Jim Carrey captures and exaggerates the parody-worthy parts of Joe Biden’s persona that make him relatable and the perfect antidote to Donald Trump.
| Opinion contributor
I hope Joe Biden can take a joke, because if he’s elected president, there will be a lot of them. He has enough mockable traits to keep comedians and late-night hosts busy for years. But as comics are fond of saying when they rip at an open wound: “Too soon?”
Some critics and plenty of social media worrywarts are in a snit over Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Biden this season on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Vanity Fair believes SNL “has a Jim Carrey problem.” Its writer, Karen Valby, warns — in apparent seriousness — that Carrey “gives a bad Joe Biden when the country has never needed a good Joe Biden more.”
CNN’s Brian Lowry writes: “Under normal circumstances Carrey as Biden would be fine. But a lot of people see the election as too important for anything that even remotely undermines Biden.” Oy.
SNL may be the corporate cousin of progressive-minded MSNBC, but the last thing its writers should fret over is “undermining” Democrats. SNL has survived 46 seasons precisely because it is an equal opportunity offender.
Jim Carrey’s Biden is the best one yet
Carrey was an usual choice to take over the Biden role. Late last season Woody Harrelson provided a toothy, straight-from-the-headlines version of the former vice president. Jason Sudeikis did a spot-on Biden during the Obama years and was the presumptive favorite to return as Biden this season until Carrey got the gig.
Carrey is a larger-than-life comedian, which is why his takes sometimes eclipse the person he is imitating. When he first did Biden I feared it was “The Cable Guy” with false teeth. But Carrey’s Biden is actually the best yet — not necessarily for the physical likeness or voice, but because Carrey has perfectly captured the parody-worthy pieces of Biden’s persona.
Asked during SNL’s town hall sketch earlier this month how he would deal with COVID-19, Carrey’s Biden said, “Let me start with a story, mixed with a complicated math problem.” He rambled his way to 1939, “A year I went to the World’s Fair and met the real Mickey Mouse.” And finally, to an exhausted audience member, “If you want to find me after the town hall, we can talk some more.”
In fact, Carrey is exaggerating the very qualities that make Joe Biden a relatable old friend and the perfect antidote to Donald Trump. Sure, the real Biden tells too many old stories, loses his place at times, and is as unhip as a Sony Walkman. But if comedy writers had a political strategy — and I hope they don’t — it wouldn’t be to hide the obvious, it would be to celebrate it as part of repairing America’s Trump problem.
Lampooning presidents is a tradition
Looking back over presidential comedy, a benchmark came in 1962 when a little-known performer named Vaughn Meader spoofed John F. Kennedy in an album titled “The First Family.” It was mild stuff, kidding JFK about his “rubber ducky” and mocking his pronounced Boston accent. Yet, incredibly, it sold over 7 million copies. Every president since has been lampooned — from Chevy Chase’s klutzy Gerald Ford to Will Ferrell’s malaprop-prone George W. Bush.
But, except for some dark Nixon humor, notably by the comedian David Frye and later by Dan Aykroyd on SNL, most presidents have generally been mocked with a gentle wink, not a snarl. Trump is different because he earned it. SNL dutifully trots out Alec Baldwin in the Trump role, but often the script fails to be as funny, or lame, as whatever Trump actually said the previous week. Still, I imagine Sean Hannity and Karl Rove think SNL is undermining Trump’s chance for re-election.
USA Today editorial board’s first-ever endorsement: Elect Joe Biden. Reject Donald Trump.
In fact, when Jim Carrey donned a cardigan as Biden-turned-Fred Rogers, it was an image that Democratic strategists should have loved. Who could comfort the nation more in its time of need than someone resembling Mister Rogers?
Critics who worry that Biden might lose votes because of an SNL parody are probably the same people who wrote that Biden should skip the debates lest he reveal some sort of oratory deficiency.
Look, Joe Biden is almost 78 years old. He wears aviator glasses and obsesses about Scranton more than Steve Carell’s Michael G. Scott on “The Office.” He’ll make a terrific president. He’s just what the country needs now. Savor it.
Better yet, lighten up and chuckle at it.
Peter Funt is a writer and host of “Candid Camera.”