You have to hand it to Alec Baldwin — the man understands himself, for better or for worse. On Sunday, deep into the Night of the Never-Ending Oscars Telecast, Baldwin previewed his upcoming Sunday night talk show. His guests were Jerry Seinfeld and Kate McKinnon. With Seinfeld, Baldwin has an immediate rapport — it’s one old pro talking to another, two guys who understand that each has accomplished what he wanted: to become a success, and the rest of life is about finding variations on that success that amuse them. The sophistication of their white-guy discussion of the #TimesUp movement can be summed up in Seinfeld’s sincere, icky, and clueless comment, “Doesn’t this seem like a necessary bowel movement that the culture has to have?”
By contrast, the interview with McKinnon was more awkward, and not very successful if you measure it by normal talk-show standards. McKinnon admits right from the start that she doesn’t like to talk about herself and is uncomfortable being interviewed, and it shows. She’s sunk down in her chair much of the time, and Baldwin has to do all the heavy lifting of moving the chatter along. But when they get to discussing their most famous Saturday Night Live impersonations, the conversation takes off — it yields something new and honest. McKinnon confesses that she “loves” Hillary Clinton — a love, she says, derived from the research she did about Hillary to prepare for her performance; she identifies with Clinton, woman to woman. McKinnon has an appreciation of “the mangled and twisted character that we had created out of her” — and by “we” McKinnon means America, the way it has done its best to distort the image of Hillary Clinton almost beyond anyone’s recognition. It’s one of the truest things anyone has ever said about Clinton. “It’s the biggest thing I’ll ever be involved in,” McKinnon confesses to Baldwin.
Baldwin is then compelled by her honesty to admit something himself: He pretty much despises his own work as SNL’s Donald Trump. “My impersonation is like a whoopee cushion,” he says dismissively. “It’s simple; it’s kind of monochromatic.” He’s right: It’s the least skillful thing he’s done as an actor, and the fact that this mediocre piece of work has become so idolized by the SNL audience causes him the “agony” he spoke of in a Hollywood Reporter interview last week — an interview that prompted Trump to issue a hostile tweet about Baldwin. Trump, of course, has no sense of art or accomplishment — he’s not judging Baldwin’s performance, he’s just lashing out at someone with a big audience who’s ridiculing him. When Baldwin told McKinnon on Sunday night, “I don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking too much about who [Trump] is,” he was talking about how little effort he puts into the process of turning into Trump, because to fully explore that feeling would nauseate him.
It’s the mediocrity of Baldwin’s Trump impression, combined with the fact that Baldwin and SNL are helping to make Trump seem like just another boob rather than the dangerous blight he is, that always keeps me from laughing at those SNL skits. I was glad to know Baldwin is aware of this himself.
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