Where Does Alec Baldwin Stand in the Trump-Impression Rankings?

For political comedians, Donald Trump is like Hamlet–everyone wants to play him.

Updated on
1475501060_161003_alec_baldwin_getty

Alec Baldwin watches a tennis match on Aug. 29, 2016, at the U.S. Open in New York City.

Photographer: Elsa/Getty Images

Donald Trump has spent decades honing his impression of himself—and during this presidential campaign season, it's replicated, metastasizing into a multitude. Everybody can do Trump, from seasoned comedy professionals to your grandparents (even dogs!).

This cultural ubiquity has benefited Trump throughout the campaign. Love him or hate him, the sheer sport of trying to mimic his mannerisms has kept him in the front of the public mind, which is where a politician has to be. One question for the remaining weeks of the campaign is whether any impression can hurt him.

Last night, on the season premiere of Saturday Night Live, Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning actor Alec Baldwin, a mammoth personality himself, debuted his Trump impression in a skit sending up Monday’s presidential debate. In keeping with Trump's self-parodying persona, the skit cleaved closely to the debate itself. But Baldwin did something impressive: He found something new to add to one of the most-parodied American celebrities. Below is a review of some of the most memorable, ranked from worst to best.   

9. Johnny Depp

Depp’s feature-length Funny or Die spoof—in which director Adam McKay imagines a universe in which Trump wrote, directed and starred in a TV-movie version of The Art of the Deal—didn’t quite take the world by storm the way those involved imagined it might. A large part of the reason is Depp’s cartoonish and not particularly insightful Trump impersonation. Depp reportedly didn’t have time to prepare much for the gag film—which was filmed in four days—and the only real joke he brings to the proceedings is that it’s in fact Johnny Depp playing Donald Trump.

8. Jason Sudeikis

Sudeikis only played Trump once—and watching his performance, you can understand why. Sudeikis is a major talent, but the wisenheimer charm that informs much of his best work must be suppressed to play Trump. And his accent is more Goodfellas than Trump. 

7. Hillary Clinton

YouTube: Hillary Clinton Bar Talk - SNL

Clinton's impression of Trump, trotted out during her famed sing-along with Kate McKinnon last year, only lasts a second—but what it lacks in technical know-how it more than makes up with weird gusto. It seems to come from an authentic place—as if she's done a Trump impression before.    

6. Jimmy Fallon

YouTube: Donald Trump's Surprise RNC Speech

As with most of Fallon’s impersonations—even the good ones—the impression is less about the person Fallon’s impersonating than how cute Fallon finds himself doing that impersonation. Fallon’s Trump is so over-the-top that it reduces Trump to a harmless, almost childish character—the equivalent of playfully mussing up Trump’s hair.   

5. Taran Killam

YouTube: Donald and Melania Trump Cold Open - SNL

The versatile performer lost his Trump gig to Baldwin after Lorne Michaels mysteriously decided not to renew his contract, but it’s probably for the best. Killam’s Trump is more than adequate, but it’s a little too over the top and far too high pitched to be a classic. Killam gets the Trump pout down, but he’s too loquacious and expressive for Trump. And with the makeup they gave him, he ends up looking more like an Oompa Loompa than even Trump does.

4. Dana Carvey

YouTube: Dana Carvey Shows Off His Trump & Bernie Impressions - CONAN on TBS

When Carvey really nails someone, it becomes almost impression scripture. People don’t do impressions of George H.W. Bush impressions, they do impressions of Carvey doing an impression of Bush. His Trump, trotted out when Carvey was a guest on Conan, is still in the workshop phase—as Carvey points out, it’s a little too feminine—but it still shows off Carvey’s mastery at finding one particular trait and exaggerating it to  absurdity to reveal the fundamental truth. In Trump’s case, it’s his instinctive need to constantly be selling something: “Tre-MENDOUS nuclear war.”  

3. Darrell Hammond

YouTube: GOP Debate Cold Open - SNL

Hammond is the master impressionist of our age—you can't truly understand Bill Clinton, for instance, without watching Hammond's portrayal of him. Everybody has the one thing they grab onto with Trump, and Hammond’s is Trump’s bullying and imposing physical presence. His Trump is blustery, but also undeniably formidable. You can see why Jeb Bush would be scared of this guy. 

2. Alec Baldwin

YouTube: Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton Debate Cold Open - SNL

Obviously, the famously liberal Baldwin was always going to put a negative spin on Trump, but it’s impressive that Baldwin has found a new one: He has essentially turned Trump into a gargoyle. He’s made up to look squalid and washed out, he squeezes one eye nearly shut and hunches over like Quasimodo. It has the effect of making Trump appear grotesque, a near-inhuman walking id. Baldwin also, cleverly, gives Trump a Phil Hartman-as-Sinatra vibe, a man out of step with his times—calling Lester Holt “jazz man” and “Coltrane.” It’s a mean impersonation, but a smart one. And you’ll never hear Trump say “China” the same way again.

1. Phil Hartman

The late Hartman played Trump long before any political career, back when he was just a tabloid staple ripe for mockery, but the reason his impression is best is because it’s the one that makes Trump look the most… human. Hartman doesn’t overemphasize the accent, or the hair, or the odd skin tone, or any of that. He instead focuses on Trump’s cold remove, his inability to see the world as anything other than a way to enrich himself. Of course, the irony was that Hartman’s impersonation did, in fact, enrich Trump, taking his outer-borough crassness national and doing little but help promote the Trump name. Which is something Hartman’s version of Trump would love. Trump impressions have become so commonplace that even Trump himself is basically doing an ongoing one. But Hartman, almost unwittingly, nailed an essential truth about Trump: By doing an impression of him at all, you’re giving him exactly what he wants.

—Will Leitch reports for Bloomberg Politics on the intersection of politics and media.

(Corrects spelling of Killam.)
Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE