Not everybody liked Larry David’s Bernie Sanders impression on SNL last month, but it certainly gave the internet something to write about. Apparently it won’t be a one-off, as David returned last night to play Sanders in a sketch about Friday night’s Democratic Forum on MSNBC. Like the rest of last night’s episode, it wasn’t very good.
Last night, of course, was the Donald Trump episode. When he last hosted in 2004, Trump was just an easily mocked pompous fool and reality show host. He was a cartoon billionaire come to life. Those things are still true except for the reality show host bit, only now he’s also a leading Republican candidate for president after cynically exploiting the hate and anger found in what we would still like to think is the party’s extreme fringe. Instead of trying to puncture Trump’s cartoonish campaign through smart parody or subversive comedy, SNL played it as safe as ever, with a series of weak sketches that tried to minimize Trump’s presence but still fell apart due to the host refusing to put in even the minimal amount of effort.
Worse, the show basically carried water for Trump’s campaign a few times. One sketch put forth a fantasy view of a Trump presidency, where everyone of his campaign goals were completed in a year. It could’ve been written by Trump’s speech writers. Even if there had been any actual comedy in the piece, it would’ve been ruined by Trump’s listless, mistimed line readings and a “surprise cameo” from his daughter Ivanka that only highlighted how completely dead the audience was. And then Weekend Update started with a series of jokes about two of Trump’s biggest Republican rivals, Jeb Bush and Ben Carson, and an Obama diss. Maybe SNL thought it was edgy to have Drunk Uncle make fun of the stereotypical Trump supporter, but after giving Trump a free ride all episode it actually came off as pandering to Trump’s base, giving them jokes to laugh along with instead of a caricature to laugh at.
But back to Larry David. His perfunctory Sanders from the cold open wasn’t his only appearance. There’s been a lot of tension surrounding this entire episode, as various anti-Trump groups and activists have been protesting NBC and Saturday Night Live for giving a platform to a candidate whose campaign openly courts racists. At the end of Trump’s lame monologue somebody off camera yelled “Donald Trump is a racist.” It wasn’t an audience member or protester, but well-known liberal Larry David. Some might have been confused for a second over whether this was scripted or if David was actually going to confront Trump on live TV, but it was immediately revealed as a joke when David off-handedly said he was just trying to collect the $5000 a group had offered to any audience member who did that. It felt like they were making fun of Trump’s critics, and started off an episode where the only political commentary would be directed at Trump’s opponents instead of at Trump himself.
Perhaps this is why David didn’t seem as into his Sanders impression as he was last month. Maybe it’s why he stood awkwardly on-stage during the good nights at the end of the show, just a couple of feet away from Trump but with no apparent acknowledgment of or interaction with the host. The whole episode felt off, like a lifeless drudge through a job that nobody wanted to do, and even the audience was weirdly silent all episode long. David was the most visibly unexcited throughout, though, and it was noticeably different from the kind of visible unhappiness that has always been his brand.
Anyway, watch him play Sanders again at the top of this page. If you want to see David awkwardly call Trump a racist as part of a gag, watch to the end of this clip below.