Larry David played Bernie Sanders on the “Saturday Night Live” opening segment, and it was perfect. At least that seemed the consensus on social media. The white-haired, Brooklyn-born comedian looks like the white-haired, Brooklyn-born politician. He sounds like him. He waves his hands like him. He even has the same kind of name: two syllables fore and aft, with a last name that could serve as the first in a pinch.
Plus, NBC's SNL writers did a great job pushing Senator Sanders’s characteristic rhetoric over the top into the realm of comedy. The setting was, of course, the Democratic debate, with actors for all participants. Asked for an opening statement, the Larry David version of Sanders went right for it.
“I’m gonna dial it right up to a 10,” Mr. David said. “We’re doomed! We need a revolution! Millions of people in the streets, and we gotta do something, and we gotta do it now!”
Asked to state his feelings about big banks, David-Sanders started with pens.
“Why do they chain all their pens to the desk? Who’s trying to steal a pen from a bank?” said the comedian.
Then he added that the banks should be broken up into little pieces and flushed, and bankers should be made to pay for free college for everyone.
The SNL skit contained some actual debate events. “Bernie” opined that everybody is sick of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail controversy, as the real Sanders really did. Of course, someone has already made a Vine comparing the two moments.
“Hillary” complained that Sanders’s policies are too expensive and would need a golden goose for funding. In the actual debate, Mrs. Clinton said Sanders’s plans would never pass congressional muster.
The SNL “Sanders” took the golden goose comment off in a totally fictional direction, however. Larry David said “I can find the goose! I’ve found geese before and I can do it again. They congregate near ponds.”
So here’s the question: Is it good for Sanders to get this full SNL treatment? They’re making fun of him, after all. He’s depicted as a wild-haired crazy uncle. At the end, Larry David has “Sanders” saying that next November he’ll be Hillary Clinton’s VP, not president.
Such satire can be woundingly brutal. Ask Jim Webb. His SNL doppelganger Alec Baldwin gave a devastating portrait of a tough guy who’s actually ducking hard questions about why he’s a Democrat.
Today the real Bernie Sanders is gamely insisting that he liked the portrayal, and that he owns plenty of clean underwear – not just one pair, as Larry David’s “Sanders” claimed.
But on the whole we’d say the portrayal is going to help Sanders. For one, SNL treated Larry David as the star of the skit. Did you notice that David comes on stage last, after the Hillary Clinton character? Throughout “Clinton” is portrayed as somebody reacting to and working off of “Sanders."
That’s a minor point. The major one is that Sanders will get tons of after-debate comment from “his” SNL appearance. And as we’ve noted, winning the after-debate coverage is as important, if not more so, than winning the debate itself.
This continued attention could combine with Sanders’s actual debate performance to make mid-October a turning point for the Sanders campaign. He is still very unlikely to win the actual nomination, as he has yet to translate his strength with white liberals into a broader party constituency. A just-out CNN/ORC poll finds a plurality of those who watched the debate think Clinton won. That same survey shows that Sanders is the candidate who’s received a debate bump, however. He’s up five points to 29 percent since mid-September.
“No other candidate showed significant change,” according to CNN’s polling director Jennifer Agiesta.