‘SNL’ stars dish on sketch Obama vetoed, why Lorne Michaels finds Hillary ‘entitled’ and other political skit secrets in new book

Image via SNL

Image via SNL

Presidents, first ladies and all types of political candidates have been both frequent guests and the butt of jokes on “Saturday Night Live.”

The Hollywood Reporter published an excerpt Wednesday of the updated edition of the Saturday Night Live oral history, “Live From New York,” written by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales and it featured a lot of juicy details about the famous political skits focused on the 2008 campaign.

For instance, executive producer Lorne Michaels found then-candidate Hillary Clinton to be “entitled.”

We were contacted by, I think, Howard Wolfson from Hillary [Clinton's] campaign, and they wanted to do the first show of the season. [Barack] Obama was heating up, but they called first, so I said OK. You have to play by those rules. And then, the week of, they bailed. I went, ‘Really? You called us, and we gave it to you.’” Michaels said. “I think every now and then I get carried away and think we actually do have influence. And then, after that, we put Obama on the date when Hillary was supposed to be on. The sense of entitlement which was following her everywhere at that point peaked for me at the bailing.”

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who was famously portrayed by Tina Fey, also had a lot of choice words about the “coverage” of the 2008 campaign by SNL.

“I think “SNL” is egotistical if they believe that it was truly an effect on maybe the public debate about who should lead the country in the next four years,” Palin said.

“If I ran into Tina Fey again today, I would say: “You need to at least pay for my kids’ braces or something from all the money that you made off of pretending that you’re me! My goodness, you capitalized on that! Can’t you contribute a little bit? Jeez!”

Saturday Night Live Obamacare Pharrell hat

Image via SNL

Apparently “SNL” had some trouble with the Obama impersonations on the show for laughable reasons.

If I had to describe Obama as a comedy project, I would say, “Degree of difficulty, 10 point 10.” It’s like being a rock climber looking up at a thousand-foot-high face of solid obsidian, polished and oiled. There’s not a single thing to grab onto — certainly not a flaw or hook that you can caricature,” James Downey, a producer and writer.

“[Al] Gore had these “handles,” so did Bush, and Sarah Palin, and even Hillary had them. But with Obama, it was the phenomenon — less about him and more about the effect he had on other people and the way he changed their behavior. So that’s the way I wrote him.”

The show once had to change its direction on a skit at the order of then-Senator and candidate Obama.

It wasn’t until my last season that the network refused to air a ‘TV Funhouse.’ It was a live-action one that was meant to be about racism and profiling, an airline-safety video with multilingual narration, and whenever you heard a different language, they would cut to people of that nationality. First, typical white Americans, then a Latino family, then a Japanese family, all being instructed about seat belts, overhead compartments, et cetera. Then it cuts to an Arab man, and the narrator says, in Arabic, “During the flight, please do not blow up the airplane. The United States is actually a humanitarian nation that is rooted in the concept of freedom,” and so on. … When the standards people freaked, Lorne fought them. Standards pushed back hard. They even got someone at NBC human resources to condemn it. … Lorne said, ‘I have a plan,’” said Robert Smigel, a writer for the show.

“Obama was doing a cameo in the cold open. Lorne told me he would show my sketch to Obama. ‘If Obama thinks it’s OK, they won’t be able to argue it.’ I thought it was a brilliant idea, except why would Obama ever give this thing his blessing? What if word got out? ‘Hey, everybody, that guy over there said it was cool. The one running for president of the country.’”

Read the full excerpt at The Hollywood Reporter.

 

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