Now that Mitt Romney has shored up his spot as the presumptive GOP nominee, he has to start tackling the really tough questions — such as whether or not he’ll appear on Saturday Night Live. In a New York Times column published this weekend, Maureen Dowd reveals, “Lorne Michaels, the show’s executive producer, has offered a guest spot to Romney, who is considering it.” While it sounds like the kind of thing that could convince America that the former governor isn’t a stuffed shirt, at this point appearing on the show is likely to do more harm than good.
In the past few elections, nearly every presidential candidate has made a guest appearance on SNL. It’s become almost mandatory for politicians to appear on the show, since they need to prove that they’re still good sports even after being skewered mercilessly for months. Four years ago Sarah Palin made the world think she was laughing along with Tina Fey’s wildly popular impersonation, though if you believe Game Change, she actually found it devestating. John McCain also appeared in a sketch in an attempt to show that he was still quick-witted scamp, not a cantankerous old man. Though his sketch with Tina fey was funny, it wasn’t enough to sway the election.
One of Romney’s biggest problems is his inability to connect with average Americans, and theoretically a great SNL skit should help his cause. Unfortunately for him, his chances of comedy success are extremely thin. When Romney read David Letterman’s Top 10 List he turned in a decent performance, for a politician. However, while he read the lines well, his movements were still awkward.
In recent sketches Jason Sudeikis has played Romney as a square, robotic flip-flopper. In order for Romney to counter that image he’d have to be exceedingly smooth and charismatic in his SNL appearance. That’s a tall order for any non-performer, and Romney has yet to prove that he can be relaxed and relatable when he’s talking to people in a town hall meeting. To actually change people’s opinions of him on SNL, Romney would have to do a hilarious and memorable skit, and it seems unlikely that he’d be able to pull off a Rudy Giuliani drag performance.
Though Tina Fey’s Palin impersonation demanded a response from the Alaska governor, in the current election SNL has yet to do a sketch that’s become culturally relevant. As show insiders explain to Dowd, both Romney and President Obama lack “handles,” or quirks impersonators can exploit. That’s why much like Fred Armisen’s Obama, Sudeikis’ Romney is amusing, but not devestatingly accurate like Darrell Hammond’s Bill Clinton.
While SNL writers are tearing their hair out at the prospect of an election without any wild characters like Newt Gingrich or Michelle Bachmann, that might be great for Romney. However, it’s very possible that SNL will sharpen its aim in the next few months. There are rumors that Sudeikis is leaving the show at the end of the season, and that would give another performer an opportunity to step in with a more biting Romney parody. In the fall, Romney may be pressured into guest starring on the show, whether he’s ready for prime time or not.