Ranking Every ‘SNL’ Presidential Impression
We’re a little less than three weeks away from the election, which means that Saturday Night Live is giving us an endless run of political sketches. We’ve seen Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton go against Alec Baldwin’s Trump in two cold opens already, with more to come. With that in mind, let’s take a look at all the great political impressions we’ve seen over the years on SNL. Specifically, let’s look at impressions of sitting Presidents. Since the show premiered in 1975, the show has been through seven presidencies with an eighth coming shortly. The show has always done it’s best to handle the cadences of speech patterns of the people occupying the oval office, with some impressions being all-time classics, while are others are best forgotten. With that in mind, let’s look at every Presidential impression we’ve seen on the show, ranking them from best to worst.
Before we get started, there were a lot of brilliant impressions politicians who didn’t quite reach the Presidency, and they deserve some love here, too. So, here’s a few honorable mentions:
Darrell Hammond as Al Gore
Tina Fey as Sarah Palin
Larry David as Bernie Sanders
Dan Aykroyd and Norm MacDonald as Bob Dole
Jon Lovitz as Michael Dukakis
Darrell Hammond as Dick Cheney
Will Ferrell as Janet Reno
17. Darrell Hammond as George W. Bush
The one impression Hammond couldn’t quite nail down, and he’d be the first to acknowledge that. Hammond played Bush a few times in ’03 before being replaced by Will Forte, who handled the task for the rest of the administration. It’s weird; Bush was the sort of person who anyone could do a half-decent impression of, and yet, one of the best impressionists of all-time struggled with it. One might guess it’s because he’s such a perfectionist. Rather than do the okay-ish impression most of us can do at a party, he wanted to get it right, but he just couldn’t get there. It felt awkward, and decidedly unlike Bush, which is why it was dropped after a few episodes. A rare misfire in an otherwise brilliant career.
16. Charles Rocket as Ronald Reagan
15. Randy Quaid as Ronald Reagan
These ones are sort of weird; they both came from super-dysfunctional seasons of the show (80-81 and 85-86), and neither person stayed in the cast for more than a year. Charles Rocket was the guy who SNL desperately wanted to turn into a star, but it never clicked. As for Quaid, he tends to be at his best when he’s playing broad characters, so the subtle nuances of Reagan never quite clicked with him.
14. Fred Armisen as Barack Obama
This one was controversial because it featured a non-black actor playing the first black President. While one could see people being annoyed by that, the real issue here was that Armisen’s take on Obama just wasn’t all that funny. He had a reasonable handle on Obama’s mannerisms, but could never wring much comedy out of it. When Jay otook over as SNL‘s resident Obama impersonator, the fans were thrilled, and for obvious reasons.
13. Michael McKean as Bill Clinton
The forgotten of the three Clinton impressions; McKean’s take on Clinton wasn’t bad per se, but he never quite nailed down his personality the way Hartman and Hammond did. One got the feeling that McKean was just there because he was the only one who could do a half-decent Clinton impression (the show addressed this sketch in the 94-95 premiere, when the entire cast tried their hand at impersonating him), and that his heart wasn’t really in it. Essentially, McKean was a stop gap for the lone year between Hartman’s departure, and Hammond’s arrival, and not much more.
12. Chris Parnell as George W. Bush
Parnell had the highly unenviable task of taking over for Will Ferrell as the resident Bush impersonator. He would only hold this job for one season, the poorly received 2002-03 campaign. Really, though, Parnell wasn’t exactly horrible as Bush. He was pretty good at imitating his signature cadences, and the impression was certainly worth a few laughs. It wasn’t particularly memorable, though, so the show turned to master impressionist Darrell Hammond. After he struggled in the role, Will Forte would take on Bush for the rest of his Presidency.