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Alec Baldwin has shed light on Saturday Night Live‘s decision to feature Trump’s debate performance as part of its season 46 opener, despite the president’s Friday night announcement that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Directly ahead of the season premiere’s opening sketch, the show ran a brief message contextualizing its satirical re-creation of Tuesday night’s presidential debate scene, offering up one explanation for why it ran. “We thought it was important to see it again, since it might be the only presidential debate,” a narrator said as the words scrolled up the screen.
Now, in a 14-minute video posted to Instagram, the actor and SNL‘s go-to Trump impersonator has shared his thoughts on how the show’s creative team weighed whether to continue with the pre-written sketch despite the president’s sudden news. Baldwin explained that the decision was based on the communications coming from the White House about the seriousness of Trump’s condition.
“We only have the words of the White House itself and the people who work there themselves to go on, and all of them have all been saying he isn’t in any danger,” Baldwin said. “We only have their word to go by. And if their word was that he was in serious trouble, then we probably wouldn’t have done it.”
At the top of the sketch, which featured Jim Carrey’s debut as Joe Biden, Beck Bennett appeared as Fox News anchor and debate moderator Chris Wallace and laid out the rules of the debate. That included asking Baldwin’s Trump if he “took the COVID test you promised to take in advance,” to which Baldwin’s Trump replied, “Absolutely, scout’s honor,” as he held up crossed fingers.
Baldwin took another and more direct shot at Trump’s responses to COVID-19 later in the sketch, using one of Trump’s preferred nicknames for the coronavirus: “The China Virus has been very mean to me by being a hoax, and that statement will not come back to haunt me later this week.”
In Baldwin’s explanatory video, the 30 Rock star and Match Game host went on to defend the decision to keep the debate sketch because it was “topical” and avoided featuring or mentioning the president’s hospitalization. “We thought the debate was something topical, and we didn’t have anything with him in a hospital bed, but we had the debate. You’d have to have a very good reason to avoid that, topicality-wise, and nobody thought that they were mocking somebody’s illness by doing that.”
Baldwin pushed back on critics who argued that the show was “mocking” the president’s illness, and described SNL‘s comedic creative process as extremely careful, noting that “you wouldn’t believe the stuff that’s proposed” and is eventually turned down after being “deemed inappropriate.”
“This is a group of people that are pretty savvy. They’re in network television, [SNL creator] Lorne [Michaels] is, you know, one of the smartest people in the business,” Baldwin said. “And the other people from the network who come and go but interact with him, they know that they don’t want to sink the ship.”
“If there was ever the suggestion that Trump was truly, gravely ill, and people said, ‘Trump is really in trouble,’ then I would bet you everything I have that we wouldn’t even get near that, in terms of content of the show,” Baldwin continued. “They would have done something else. I’ve seen that happen before.”
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