Election is last laugh for some impersonators
By RICHARD ROEPER November 5, 2012 3:32PM
Updated: December 7, 2012 6:11AM
When all the votes are tabulated and a winner has been declared, the victor can look forward to four years of shining in the spotlight, while the loser will have to concede defeat and admit it’s all over.
That holds true for Jason Sudeikis vs. Jay Pharoah as well as for Mitt Romney vs. Barack Obama.
Sudeikis does a pretty fair imitation of Romney on “Saturday Night Live,” most recently popping up on “Weekend Update” last Saturday.
“I’m Mitt Romney and I’m still running for president,” said Jason/Mitt. “Remember that first [debate]? Oh boy oh boy oh boy! Was I feeling it that night! And the president, ooh, stinkerooney!”
“If Romney loses, could this sketch be the last we see of Jason Sudeikis?” was the question posed in Huffington Post. “The veteran ‘SNL’ player nearly left the show at the end of last season, and it’s been speculated he stuck around only to play Romney. With a Romney loss, Sudeikis’ departure from the ‘SNL’ cast could be imminent.”
If Sudeikis really has stuck around only to play Mitt Romney, well, that’s a questionable call no matter the election results. As comedic material, Romney’s hardly a gold mine on the level of Bill Clinton for Darrell Hammond. And Sudeikis’ nasally impression is just good, not brilliant a la Tina Fey’s take on Sarah Palin. Even if Romney wins, it’s highly unlikely Sudeikis/Romney will wind up ranking alongside Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush, Hammond’s Clinton or Will Ferrell’s Dubya. (Sudeikis has also done Joe Biden, so he’ll come out at least a semi-winner either way after Tuesday.)
However, a Romney victory will spell doom for the Obama character done by Jay Pharoah, who replaced Fred Armisen as the Impersonator-in-Chief on “Saturday Night Live.” To this day, late-night talk show hosts and impersonators can get a laugh doing an easy joke about Clinton’s terminal horniness, but it’s difficult to imagine an “SNL” player or a traveling comedian doing much with Barack Obama’s persona once Obama’s out of office.
(Having two different takes on a single politician is nothing new for “Saturday Night Live.” Dan Aykroyd and Norm Macdonald did Bob Dole. And though Hammond is the one who owned the Clinton character, Michael McKean and Phil Hartman did Clinton as well. And Bill Murray and Phil Hartman both played Ted Kennedy.)
With a few exceptions — Hammond’s Bill Clinton, Fey’s Sarah Palin, Rich Little’s Richard Nixon — political impersonations have an expiration date of about one second after the politician exits the public arena. (The most famous example of this is Vaughn Meader, the John F. Kennedy impersonator whose comedy album about JFK and his family sold an astonishing 7.5 million copies. Vaughn’s career effectively ended on Nov. 22, 1963.)
Even the hackiest opening act for the hackiest mid-level impersonation routine off-off-off-the-Vegas Strip wouldn’t be caught dead doing a George W. Bush impersonation in 2012.
And when was the last time you saw anyone onstage imitating John McCain or John Kerry?
It’s not just the “Saturday Night Live”-level impersonators who will see their career fortunes altered by Tuesday’s vote. Consider Reggie Brown, who was born in south suburban Maywood and worked behind the scenes at NBC-5 in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles and finding work mostly due to his uncanny resemblance to Barack Obama. Brown has appeared on “Hannah Montana,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” but his most infamous Obama impersonation occurred during the Republican Leadership Conference in June 2011. To the general bafflement of the audience, Brown/Obama did a number of jokes that were questionable in taste before the routine was cut short and he was escorted from stage.
That debacle notwithstanding, Brown’s a talented guy who does a terrific Obama. But if Obama’s not re-elected, it’ll be time to retire the Obama routine. The same goes for other Obama impersonators such as Iman Crosson, who was part of a “virtual interview” in which the public could ask the president questions via YouTube. The real Obama’s impression of the impressionist: “Well, first of all, the only problem with that guy is, he doesn’t have any gray hair. So he has to update his act a bit.”
Obama also observed, “In most countries, you don’t have the sort of comedy and satire about people in power that we do here, and so I don’t know if any of this stuff affects an election, but … it makes our country stronger that you can make fun of the president … [and it] reminds me, I work for you guys.”
Excellent point. If all those presidential bits on “Saturday Night Live” were translated to a number of other countries, everyone from Chevy Chase to Dana Carvey to Darrell Hammond to Jay Pharoah would be chained to a wall in an underground cell somewhere.