No one saw this coming: Neither the real Joe Biden nor the fake Joe Biden has held a news conference since Inauguration Day.
Over the past 100 years, no president has gone as long as Biden without conducting a formal session with White House reporters. And “Saturday Night Live” has never gone this far into a new president’s term without having someone portraying him in a sketch. The last time a Biden character appeared on “SNL” was back on Dec. 19, when Alex Moffat offered a tame impersonation of the president-elect.
What’s going on here? Is the White House worried about a gaffe or poor showing by the new president? Fox News and other conservative outlets are eagerly promoting such speculation.
Is “SNL” afraid of making jokes at the new president’s expense? Producers seem unsure about what to do with Biden, despite their rich history of mocking politicians from both parties.
Maybe both conditions are circumstantial and soon to be corrected, but right now neither looks good.
President Biden needs to hold a news conference
Donald Trump and Barack Obama each held solo news conferences during their first month in office. The Biden administration, however, is focused on major congressional hurdles — the COVID-19 relief bill and Cabinet confirmations — to a point where freewheeling questions from the press corps might place the new president in a difficult spot.
But at a time when true transparency is desperately needed in government, especially on the heels of Trump and an administration that favored “alternative facts,” Biden is making a mistake by be so guarded with White House reporters.
Late in Trump’s presidency, he used televised news conferences to deliver long-winded, factually flawed speeches. When he did take questions he berated several reporters — mostly women — and relied on softball queries from conservative media to dodge real issues facing the nation. Biden can and must do better, and he should get to it quickly.
Meanwhile, viewers of “Saturday Night Live” are probably wondering what’s the deal with Biden? He is mentioned briefly on Weekend Update, but there has yet to be a sketch with a Biden character in 2021.
During the campaign, Jim Carrey portrayed Biden on “SNL,” and some Democrats felt it was too harsh. Carrey left the role after the election — without much explanation except to say it was never meant to be a permanent gig — then cast member Moffat gave the part a try in one limp sketch. That’s it.
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It’s not as if Biden is difficult to impersonate. Before Carrey, Woody Harrelson provided a toothy, straight-from-the-headlines version of the former vice president. Earlier, Jason Sudeikis did a spot-on Biden during the Obama years and was the presumptive favorite to return until Carrey got the gig.
Is ‘SNL’ going soft on the Democrats?
“SNL” producers and writers have always been liberal leaning yet generally willing to dole out insults to presidents from both parties. If they were to mock Biden for his occasional lapses in public speaking, the script might go like this:
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.
PRESIDENT: My fellow Americans, ladies and gentlemen, members of the press, and my immediate family. First, may I thank you all for being here, and I am, and my immediate family. First, may I thank you all for being here, and I am and my immediate family. Thank you all for being here. And I am truly honored to be asked by you to open the ‘Saturday Night’ show…
(He pours water into a glass, then picks up an empty glass and attempts to drink from it.)
PRESIDENT: I do have two major announcements to make …
(He stumbles and falls.)
PRESIDENT: Whoops! Uh, oh.
PRESIDENT: No problem. No problem.
After that he’d attempt to drink water from the empty pitcher. He might bang his head on the podium, stumble a second time, trip over two folding chairs and, sprawled on the floor, shout: “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!”
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That could be very funny. But it has already been done. That’s a transcript of the first time a president was portrayed on “SNL”: Republican Gerald Ford, Nov. 8, 1975.
Chevy Chase played Ford as a lame-brained klutz, a depiction that helped make Chase a big star and hurt Ford’s chances against Jimmy Carter in 1976.
So, is “SNL” going soft on Democrats in its 46th season? I hope not, because as the show’s creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels once noted, “If a culture doesn’t allow you to laugh at the leaders or at things that your eyes and ears tell you are actually happening, that’s not good.”
We need more real news conferences, and more genuine laughs.
Peter Funt is a writer and host of “Candid Camera.” He’s at work on a book about TV portrayals of sitting presidents titled “Playing POTUS.”