By Chris Stigall
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It’s often dismissed as irrelevant when I predict “Saturday Night Live’s” impact on today’s political debate. Still, I’ve contended that “SNL’s” Kate McKinnon and her portrayal of Hillary Clinton is a devastating development for the Clinton campaign.
Proof of that devastation surfaced last week during her Iowa campaign charade.
The official Twitter account of Hillary Clinton paid tribute to “National High Five Day” by tweeting out a GIF (looped piece of video) from the latest “SNL” episode.
It was a clip of Kate McKinnon portraying an inauthentic Hillary Clinton trying to “high-five” an aide. The hilarious accompanying line “Oh, Christina – meet my hand in the air” was just one of the great moments in a six-minute sketch in which they portrayed Hillary as someone who’s just not like the rest of us.
Why is this significant? The Clinton campaign is trying to embrace and neutralize the harshness of McKinnon’s portrayal by appearing to be of good humor about it. It’s an acknowledgement of the problem and it’s not going away no matter how hard she pretends to laugh at it.
Hillary Clinton is a woman who wants to be President of the United States, yet intends to avoid speaking to any press or uncontrolled “average voters” for the near future.
She’s yet to answer for huge foreign donations to her foundation while serving as Secretary of State. She’s yet to answer for the email scandal.
She’s yet to answer for provable lies like Benghazi, her stance on gay marriage, statements of being “dead broke,” taking sniper fire while traveling abroad, etc.
But beyond all of the scandal – and at the risk of redundancy – Mrs. Clinton isn’t likeable or authentic. It’s not her policies, scandals, lies, or her husband that will be her undoing. It’s those things plus…just her.
Bill Clinton was at least a likeable, philandering liar. “SNL” let him have that. But they won’t afford likeability to his wife. It’s hilarious for viewers. It’s terminal for a campaign.
Honestly, I waited a while before declaring political comedy had a pulse again. I wrote back in early March of the first McKinnon portrayal of Hillary Clinton, “Mrs. Clinton’s lack of likeability IS the joke. And that’s a very serious problem for her future.”
Then, “SNL” went dark for over a month. It was during this period Clinton held her infamous email server press conference in the “Dr. Evil” coat at the U.N. Oh, how I wanted McKinnon to resurface after that spectacle for another round. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.
By the time “SNL” returned in early April, the media got wind Mrs. Clinton would finally make her grand announcement. She was running for President once again. She would do this via social media and online video release.
I began to wonder what “SNL” would do with it. Would it lead the show in their famous “cold open?” It is traditionally this sketch that tells viewers what they at “SNL” deem the biggest news item of the week.
It stood to reason Mrs. Clinton’s announcement would have to be it, but I remained cautious. A month ago, McKinnon’s take on Hillary was so effective and garnered such attention and acclaim – especially from Clinton critics – I fully suspected the show’s creative forces to back off.
In other words, a quiet understanding that “maybe we were too effective last month, so lets take the heat off of Mrs. Clinton and make it about something or someone else in her sphere.”
I’ve developed a healthy skepticism after years of sketches involving an Obama impersonator portraying him the as the straight man to the buffoonery surrounding his “brilliance.”
Hilariously, McKinnon would not back down. Rather, she and her writers doubled down. McKinnon returned as the unnatural, stiff, power-craven Hillary Clinton she had portrayed the month prior.
In the sketch, an aide coaches Clinton through producing a self-made campaign video. “Just look into the camera and act natural,” said the aide. Holding her phone out “selfie-style,” McKinnon’s “Hillary” made a face not unlike a hissing cat.
Then came her first words into the camera. “Citizens, you will vote for me! I will be your leader!”
The aide gently stopped her to say she might have “come off a little hard.” To which McKinnon’s “Hillary” asked with genuine disappointment “Oh, shoot. Which part?”
There was so much more to enjoy, and I encourage you to watch it. It was all so perfect – right down to a reference of deleting emails. Six minutes of honest, political comedy I’ve not seen come out of “Saturday Night Live” in years.
Don’t misunderstand this for partisan glee. This is glee as a fan of comedy.
“Na-ga-da-it.” “Stratergery.” “Lock-box.” “Can I finish? Can I finish? Can I finish?” “I can see Russia from my house.” How about the insincere, lower lip bite and clinched fist, using the thumb when making a point?
If you’re a big “SNL” fan – you know those lines and affectations. You know who delivered them and which political figure they were mocking. You also know they became synonymous with the real person, fairly or not, real or not – forever.
Now stop and consider almost seven years of Obama and SNL, and the most memorable moment or line or even characteristic (other than some halting “uhhhs”) to come from Fred Armisan or Jay Pharoh’s impersonations? Feel free to submit it to me, because I’ve got nothin’.
It’s a comedic tragedy I’ve probably bored my radio audience to tears chronicling and writing about over many years.
Then along comes Kate McKinnon and those that have created and written her “Hillary Clinton.” I have no reason to believe those behind the comedy are conservatives. In fact, I’d bet the house on most pulling the lever for a Clinton presidency.
But even a Clinton win (God help me for writing that) would be a professional boon, too juicy to pass up for a floundering show and an up-and-coming star.
Now underway is a campaign cycle and media coverage that will envelope nearly two full seasons more of “SNL” before Election Day. McKinnon and her writers would be foolish to abandon this caricature.
It’s the kind of performance that put names like Carvey, Hartman, Hammond, Fey, and Ferrell on the road to long-term stardom. If McKinnon continues on this path with her portrayal, it will make her a star and it will destroy Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. If it hasn’t already.
For those of us who know the alarming substance and depth of the Clintons’ scandals, Kate McKinnon is simply entertaining lipstick on a sinister, political animal.
For those who don’t know Hillary Clinton, Kate McKinnon is telling them who she is – completely unrelatable, phony, and unlikable.
Either way, it’s devastating. Just watch.