Larry David as Bernie Sanders: Is he the next Tina Fey?

Larry David appeared as politician Bernie Sanders on the newest episode of NBC's 'Saturday Night Live.' Can his imitation recapture the success 'SNL' found with Tina Fey's impression of politician Sarah Palin?

NBC
Larry David (r.) and Alec Baldwin (l.) appear as Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb, respectively, on the NBC program 'Saturday Night Live.'

The newest episode of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” was already an anticipated one due to former cast member Tracy Morgan, who was injured in an accident in 2014, being set to host. But another guest soon had “SNL” fans and political pundits talking.

Larry David, co-creator of the NBC sitcom “Seinfeld” and star of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (and former “SNL” writer), portrayed Senator Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont during an episode segment about the Democratic presidential nominees debate. Mr. David’s comments as Sen. Sanders ranged from a plan for college affordability (“You just make the bankers pay for college for everyone”) to geese (when cast member Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton told viewers Sanders was simply offering a “golden goose,” David responded that he thinks he can track geese down, saying, “They congregate near ponds. It’s not rocket science”). 

For many, the imitation calls to mind former “SNL” cast member Tina Fey’s famous portrayal of vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin during the 2008 election. As with Ms. Fey, those behind “SNL” looked to a former “SNL” collaborator for the imitation.

How critical was David’s imitation of Sanders? His lines in the sketch poked fun mostly at his everyman image, with David saying, “I don't have a Super PAC. I don't even have a backpack. I carry my stuff around loose in my arms.” By contrast, Fey seemed to have experienced enough people saying she had been too critical of Palin that she addressed it in her memoir "Bossypants," writing, “There was an assumption that I was personally attacking Sarah Palin by impersonating her on TV. No one ever said it was 'mean' when Chevy Chase played Gerald Ford falling down all the time. No one ever accused Dana Carvey or Darrell Hammond or Dan Aykroyd of 'going too far' in their political impressions. You see what I'm getting at here. I am not mean and Mrs. Palin is not fragile. To imply otherwise is a disservice to us both.” 

Sanders' reaction was far removed from Palin's to Fey's imitation – Sanders said soon after, "I think we're going to put [David] up on the stage at our next rally... He does it better than I do."

Fey’s imitation led to big success for the program, with the “SNL” episode in which Fey and Palin both appeared leading to the best ratings for “SNL” in more than a decade.

If David returns as Sanders, it may recapture some of the success “SNL” experienced during the 2008 election season. The episodes of the NBC comedy program during the 2012 election had a lot to live up to and so the season, in which Jay Pharaoh portrayed President Obama, Taran Killam portrayed vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, and Jason Sudeikis portrayed Mitt Romney, did not experience anything close to the ratings success of the 2008 episodes. 

In addition, Palin’s status as vice-presidential candidate had already been announced when Fey debuted her impression. At this point, Sanders is still trailing in the polls to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. David’s Sanders imitation may not have the longevity of Fey’s if Sanders is no longer at the forefront of the national conversation.

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