In the hours after Ross Perot’s death was announced, the standard-issue statements rolled in honoring the former Texas businessman and presidential candidate.
Former president George W. Bush: “Laura and I send our heartfelt condolences to the entire Perot family as they celebrate his full life.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott: “Ross Perot exemplified what it means to be a Texan and an American.”
And then there was Twitter.
While Perot had long receded from public life after his third-party bid for the White House in 1992 — Bill Clinton won, making George H.W. Bush a one-termer — the goofy-talking Texan, in the form of Dana Carvey with big prosthetic ears, has endured on just about every list of classic political comedy sketches.
Carvey, in addition to his famous impersonation of Bush, played Perot more than a dozen times on “Saturday Night Live,” including a three-way debate between Bush (played by Carvey), Clinton (played by Phil Hartman) and Perot (played by Carvey and spliced in on tape).
Just as he had captured Bush’s strange mannerisms — “You start out with Mister Rogers,” Carvey said, “then you add a little John Wayne” — Carvey played up Perot’s short stature, Texas twang and robust ears for pure hilarity in skewering the candidate’s pro-business, pro-technology, pro-wealth approach to every problem.
Perot/Carvey: “I can’t deal with a problem unless I can feel it, touch it, smell it, taste it and touch a little more.”
Perot/Carvey on the L.A. riots: “Now here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to rebuild every building. State-of-the-art technology. Put computers in every one of them. Train the Crips, train the Bloods to operate the computers. Put 'em to work competing against the Japanese.”
Perot/Carvey would do this work simply because he cared.
“You don’t pay me dime one,” Perot/Carvey said. “Got my own plane. Don’t need Air Force One.”
Carvey’s Perot, much like his President Bush, emerged from the pen of Al Franken, a comedian and SNL writer who went on to become a U.S. senator from Minnesota.
In a 2016 Washington Post article recounting his favorite political sketches, Franken recalled bringing Carvey into producer Lorne Michaels’s office to a view a tape of Perot.
“This was before most Americans knew who he was,” Franken wrote. “After Dana watched it, he said, ‘Oh my God, he’s a fully formed, three-dimensional comic character!’”
Carvey playing two of the three presidential candidates presented logistical problems that SNL’s producers hadn’t encountered before, including how to have all three debating one another on screen at the same time.
“We solved the problem,” Franken wrote, “by pre-taping Dana as Perot for his answers and putting David Spade in Perot makeup for the wide shot when the candidates entered.”
Franken’s favorite moment was when the candidates looked at one another and started dreaming.
“Bush looks at Clinton and sees him in long hair and headband smoking pot,” Franken wrote. “Clinton looks over at Bush and sees him dressed as a prim little old lady. Bush and Clinton look over at Perot and see one of the Munchkins from the Lollipop Guild.”
Though Perot was satirized on other TV shows — “All That” on Nickelodeon portrayed him with even bigger ears and bathing in $100 bills — Carvey’s impersonation was the one that stuck with Americans long before Internet memes were a thing.
And like Bush, who appreciated how Carvey never crossed the line of bad taste and who even became friends with his doppelganger, Perot also looked on the bright side of his regular Saturday night roastings.
Perot, it turns out, once left a message for Carvey and Franken.
“We put a call in to Perot,” Franken wrote, “each of us on a different extension.”
Perot had an idea.
“Tell you what we do,” he told Carvey. “You get on that costume and makeup and go around the country. Then they’ll be two of me! Cover twice the territory!”
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