For a while there, it was believed Donald Trump killed satire. No impersonation of the former president and future failed blogger could top the real deal. Alec Baldwin spent years doing his take on him for SNL, but his reviews were decidedly mixed (including pans from DJT himself). Still, there were a few people who found creative ways to do it right. Sarah Cooper did lip-synching. James Austin Johnson simply did a scarily accurate impersonation. His Trump helped make him a viral star, and now that he’s on SNL it was only time until he brought it to late night weekend television.
On Saturday, the fifth episode of the 47th season, Johnson finally got his chance. Cecily Strong returned yet again as Judge Jeanine Pirro, the wine-loving Trumpist who may have gotten him in big trouble, for a packed cold open, which began with Pete Davidson taking down footballer star, former Jeopardy! guest host, and anti-vaxxer Aaron Rodgers. Alex Moffat’s Glenn Youngkin, new governor-elect of Virginia, was there, too, to demonstrate that, much like Tucker Carlson, he has no idea what Critical Race Theory is, despite demonizing it all the way to a gubernatorial win.
But then Johnson’s Trump took over. Strong’s Judge Jeanine introduces him as “former and basically current President of the United States.” He in turns calls her “Judge Judy” and then away he goes, telling the crowd, “I just want to thank Glenn Youngkin and mostly myself on a tremendous victory in Virginia,” despite having not campaigned for him, in part because Youngkin clearly didn’t want Trump’s sitnk on him.
The key to Johnson’s take on the big guy is that, much like his also scarily spot-on Joe Biden, he doesn’t go big. Instead he goes small. He gets his nervous, desperate yet mysteriously relaxed energy. And he gets how his deranged rants are like a pinning top.
how Trump’s deranged rants are like a spinning top. Once he starts, he can keep going, snaking his way from one topic to another. Twice Johnson calls for 60 seconds on the clock, at which point we see a chart of semi-related topics that Trump will cover in one foul swoop. One rant starts with him praising his gift for advice-giving, veers somehow into Star Wars, pivots into Dune talk (“And look at what they’re doing with Dune. Look at what they’re doing with Dune.”), swerves into dissing the Game of Thrones finale, and suddenly connecting it with Virginia.
And so Johnson may just have to play both the current and former president of the United States. Them’s the rules.
You can watch Johnson’s justly famous Trump in the video above.