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“Saturday Night Live” once again nails the anxieties many feel about a Trump presidency

Heather Landy
By Heather Landy

Editor of Quartz at Work

It was probably sometime around the second US presidential debate that Saturday Night Live’s opening political sketches ceased being funny in the laugh-out-loud sense. Clever, yes. Filled with fantastic impressions, certainly. But as it became clear that Donald Trump was indeed being taken quite seriously as a US presidential candidate, watching the always-game Alec Baldwin squint his eyes, rubberize his lips, and give voice to  Trump’s pre-election antics often failed to live up to the absurdity of the reality, no matter how much the effort was appreciated.

Nearly four weeks after the election, Baldwin is expertly soldiering on, cast member Kate McKinnon’s excellent Kellyanne Conway still needs a day off, and the Saturday Night Live cold open is one way of coping with the more absurd moments of the Trump transition. The belly laughs are still in short supply. But the opening sketches are routinely nailing the anxieties that millions of Americans feel about a Trump presidency.

Sometimes the show taps into these anxieties with touching seriousness, as when McKinnon, playing Hillary Clinton, sat at a piano a few weeks ago and performed a mournful cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Other times, the humor really shines through, as it did tonight (Dec. 3).

Cast member Kenan Thompson’s character in the cold open wryly observed that it’s now time to start talking about Trump’s inauguration day as being weeks, not months, away. (Seven weeks, if you’re keeping count.) And then there was the skit’s razor-sharp reference to Trump advisor Stephen Bannon being thought of, at least in some circles, as the grim reaper.

But some of the cast’s best political content came later in the show, which was hosted this week by actress Emma Stone.

This week’s highlights: a high school theater showcase, where earnest students offer cringe-worthy commentary on current events; and “The Hunt for Hil,” a skit in which a pair of outdoorsmen who would be at home in a TLC documentary about the hunt for Bigfoot search the forests of Chappaqua, New York, hoping to catch a glimpse of Clinton.

(In real life, post-election day sightings of the former candidate walking in the woods and shopping for groceries near her Westchester County home have lit up the internet.)

“The Hunt for Hil” is absurdist humor, and it works precisely because one realizes it’s not that big a stretch from reality. Some might argue that the cold open was similarly well-grounded. Here it is in full:

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