The HRC of ‘SNL’
On Hillary Clinton’s various comedic incarnations.
Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) has been a semi-permanent fixture on Saturday Night Live since 1992, when Jan Hooks first appeared next to Phil Hartman’s Bill Clinton during his initial campaign. She was a doting wife, who succumbed to the fact that she couldn’t give the political responses that she was so incredibly qualified to answer and was instead expected to discuss her Today show cookie recipe with people.
A total of nine women (the brief Drew Barrymore and Rachel Dratch impersonations are the most often overlooked of the group) have portrayed Hillary Clinton on SNL, both recurring cast members and guests. There was a brief interlude between Hooks and Ana Gasteyer, wherein Janeane Garofalo took on the role of Hillary Clinton, but Gasteyer proved to be the necessary player for the next Hillary incarnation. She played the Lewinsky/post-scandal Hillary Clinton perfectly, while her other half was played by Darrell Hammond, who still appears as Bill Clinton whenever SNL needs him. Gasteyer’s Clinton stood in solidarity with the completely exasperated American people, and served as a liaison of sorts between the audience and Bill Clinton’s actions.
Gasteyer even managed to work in Hillary’s personal shift between the late 1990s Hillary Clinton and the early 2000s Hillary Clinton (or the “Old Hillary” and the “New Hillary”) in a sketch during the last year or so of Bill Clinton’s presidency. The sketch revolved around Hillary’s recent announcement of candidacy for New York senate, and the response it received. “Some critics called my speech wooden and ‘studdy,’ so I wanted to take this time to show you the new Hillary, the real Hillary, up close and personal.” Gasteyer said as Hillary, before trying to talk about how excited she was to cook for her family in the couple’s Chappaqua home.
Meanwhile, Hammond’s Bill Clinton ate pizza in the background before trying to back up his wife’s cooking skills. She politely asked Bill to go away before turning back to the camera and saying, “You see? That was the New Hillary. The Old Hillary would’ve yelled, ‘Get out of here, you camera hog.’ She would’ve said, ‘This is my campaign for once. I kept my mouth shut a long time for you. But this is about me. Me. You got me, BILL?!’” There’s a beat wherein New Hillary works to soothe Old Hillary. “But that was the Old Hillary,” she said, collecting herself, before discussing some of the other notable differences between Old and New Hillary Clinton. “The Old Hillary was rigid and awkward. The New Hillary is loose and easy… going. The Old Hillary was a strident, women’s libber. The New Hillary’s had her eyes done. The Old Hillary was ‘dykey’ and threatening. The New Hillary is motherly and warm. The Old Hillary was driven by blind ambition and fueled by rage over her wasted potential and her husband’s chronic skank-pronging. The New Hillary… has shorter hair.”
Bill wound up being the one that got to say “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”
The New York senate race didn’t become newsworthy enough to constitute any additional Clinton skits, but Hillary’s 2008 run for president set up another fan favorite Clinton impression, Amy Poehler’s. This Hillary Clinton was what I’ve called “ambitious to a society-dubbed fault,” a characteristic which returned in the 2016 impersonation but dominated the 2008 one. She was less of a specific Hillary Clinton and more of a jaded predecessor to Poehler’s Parks and Recreation character, Leslie Knope. One of the most iconic political sketches on SNL came after Barack Obama won the democratic nomination and Sarah Palin had been confirmed as John McCain’s running mate. In the cold open, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin addressed the audience in a nonpartisan message about sexism’s presence in the campaign (“an issue which I am frankly surprised to hear people suddenly care about,” Poehler’s Clinton said).
It captured Clinton’s drive, and true foundation in feminism, when Fey’s Palin said, “I think women everywhere can agree that no matter your politics it’s time for a woman to make it to the White House.”
“No… mine! It’s supposed to be mine,” Clinton exclaimed, before anybody could cheer. “I’m sorry, I need to say something. I didn’t want a woman to be president; I wanted to be president, and I just happen to be a woman.”
Vanessa Bayer played Hillary Clinton a total of four times, one of which was a part of a series of Hillary Clinton biopics. She was the post-Poehler response in the few times that Clinton made an appearance in a sketch, but it wasn’t clear who would play her in her long-awaited 2016 run for president. One of Bayer’s Hillary sketches came following a week in which NBC cancelled its Hillary Clinton miniseries and CNN cancelled its Hillary Clinton documentary. SNL’s response involved Taran Killam’s Piers Morgan interviewing Nasim Pedrad’s Arianna Huffington, wherein she covered other Hillary Clinton inspired TV shows in the works. The shows included TNT’s Clinton & Bash, ABC’s Naughty Little Clintons, TLC’s Say Yes to the Pantsuit, and MTV’s H20, a series about Hillary Clinton (portrayed by Miley Cyrus) and Barack Obama’s friendship. Bayer’s Clinton was FOX’s version, Hillary Clinton: Cold Mean Woman, wherein a self-proclaimed “above-the-law” Clinton who breaks into the White House to destroy the Banghazi files.
