How will SNL treat Biden?

Published 10:14 am Friday, March 26, 2021

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NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” returns with a new episode on Saturday night, and it remains a mystery whether the show will have someone portray President Biden. A bigger question: Will SNL dare give Biden the same treatment it gave Gerald Ford?

President Ford, a star athlete in college, slipped on the steps of Air Force One in June 1975. When SNL had its debut four months later, Chevy Chase played Ford as a klutz, falling down in sketch after sketch — a depiction that helped make Chase a big star. It branded Ford and helped dash his chances against Jimmy Carter the following year.

Last Friday, President Biden had the misfortune to slip at least twice on the steps of Air Force One. He wasn’t injured, but his image might have been hurt. Right-wing commentators already claim he’s too old and frail for the job. They’ll be aching for Biden to get a Ford-style portrayal on SNL.

So far, the NBC series has stayed clear of Biden. He is mentioned briefly on Weekend Update, but there has yet to be a sketch with a Biden character in 2021.

The last time anyone played Biden on SNL was Dec. 19, when cast member Alex Moffat took a turn. Before the election, Jim Carrey portrayed Biden and some Democrats felt it was too harsh. Carrey left the role last fall without much explanation, except to say it was never meant to be a permanent gig.

Earlier, Woody Harrelson provided a toothy, straight-from-the-headlines version of Biden, and Jason Sudeikis did a spot-on impression of the then-vice president during the Obama years.

I placed a call to Alan Zweibel, who was one of the original writers at SNL and worked on the Ford parodies. “We were at an age where the Republicans were the bad guys,” he told me. He recalls that after Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace, “Ford comes along and he’s the guy who not only pardoned Nixon, but kept falling down a lot. So, you know, it just seemed like the natural thing to do.”

SNL and its creator, Lorne Michaels, frequently state that they treat both parties equally in search of comedy and satire. But Jay Pharoah, who did a winning impression of President Obama, has said in interviews that SNL went a bit soft on Obama in the latter stages of his presidency. “A lot of the time I was told I had to keep him presidential,” Pharoah explains. “I was just forced to be a part of the machine and try to do the best I can.”

So, what will be Joe Biden’s fate? Will SNL turn him into a Ford-style bumbler who keeps losing his footing? Or will SNL steer clear of damaging Biden’s image at a time when the nation is already so divided on politics?

Chevy Chase is now 77, one year younger than Joe Biden. Maybe SNL will invite him to stumble back into the presidential role.

Peter Funt is working on a book about portrayals of sitting presidents, titled “Playing POTUS.” Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., a newspaper syndicate.