The rap on Palin

Salon writers weigh in on the V.P. candidate's "Saturday Night Live" appearance.

By Judy Berman
Published October 19, 2008 5:30PM (EDT)

When we heard the news, on Friday, that Sarah Palin would appear on "Saturday Night Live" this weekend, the mood at Broadsheet headquarters was decidedly skeptical. Would giving Palin equal time detract from Tina Fey's hilarious and trenchant critiques of her candidacy? Or would the "SNL" cast members undermine their satire by "palling around" with the V.P. candidate who couldn't name any Supreme Court cases besides Roe v. Wade? Most of all, we wondered, would Palin be funny?

Well, that's what we're here to discuss.

Palin appeared in the show's opening skit, standing backstage with show creator Lorne Michaels and absorbing some all-in-good-fun insults from Alec Baldwin (who also -- yawn -- remarked that she was "way hotter in person") and briefly, wordlessly crossing paths with Palin doppelgänger Tina Fey. The governor returned for the show's Weekend Update, nodding along as (a very pregnant) Amy Poehler gave the performance of a lifetime, rapping in Palin's stead and executing the kind of choreography that could trip up a woman who wasn't days away from giving birth. 

Poehler's performance needs to be seen to be believed. After you've watched both videos (posted below), read along as Salon writers respond, as Joan Walsh promised, with "the full takedown" of Palin's "SNL" appearance.


Rebecca Traister: My reactions to the first sketch were as follows:

1. Fuck. She's a good sport. Especially helping out with that Caribou Barbie line.

2. Alec, you have forsaken us.

3. Tina, we who also would not have wanted to interact with her salute you.

4. Was that a llama?

After the Weekend Update:

Poehler and Fey both get awards for straight-up ballsiness for stalking off without a smile or handshake. Especially in comparison with Lorne Michaels, Alec Baldwin and Seth Myers, who were all very charming and cordial with her. But against the history of "SNL's" real-person guest appearances, when typically, everyone comes out and makes nice to whomever they have been lampooning, this really stood out because of how deeply, darkly clear these two ladies (who have, as Clinton and Palin and "bitch is the new black" commentators, etched themselves permanently into the election narrative) made it that they were not going to play nice or dull their commentary with this one, and that, in fact, they were going to do the hardest thing: be cutting and critical to her face. Fey's imitation was derisive, and her Palin walk-by was positively Arctic. And what Poehler did -- just wow. It was so practiced. I thought it was clear that she had rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed this: She was going to mock her in front of her face, and she was going to make sure it was professional and that it was heartfelt. She was practically growling. I do think that Palin was a good sport about the whole thing, especially rocking out to the rap, and mouthing the word "Ayers," which, if you were on Team McCain, would probably have been funny. I should say, I am not a sadist. I think it was also professional and courteous of "SNL" to not make her appearance simply a bloodbath. Palin's strongest moment, and props to the writers and Poehler for giving it to her, was signing off on Weekend Update, saying "You betcha" and then doing Poehler's line, "Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow." But Poehler and Fey did everything in their power to ensure that her good sportsmanship was not going to look any better than it was.

Kate Harding: Credit where it's due: She did come off as a very good sport, not to mention as the least stiff politician I've ever seen on "SNL." (Evidently, reading from a teleprompter well really is a gift. And not one Alec Baldwin shares.) If she hadn't given a shout-out to the original Jesus psycho, I might have momentarily forgotten why and how much I hate her. But still, as usual, all of the awesome stuff came from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler -- I thought I couldn't love Poehler more, but seeing her do the Palin rap at like 13 months pregnant just took the love way beyond any known measurement. 

Joan Walsh: Oh my God, Amy Poehler for president. I admit I like Sarah Palin about a million percent more for sitting and smiling and rocking to the beat of Poehler's hilarious rap. But it's still not much.

