Saturday Night Live has always put its finger on what makes politicians funny. The show's performers do more than mere impressions of the candidates -- they identify and then expose what makes the politicians unique and quirky. Nobody is spared, Democrat or Republican. Last week at a panel as part of the New York Comedy Festival, Seth Meyers and several other of the show's writers discussed this season's GOP debate sketches, particularly how cast members have embraced their roles as the lesser-known candidates. Meyers singled out Andy Samberg for how he's played Rick Santorum as someone who's just nervous to be there.
For good reason, the writers tend to emphasize the leading candidates in their sketches, with Mitt Romney, Gov. Rick Perry, and Herman Cain taking centerstage lately. Even Rep. Michele Bachmann, who was at one time looking to become a fan-favorite on the show, has been overshadowed by those who have emerged as the new charged candidates. Polling numbers have almost a direct relationship to the amount of face time the candidates' impersonators will get on the weekend's program. Newt Gingrich, who's been surging in the polls of late, was conspicuously absent from last night's show.
Instead, the show opened with a Romney sketch, and only returned to politics during "Weekend Update" when Gov. Jon Huntsman made a real appearance at the desk to talk about his love for New Hampshire, a key election state:
Many bloggers enjoyed Huntsman's light-hearted banter with Meyers, poking fun at himself. If he wants to be the "most appealing GOP presidential candidate to liberals, he's already won," declared The Huffington Post's editors. "[N]ow he's made a self-aware SNL appearance where he proved he had a genuine sense of humor to boot." Mediaite's Sarah Devlin agreed: "Huntsman was a great sport and his delivery was quite good." She only wished it had been longer. And "It became clear as the bit went on," said Ned Colby and Dale W. Eisinger at NBCDFW.com, "it was more impassioned plea than simple gag for the trailing candidate."
It's no secret that Huntsman has been largely passed over during past GOP debates in favor of others. He's had a difficult time establishing himself from the mix; last night, he took a bold step forward to introduce himself to American voters. Huntsman didn't spend any of that time outlining his stances on issues, sharing his background, or hitting his talking points. Instead, he helped Meyers and co. do their jobs. He assisted them in establishing what was funny about him. Don't be surprised to see more of this version of the Huntsman character in future episodes, with Killam incorporating some of these notes into his depiction of the governor. That could keep the conversation about him going much longer than just the day after his surprise appearance on the late-night show.
One SNL appearance is not enough alone to help Huntsman's numbers. But it does have the ability to get people talking. After all, CNN, Politico, CBS News, the Los Angeles Times, and many others wrote about the sketch today. As some GOP candidates are fading, an opportunity is opening up for Huntsman. Romney will continue to lead things off and to dominate the conversation at debates and during sketches afterward. But with so many months left before the primary, and with the race still so wide open, Huntsman is poised to make a move.