Things I’ve learned while writing about SNL over the course of the past seven years: If you want something to happen on the show, don’t write about it in a “you know, this really should happen” kind of way. These types of pieces (like the one you are about to read) have a way of doing the exact opposite of what was intended. They often have a way of coming off like, “I, internet writer, know better than the people who make the show.” And if people who do make the show ever read the piece, the reactions usually aren’t, “You know, this numbskull who has never worked on SNL a day in his life makes a valid point and really seems to know what he’s talking about.” So, having said all that, I realize that this piece will most likely ensure that what I’m proposing never happens.
And what I’m proposing is that when this upcoming 42nd season starts, Beck Bennett should play Donald Trump.
Last season, SNL’s political sketches were on the brink of disaster. They were saved by Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton, Larry David’s Bernie Sanders, and a “Weekend Update” that finally, at long last, started clicking after the departure of Seth Meyers in early 2014. But what caused the disaster was, of course, Donald Trump – in more ways than one. The obvious reason here is that SNL invited Trump to host, a decision that still plagues the show a year later. Jimmy Fallon tousling Trump’s hair on The Tonight Show last week brought on, yet again, another wave of SNL scorn for letting Trump host. (And, unfortunately, it’s still deserved: SNL having Trump host was a big reason Trump’s message became normalized. This was a gross miscalculation on SNL’s part and there’s no way they ever thought we’d still be talking about it a year later. But here we are.)
The other problem is last season the show completely defanged its new Trump, the recently departed Taran Killam, by putting him onstage with the real Donald Trump in only Killam’s second time as Trump. (I wrote about this way back in 2011: nothing kills an impression more than having to “meet” the real person.) If an impression has been done long enough that it’s already established, it can survive. But Killam had no shot here. It was unfortunate.
Also on stage that night was Darrell Hammond as Trump. So here’s poor Killam doing his brand new Trump in front of the real Trump and a guy who has been playing Trump for literally 20 years. It’s not surprising that Hammond soon replaced Killam on the show as Trump. (The story is a little more complicated. It involves a surprise guest who wound up not appearing on the show that led to Hammond subbing in as Trump, while Killam played another character – which then became permanent. Anyway, the end result is the same.)
Now, let’s back up to a few weeks before the 41st season started. Basically, a year ago right now. SNL knew Trump would be a major part of their season and held auditions. As we know, Taran Killam won. But the word I’ve heard multiple times is, “Beck Bennett has an amazing Trump.” I’ve heard it was so good, there were people absolutely shocked that Bennett didn’t get the part.
Now, I haven’t seen Beck Bennett’s Trump. And you haven’t seen Beck Bennett’s Trump. This is all a leap of faith. But what we do know about Beck Bennett is that he has a knack for playing smarmy dudes and I have no doubt that Bennett’s Trump is not “kind.” And maybe that was the problem. Remember, at the time SNL wrongheadedly didn’t think of Trump as an actual, viable candidate and still wanted to remain in enough good graces that Trump would still host. This all obviously backfired. Last season SNL went with the tried and true “caricature of Trump’s voice” impression instead of anything too biting.
This is not an indictment of Darrell Hammond’s Trump. But, good Lord, we’ve seen this Trump impression for literally the last 20 years. Is there anything left to see from this? Is there something that Hammond can still do as Trump that will make anyone take notice in the spirit of Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin? Also, not to mention, Hammond stood on stage with the real Trump, too. It’s got the stain of Trump compliance on it – just like pretty much everything at NBC not named Seth Meyers has on it these days.
If nothing else, Beck Bennett’s Trump would be fresh. It’s a clean slate. It wipes away the stain of last year’s nonsense. Beck Bennett’s Trump wouldn’t be tarnished. No one has seen it! No one could post a picture of Beck Bennett’s Trump meeting the real Trump! And Bennett could just roll out there and deliver the punches that Trump deserves and SNL desperately needs right now. Maybe the best thing was Bennett didn’t win the part last season, so that it’s available and fresh as we head into the months that truly matter. If he had won, then he would have been up there onstage with the real Trump and it would have been ruined. There’s a real opportunity here.
(And here’s where I publicly apologize to Beck Bennett for ruining his chances of this ever happening. But I hope it happens. It would be the best for the show and the best for society.)
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.