining the joke.
“If you think that’s how it’s going to be when I’m president, you’re wrong. It’s going to be even better,” he said. “I said to the writers of this sketch, keep it modest, OK? It’s better to start with low expectations, that way you have nowhere to go but up.”
For those who still find the prospect of a Trump presidency laughable, the expectations could not be any lower. And this weak attempt at self-parody is unlikely to change their minds.
Throughout the rest of the show, Trump only deigned to play a character other than himself a grand total of twice. Once, as the needy “laser harp” player Gene Breads in what appeared to be a bizarre homage to Will Ferrell’s “more cowbell” sketch, and then later as a rich record producer in a mildly funny piece about a dad who awkwardly covers pop songs and plays them for his family during dinner.
Overall, Trump didn’t even seem to be having that much fun. That is, except for a brief moment in the taped parody music video of Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” in which his uncharacteristic self-consciousness melted away and he danced like no one was watching:
Aside from the Larry David moment, the most scathing Trump critiques occurred when the candidate was off-screen. Unlike the mostly innocuous sketch about his mean tweets, the show saved the best burns for Weekend Update.
On the candidate’s new book, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, anchor Michael Che wanted to know what that word “again” was doing there.
“Whenever rich old white guys start bringing up the good old days, my negro senses start tingling,” he said. “All those years of progress, Trump’s going to really go, ‘No, I think we had it right the first time?’”
But it was the return of Bobby Moynihan’s Drunk Uncle that may have hit Trump the hardest by painting a vicious picture of his biggest supporters.
“Finally someone is saying the things I’ve been thinking, as well as saying,” Drunk Uncle, who is known for his outrageous, politically incorrect commentary, told Colin Jost. “I don’t just like him, I love him. He’s going to make America grapes again.”
“He's perfect. He’s like a big old beautiful Monopoly man,” he added, before echoing Trump with a call to deport all immigrants.
Historically, a cameo on SNL has been positive for a political candidate’s image—if not always their poll numbers. Appearing in a three-minute sketch alongside Kate McKinnon last month, Hillary Clinton kicked off what was widely viewed as the best week of her campaign to date. You can chalk that up to the show’s supposed liberal bias, but at least the Democrat knew how not to wear out her welcome.
Over the next several days, a lot of people will be talking about Trump’s time hosting SNL. We know that he thrives on attention, but with so much screen time Saturday night, he may have finally reached the dreaded saturation point that will make potential voters start seriously looking elsewhere for someone who seems more like a president and less like one of America’s biggest comedy stars.
And unlike some of his more entertaining media moments, this time he wasn’t even that funny.