Sarah Palin was interviewed for the oral history, and she doesn't have the same warm fuzzies about SNL's 2008 presidential election sketches as the rest of the cast. "I think SNL is egotistical if they believe that it was truly an effect on maybe the public debate about who should lead the country in the next four years," she says.
The cast feels a bit differently. Former cast member Horatio Sanz thought both Will Ferrell's George W. Bush impression and Tina Fey's Sarah Palin impression had a huge effect on public opinion. "As funny as Will's impression was, the audience as a whole, the whole country, would probably see that as, 'Oh, I like Bush. Because he's Will.' You know, if Will hadn't done that impression, or at least made him likable, it may have tipped it the other way. I honestly think so. We made up for it. I think Tina's impression basically killed Sarah Palin."
Research shows he may be right. People actually did studies on the "Fey effect" after the 2008 election. They found that Republican and independent voters liked Palin less after watching SNL's rendition of the politician. Fey won an Emmy for her work on SNL that year.
Why did Palin go on the show in the first place? "I know that they portrayed me as an idiot, and I hated that," Palin says, "and I wanted to come on the show and counter some of that."
She wouldn't mind if Fey thanked her for the career help. "If I ran into Tina Fey again today, I would say: 'You need to at least pay for my kids' braces or something from all the money that you made off of pretending that you're me! My goodness, you capitalized on that! Can't you contribute a little bit? Jeez!' "
"Saturday Night Live" creator Lorne Michaels says that Hillary Clinton was originally booked to be on SNL's premiere during the 2008 presidential primary season. Her team backed out, and Obama took her place. Michaels was not impressed.
We were contacted by, I think, Howard Wolfson from Hillary [Clinton's] campaign, and they wanted to do the first show of the season. [Barack] Obama was heating up, but they called first, so I said OK. You have to play by those rules. And then, the week of, they bailed. I went, "Really? You called us, and we gave it to you." I think every now and then I get carried away and think we actually do have influence. And then, after that, we put Obama on the date when Hillary was supposed to be on. The sense of entitlement which was following her everywhere at that point peaked for me at the bailing.
Every SNL cast member is terrified of impersonating Obama. Producer-writer Jim Downey said to Shales and Miller:
If I had to describe Obama as a comedy project, I would say, "Degree of difficulty, 10 point 10." It's like being a rock climber looking up at a thousand-foot-high face of solid obsidian, polished and oiled. There's not a single thing to grab onto — certainly not a flaw or hook that you can caricature. [Al] Gore had these "handles," so did Bush, and Sarah Palin, and even Hillary had them. But with Obama, it was the phenomenon — less about him and more about the effect he had on other people and the way he changed their behavior.
Ferrell, who apparently gets asked a lot if he can do an Obama impression, agrees. "Obama is difficult. He's very dry and subtle." Slate has argued that the best Obama impression isn't on SNL — it's on Comedy Central's Key & Peele, which introduces the president's anger translator, Luther.
The excerpt also gets at the political clashes in the writers' room — some of the cast was miffed that the show was getting too tame because it wasn't making fun of many right-wing politicians, while others were afraid the show was getting too tame because it wasn't willing to criticize Obama.
Here are a few other great political sketches that "Saturday Night Live" has run since the 2008 presidential primaries that weren't mentioned in the excerpt — which you should read in its entirety.
Undecided voters want to hear more about the real issues. Like knowing more about the names of the people running for president.
Ann Romney wants to hang out with Beyoncé
Louis C.K. as Abe Lincoln