Thursday, November 15, 2012

Jay Pharoah and President Obama

One thing I didn't mention in my last TV Report was Jay Pharoah's impression of President Obama on Saturday Night Live. So far, his impression is good but the comedy is lacking. I think that has less to do with Pharoah than with the toothless nature of the political satire on SNL this season. Pharoah just hasn't had much to do because, I think, SNL has never really known how to approach Obama satirically.

But Pharoah showing up as Obama on Weekend Update was a bright spot in that increasingly weak segment. It lit me up a bit. It wasn't Drunk Uncle--I do love Drunk Uncle--but the impression was fun and Pharoah seemed to really be enjoying himself.

It's interesting how SNL has decided to approach Obama as a caricature: staid, moderate, slightly overwhelmed, never losing his temper and somewhat of a straight, boring guy. I was surprised that they never went the route of satirizing the right wing fears of Obama as a guy who was secretly something else and that his unscary moderate appearance was a put-on. But Fred Armisen isn't really that kind of comic--he keeps getting more mellow and low-key every year, and every time he showed up as Obama it seemed like it was just done out of obligation rather than a desire to make a satirical point. Armisen's Obama is ten times more boring than Obama himself ever came across. Jason Sudeikis has been doing a really funny caricature of Joe Biden for four years, but any time Obama showed up, you just knew all the energy was going to get sucked out. They just never knew what the hook was to a comedy version of Barack Obama.

It's a shame, because presidential caricaturing has been one of the great hallmarks of Saturday Night Live right from the beginning. Why aren't they doing a great Obama?

What's funny is that over on Tumblr people have taken a different characterization of Obama to heart, which is that he's a cool guy with a bit of a dorky side. He's like your dad. They've eased off the "I got this" Samuel L. Jackson character that too many people seemed to think they were voting for. But over on Tumblr a lot of people like this idea of the President as a cool guy who is put upon by Republican obstructionism. It's a more enjoyable characterization, and one that I've seen some funny stuff come out of. But Tumblr isn't SNL; Tumblr is young and hip.

I wish SNL would go that route. More relaxed, less stiff. More of a cool, confident dude and less of a painfully lame wannabe do-gooder. It would just be more fun to watch, especially now that you have a guy playing Obama whose impression is good and who seems to genuinely enjoy doing it. When I was watching his appearance, I actually thought to myself, "Why didn't SNL ever impersonate Obama before? No, wait..." This really feels like a different character than the one Armisen was playing for the past 4 years.

They have a chance now to have some fun with a political caricature. I'd really like to see something more akin to what Phil Hartman did as that slick version of Bill Clinton, or Norm MacDonald's hilarious cartoon villain version of Bob Dole. Just run with this and make it fun this time.

1 comment:

Tallulah Morehead said...

I remember back to the very beginning of SNL, befor eyou were born. I was watchng the show the night it debuted, and in those days, Chevy Chase's President Ford was considered cutting-edge satire despite the fact that Chevy made NO effort whatever to look or sound like Ford. Chevy's President Ford was a guy who looked exactly like a young Chevy Chase, sounded exactly like Chevy Chase, and bumped into thigns and fell over a lot, much like the way Chevy did playing all his other characters.

Pharoah manages to look a bit like Obama and manages to do a decent impression of him, but, like you say, the writing isn't there.