Every Presidential election gets a lot of media coverage, but this time around viewers actually broke audience records. The first Republican debate on August 4th — starring the one and only, Donald Trump — had about 24 million viewers. In total, over 164 million people have tuned into at least one of the 12 election debates, both Republican debates being in the top three most watched. With all these viewers, comedy shows’ kings of presidential spoofs such as Saturday Night Live, South Park and Family Guy have a lot of content to work on. Some even find that SNL is only funny during these debates; as the longest running show out of the three it has the most established reputation for its debate spoofs, and a lot of its “presidential” content is also watched abroad. With its notorious “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” the show has replicated a number of important debates until the present day episodes with just Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Whether you find political satire funny or not, it’s hard to not be amused by SNL’s content, ranging from silly to explicitly worrisome. SNL has managed to get more pulp out of the debates via the spoofs than via the actual live ones. Hillary (played by Kate McKinnon, an SNL regular) was most depicted as being robotic, made of steel, heartless and thankful that her opposition is someone as ridiculous as Donald. “The Hillary Clinton my team and I created, she’s warm but strong, flawed but perfect, relaxed but racing full speed towards the White House the T-1000 from Terminator,” said McKinnon. Bernie Sanders was viewed as a Seinfeld-ish communist character portrayed by no other then Larry David himself, seeking a revolution and maybe a sandwich (as he starts off his first debate with, “I’m good but I’m hungry, I’m good.”), promising he’s exactly what America is missing: “I don’t own a Super Pac, I don’t even own a backpack! […] I have one pair of underwear; Billionaires have three or four pairs. Who do you want as president? One of those Washington insiders or a guy who has one pair of clean underwear dried on a radiator?” It’s no surprise that the most viewed debates — the GOP — were the ones with the best spoofs, depicting New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (played by Bobby Moynihan, another SNL regular) as a psychotic war lover (not too far from the truth): “I’d like to answer that question with a list of fear mongering statements: we are under attack! We are all gonna die. Mothers are putting their kids on buses and those buses are being driven off cliffs by terrorists. Today in our great country one in three babies born is already in ISIS,” and finishing with “Bon Jovie forever!” (a somewhat decent but conventional New Jersey artist). And of course Donald Trump, (played by Alec Baldwin and occasionally Darrell Hammond) as being … Donald Trump. Saying things like “I love kids so much I’d marry them,” or “Hillary Clinton has committed so many crimes she’s basically a black.”
Family Guy and South Park give it their own distinctive twist, the latter illustrating Donald and Hillary as being a Giant Douche and a Turd Sandwich with real debate voiceovers of their bickering. The former applies the presidential principles to the fictional town of Quahog, where Lowis Griffin is running against Mayor West. West is an absurd character, he’s shown as being weird and “honest”, likable and thus electable; in the crowd during their debate people cheer “I’d like to have a beer with him!” This resonates a lot with our real-time elections, how the American people seem to always want an overly charismatic and “cool” president that they can relate to (something that is in practice, impossible). When Brian tells Lowis to give short answers that people want to hear, things start turning up for her, “what do you plan on doing about crime in our town?” “A lot ‘cuz that’s what Jesus wants,” she replies, and “what are your plans for cleaning our the environment?” “9/11!” and again “what about our traffic problem?” “9/11!”. In a way depicting the sad reality of how people cast their vote.
Some shows are realistic, some are absurd and some are maybe in between, but in their own way, these spoofs give us a great understanding of the ludicrous ways our system elects candidates, it sheds light on the flaws within democracy and on some problems in our country, all while having a laugh. Which arguably, isn’t very funny.