Alec Baldwin once described playing Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live as “agony,” a word better applied, perhaps, to the feeling of watching his performance.

Saturday night’s cold open kicked off the show with a satirical re-enactment of the two town halls that dominated the news cycle of the last few days, with Jim Carrey essentially playing himself, and Baldwin simply repeating Trump’s statements, almost verbatim, with nothing more than an exaggerated pout. 

The age of Trump managed suck the humor out of SNL almost instantaneously, as it did with every other political comedy; it’s extraordinarily difficult to caricature a man like Donald Trump, who almost seems to be living in his own sketch show. 

Remember the moment when Trump, in an effort to prove the power of his mental faculties, describing “acing” a cognitive test? He stated:

“The last questions are much more difficult, like a memory question. It’s, like, you’ll go: Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV. So they’ll say, ‘Could you repeat that?’ So I said, ‘Yeah. So it’s: Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.’ If you get it in order you get extra points … They said nobody gets it in order. It’s actually not that easy, but for me, it was easy.”

How can you write something funnier than that? It’s more ridiculous than anything Nathan Fielder and Sacha Baron Cohen could come up with, and it’s just a single example in a sea of absurdity. SNL simply can’t compete with reality – but it doesn’t feel as though Baldwin is even trying. His oafish parody of Trump is, if anything, more restrained than the man himself. 

Then there’s Carrey, whose manic, hyperactive version of Joe Biden only exists in his own imagination. But Biden is another man who seems difficult to caricature; his amusing gaffes and rambling “Grampa Simpson” monologues have long dried up, and now he just seems … tired. 

Carrey is trying his best to spice him up, but hasn’t quite managed to capture Biden’s essence. And the show’s audience, seemingly comprised of liberals who watch the show to confirm their existing beliefs, are currently angry at Carrey for making Biden look silly. 

Political satire is, obviously, supposed to make politicians look silly, but for some, there’s too much at stake during this election to enjoy the joke – not exactly a great environment for humor.  

SNL is stuck in a strange place, unwilling to attack Joe “I won’t ban fracking” Biden for his stagnant centrism, and unable to exaggerate the delirium of Trump’s verbal diarrhea. The alternate reality surrounding Trump acts like a psychic forcefield, impossible to shatter through parody – QAnon alone is more bizarre than anything even South Park has come up with.

Thus, SNL is stuck reciting lines that Trump already delivered, and crafting an alternate version of Biden, far removed enough to be inoffensive, and yet, offending the audience regardless. 

It’s a humorless, no-win situation; “agony” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

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