Until that point I was on the verge of being pissed about her "SNL" appearance in the show's opening sketch (thanks to the East Coast Broadsheet team for telling us to stay tuned through Weekend Update). The press conference spoof wasn't funny to me, because Palin, unbelievably, still hasn't had a press conference. Alec Baldwin and Lorne Michaels ogling Palin? Also not funny. But the immensely pregnant rapping Poehler, as Palin, was awesome and hilarious, with Jason Sudeikis as "First Dude." I know many people want to join me in thanking Sarah Palin for making that skit possible.

In the end, "SNL's" writers did what John McCain couldn't do: They picked Palin to join their team without hurting themselves, or the country.

Jeanne Carstensen: Poor Palin --  she looked like she had just seen a moose, but didn't have a rifle. Part of me wanted her to field-dress Alec Baldwin -- but nada. Instead, she tottered off on Baldwin's arm for a "tour" of the "SNL" set after he trashed her to her face -- well, supposedly, to "Tina's" face. Come on, Sarah, show some of that Alaska backbone, or at least a little fire and brimstone. Something. She fell flat in a way I didn't expect. I mean, the entire Castro is going to be doing Sarah Palin drag for Halloween this year, yet when given the opportunity to make fun of herself to a national audience, Ms. Pay for Your Own Rape Kit seemed bland and muffled. The obvious parallel here is when the other female rock star candidate of this election cycle showed up on "SNL" in a skit with her "SNL" doppelgänger -- Amy Poehler. All I can say is, Sarah Palin, you're no Hillary Clinton.

Judy Berman: I didn't expect much from Palin, so I'm not terribly surprised that her actual participation in the show was minimal. While both Barack Obama and John McCain, at the Al Smith benefit Thursday night, showed they could deliver a zinger or two, "SNL" wisely decided it couldn't even trust Palin to make a joke. Her biggest contribution was laughing along, good-naturedly, as the show's cast poked fun at her. The skits were funny, but they would have been just as entertaining, with a few minor adjustments, without Palin. Tina Fey carried the opening piece, as usual, and I'd like to nominate Amy Poehler for a special Emmy -- "best satirical rap performed in front of and about a V.P. candidate while in the third trimester." 

Vincent Rossmeier: What was the point of her appearance? Somehow, Tina Fey managed to seem more like Sarah Palin than Sarah Palin did. But this hardly should have been a surprise. Basically, on "SNL," Palin performed the same role she does on the campaign: Nod, pose and stay silent when asked. My only other question is: Where was Bristol?

Katharine Mieszkowski: This is good for Sarah Palin, great for Amy Poehler and really bad for Christopher Hitchens, who wrote that essay in Vanity Fair, "Why Women Aren't Funny."

Mary Elizabeth Williams: She has endured weeks of Tina Fey's blisteringly funny depictions of her clueless folksiness for "SNL." Say what you will about Sarah Palin as a governor and vice-presidential candidate (and I say she scares the pants off me) -- surely her moxie in appearing in the middle of yet another of Fey's zesty mockings Saturday night could earn her some goodwill.

Or not.

Grimly watching Fey "pageant walk" on a monitor, Palin didn't look amused or self-deprecating or even scared. She had the rigid demeanor of one who was simply enduring a few minutes of pain in service of the cause. Even the reinforcing troops of Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin couldn't spark up the sketch, which ended with the steely-eyed real Palin booting Fey from her own bit to intone the show's famed opening.

Maybe it was just the gutless writing -- the governor had little to do but stand around looking, in Baldwin's word, "hot." Maybe it was the nature of the  modern political landscape itself -- why, again, do we need our candidates to appear on comedy shows?

Regardless, as Palin and Fey shared the spotlight for a moment, the dead-on similarities melted away. It was clear which woman looked like an intelligent, down-to-earth, regular working mother -- and which looked like John McCain's running mate.

Sarah Hepola: I pretty much agree with everything that's already been said. I would like to place a finer point on a few things: Sarah Palin managed to look more natural and confident than Alec Freaking Baldwin. (Is he really that bad with a teleprompter, or was he trying to make her look better?) Also, she has better rhythm than Seth Myers.

Look, I want to raise the love child of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as much as the next gal, but I think we're fooling ourselves if we don't acknowledge that she seemed at ease, gracious, reserved and in control -- and, in both appearances, she had the last laugh.

Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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