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On impersonating politicians

By Amanda Marcotte
Friday, September 19, 2008 23:08 EDT
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The news that Amy Poehler is leaving SNL and starting a sitcom with the producers of “The Office” is the least tragic entertainment news ever. SNL can be very funny, but all too often it just suffers from the inescapable problem that it’s too hard for a team of writers to come up with an hour and a half of pee-your-pants-funny stuff in a week. I’ve seen more than one skit where Poehler was just phoning it in, and she was easily the hardest working actor on that show, so that’s saying a lot. Given the chance to develop a comic character like Tina Fey was with Liz Lemon (who I suspect is different than Fey is some pretty substantial ways) will be awesome. About time, really.

Anyway, this one paragraph from the link above gets at one thing that SNL has managed to give the world and I want to praise them for it:

And then there’s Hillary. As I commented earlier this week on Broadsheet, no one ever thought that Poehler particularly resembled or sounded like Clinton. But the affection and respect she showed while mercilessly ripping apart Clinton’s much-mocked laugh, unrelenting ambition and self-interest and triangulating habits meant that Poehler’s impersonation was always dead-on, but never mean.

I’m loathe to admit it, because my official opinion of Chevy Chase is that he sucks grapefruits, but he really did stumble on something brilliant with his weird impressions of Gerald Ford. It became blanket permission for the cast for the rest of the show, with some exceptions, to play politicians by riffing on them more than trying to faithfully embody them, and that’s Poehler’s strategy for playing Clinton. In doing so, she says a lot more about Clinton and what she means to people than she would just trying to get her mannerisms down. Same thing, I think, with Fey’s impersonation of Palin. Palin doesn’t actually cock her head like a confused dog all the time. But by incorporating that into her impersonation of Palin, she communicated something much more important about Sarah Palin, which is that she’s a dumbass.

Also in the category of great riffing jobs that are all the better because the actor is doing something other than trying to get the mannerisms down perfectly:

Plus, Will Ferrell works in a joke about Bush’s fear of horses, which is a quality he has that never fails to amuse me. The big, manly man Bush is afraid of horses. Yeah, a real man of the people, that one.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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