Alec Baldwin is more than just one thing on “Saturday Night Live.” He’s Pete Schweddy of “Schweddy Balls” and the scoutmaster in “Canteen Boy” and Tony Bennett and, as of this Saturday night, the person who’s hosted SNL 17 times, more than anyone else. But it’s this latest stint as host that may end up defining Baldwin’s legacy on the show.
That’s because Baldwin will likely once again pucker his lips and don a yellow wig and become President Donald Trump, and Trump will most likely be watching.
Baldwin’s take on Trump this season has not just seemingly angered the president, but has arguably given new relevance to the variety series, which is in its 42nd season.
So far this season, “SNL” is averaging 7.4 million viewers an episode, according to NBC. Add in those who watch within a week and that number jumps to 10.6 million, “SNL’s” biggest audience in 22 years.
Giving Baldwin a whole show, rather than just one sketch, to potentially mock the leader of the free world should do nothing but boost those numbers this weekend.
But James Andrew Miller, author of “Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live,” said that more than anything else he’s just expecting laughs.
“Here’s the thing, people are paying even more attention to the show now because it’s funny, and smart, and resonating with people,” Miller told CNN. “The first rule of ‘SNL’ is to be funny.”
Miller added that the show has had politics in its DNA since day one (think Dan Aykroyd as Richard Nixon or Chevy Chase’s prat falls as Gerald Ford), but said that this is different.
“You have a president who is paying attention to the show and who has voiced his displeasure,” Miller said. “When Will Ferrell was playing George W. Bush, somebody in the White House might have said, ‘oh, the president has or hasn’t seen it,’ but you didn’t know the president was upset about the show or didn’t find it funny. The fact that the president has engaged with the show the way he has makes it very, very different.”
And Trump has definitely engaged with the show.
Related: Donald Trump bashes ‘SNL’ on Twitter after sketch about him tweeting too much
This season, Trump has called the show “unwatchable,” “totally biased” and “not funny.” And that was just one tweet.
Not to mention, this is a show that Trump himself hosted just 15 months ago.
Bill Carter, the CNN analyst who has written two books about late-night TV and covered “SNL” extensively for The New York Times for decades, feels that this is because Baldwin knows Trump is watching and is doing a satirical caricature of Trump rather than an goofy impersonation.
“He’s like the court jester in front of the king,” Carter told CNN. “It’s almost like a political cartoon performance brought to life.”
The president hasn’t been the only Trump administration target so far this season.
Kate McKinnon has moved seamlessly from her role as Hillary Clinton during the campaign to playing Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway. Last week “SNL” brought in Melissa McCarthy to play White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer — and steal the show from Baldwin.
“They see the Trump administration as now an entire cast of comic characters,” Carter said. “I think ‘Saturday Night Live’ is taking up the mantle of being the voice of the opposition. The administration said it was the media that was the opposition and ‘Saturday Night Live’ looks like they are taking that seriously.”
Would “SNL” even dare give the show over to Baldwin for a full 90 minutes of just Trump sketches?
“Alec could no doubt pull it off, but I doubt it,” Miller said. “It’s really important that this stuff be smart and funny, so rather than get up there and do five sketches that are singles and doubles, you probably want to do one or two that will be home runs.
“That’s not to say the writing staff isn’t capable of it, but you just want to make sure everything is at a great level. To chew off that many political sketches in one episode, that’s a pretty demanding task, even for the ‘Saturday Night Live’ writing staff.”
CNNMoney (New York) First published February 10, 2017: 4:43 PM ET