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Monday, December 5th, 2011

Look, America: Fred Armisen's Obama Impersonation Might Be Too Boring

Jason Zinoman's latest comedy column takes issue with Fred Armisen's Obama impersonation, which he describes as the culmination of an SNL trend towards detailed accuracy and away from bold comic choices. As he points out, "accuracy is not insight," and with a president without any particularly weird habits, it can seem like Armisen is barely even doing an impersonation at all. Zinoman suggests studying up on Dana Carvey's George Bush, which took another dull-sounding president in "a more fanciful, provocative direction." Why not! It does looks tough to find a way to make fun of the infinitely reasonable Obama, but better to strike out on a bizarre impression than never to reach for it.

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  • http://www.collegehumor.com/user:328495 Chase Mitchell

    Best thing they ever did with Obama was have Dwayne Johnson on to play The Rock Obama.

  • http://www.twitter.com/becca_oneal Rebecca O'Neal

    I agree – and I love Fred Armisen. And here's the thing – accuracy has never been much of an issue on SNL before, right? It was never this-impression-has-to-be-as-spot-on-as-possible until recently.

    I much prefer impressions or parodies that bear little resemblance to the person they're lampooning, but have have a strong pov… like The Onion's take on Joe Biden. It's complete nonsense, but it's great.

    And Phil Hartman's pre-scandal Clinton was ridiculous. A doughy overeater who wore athletic short shorts? Clinton did eat McDonald's and jog in public on occasion, but to define his SNL character that way was brilliant.

    Chevy Chase's Gerald Ford was some clumsy jerk – and Chevy didn't even bother with a wig or anything.

  • http://www.twitter.com/pablogoldstein Pablo Goldstein

    Have Jay Pharaoh give it a try.

    • http://twitter.com/savvy_veteran Savvy Veteran

      @Pablo Goldstein I dunno. I'm kinda surprised by how many people bring this up whenever an article mentions Armisen's struggles to do a funny version of Obama—hasn't anyone watched Jay Pharoah in any of the OTHER sketches he's in? While he *is* undeniably great at mimicking people, it really doesn't seem like he's a good sketch comedian at this point. (Though I suppose it could be argued that that's because the writers haven't given him a chance to BECOME one.) While his Obama might have more energy and would probably get a few more laughs of recognition than Armisen's (which would, I guess, immediately make it "better"), ultimately, I think it'd end up having the exact same problem: a lack of a strong comedic POV, like Rebecca mentioned above.

      All the examples she mentioned were great, and I also had in mind Will Ferrell's George W. Bush, which barely even attempted to be a good impersonation, but was one of the most reliably funny characters of that era. Pharoah's Obama sort of reminds me of, for one example, someone like Frank Caliendo's Bush: accurate and amusing, but really not all that substantive comedically like a great SNL character (or just one that might need to be a staple of the show for another 5 years) should be.

    • http://www.twitter.com/pablogoldstein Pablo Goldstein

      @Savvy Veteran After 3 years of Armisen's impression, I'd rather watch Victoria Jackson play the president. SNL's political sketches during non-election years are brutal to watch, especially those with Armisen's Barack.

    • http://twitter.com/savvy_veteran Savvy Veteran

      @Pablo Goldstein That's fair. I just feel like, eventually, the luster of ANYONE else's "better" impersonation will wear off and we'll again realize that the satire in the sketches remains awfully limp. But I suppose that, just because someone else might face the same problems he has, that in no way entitles Armisen to continue doing an unremarkable job. I acknowledge that that'd just be dumb.

      Also: Why CAN'T Victoria Jackson do Obama? I am now obsessed with this becoming a reality, regardless how offensive and awful it would certainly be.