The best part of the sketch, and perhaps what cemented Kate McKinnon’s place as the next Hillary Clinton, was AMC’s Running Rodham, wherein Clinton was portrayed as what Huffington called a “complicated antihero.” Obama addressed Clinton’s Walter White-esque Clinton and said, in response to her running for president again, “If I have to hear one more time that you’re doing it for women…”
“I’m doing it for me,” McKinnon’s Clinton interrupted. “Because I like it. Because I’m good at it. Because it makes me feel alive.”
Two years later, Kate McKinnon provided the definitive Hillary Clinton impression, beginning as “a relatable woman on a couch” who’d not yet announced that she’d be running for president, but instead addressed the email server scandal, dropping in self-promoting lines like “what a relatable laugh.”
In a parody email one of Hillary’s friends inquired about their movie plans for the day before asking, “What do you want to see?” Hillary simply replied, “I want to see myself as President of the United States of America.”
McKinnon’s Clinton continued to remind people that she hadn’t announced her candidacy yet, all the while directing the cameras and bringing in music for her speech as she said, “I have survived everything that’s been thrown at me. Benghazi. Whitewater. The blue dress. Having the maiden name Rodham. And none of that destroyed me. So after this little blip I shall rise again from the ashes like a Phoenix, nay, like a Hillary Clinton.”
This once again reinvented Hillary Clinton continued her crusade in the first SNL democratic debate when she strolled up to the podium and announced, “I think you’re really gonna like the Hillary Clinton that my team and I have created for this debate. She’s warm, but strong. Flawed, yet perfect. Relaxed, but racing full speed toward the White House like the T1000 from Terminator.”
Hillary Clinton will undoubtably be back in some form, at least on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ and probably in real life too.
While hosting with Tina Fey in 2015, Amy Poehler returned as 2008 Hillary Clinton to give 2016 Hillary Clinton advice (with a cameo from Fey’s Sarah Palin). “You changed your hair,” Poehler’s Clinton noted when she first saw her future self.
McKinnon’s Clinton nodded. “Yes, well people said I should, so I did.”
“And your laugh is different too,” Poehler’s Clinton said. “It’s less joyful.”
Again, McKinnon’s Clinton acquiesced. “Well… well, I’ve been through seven years more things.”
Hillary Clinton has appeared on Saturday Night Live twice, once as herself and once as Val the Bartender, “just an ordinary citizen who believes the Keystone Pipeline will destroy our environment.” Viewers got to see “Val’s” own, spot-on Donald Trump impression, as well as a brief cameo from Darrell Hammond’s Bill Clinton, and even a short duet between McKinnon and Clinton. “This has been so nice,” McKinnon’s Clinton said towards the end of the sketch. “You are really easy to talk to, Val.”
“Oh, thanks,” Val said. “You know, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that.”
McKinnon added, “Oh, Val, Val… I wish you could be president.”
“Yeah, me too!” Val quipped, before both women shared a very genuine laugh. Hillary Clinton’s Val was what Kate McKinnon’s Hillary needed at the moment, someone anonymous to pick her up in a difficult part of an already impossible campaign.
As the election grew closer, and then passed, Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton became less Clinton and more McKinnon, if that’s even the right way to put it. The week before the election she and Alec Baldwin broke character to address just how ugly the campaign had become, before traveling into Times Square, where they danced and hugged everybody (Trump supporters and Hillary supporters alike). The week after the election McKinnon performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” playing the piano and singing live in the cold open, a much needed and completely unexpected change from the usual satire.
In a sketch that was part of the episode submitted for Kate McKinnon’s fourth Emmy consideration (which resulted in a well-deserved win), McKinnon’s Hillary appeared in a new campaign ad, wherein she slowly transformed into Bernie Sanders. This sketch, created by the current, brilliant co-head writers of SNL, Sarah Schneider and Chris Kelly, was not only an accurate depiction of the not-so-subtle shift in Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategies, but also a testament to the ways that she’s been shifting in persona throughout her time on SNL. At the end of the ad, the Hillary-Bernie hybrid said, “I’m whoever you want me to be and I approve this message.” It’s with this heightened spirit that SNL has guided its Hillary Clinton with over the past twenty-five years.
Hillary Clinton will undoubtably be back in some form, at least on Saturday Night Live, and probably in real life too. As of right now, her character is once again morphing into what people need it to be, which oscillates between admirable and heartbreaking.
People have criticized SNL as of late for having a “Hillary problem,” since McKinnon’s impersonation of Hillary Clinton has already returned three times since Trump’s election, but the content of the sketches suggests something else, something helpful. The most recent sketch, from December, in which Hillary brilliantly tries to convince an elector to vote for anyone other than Trump with a series of Love Actually styled cue cards, features an acknowledgement that she lost the election followed by a genuinely delivered card that says: “But I still care about this country.” The sketch isn’t overdone; it’s proof that Saturday Night Live’s Clinton has transcended character and become a symbol of hope and genuine love for the U.S.