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I wasn’t a good impressionist. Danny [Aykroyd] did pretty well with Nixon. I just wanted to make you laugh and think in a way that was Charlie Chaplin-ish and Buster Keaton-ish, so I played Ford physically, making him look clumsy. That was basically my concept. By the way, I noticed recently that Trump said, “I’m the president, and you’re not.” That’s my line: “I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not.” I got hurt during the sketch about the debate between Ford and Carter. Danny was playing Carter, and I fell forward on one of the podiums as if Ford was not even noticing he was falling. Unfortunately, the prop guy had forgotten to line the back of my podium with foam rubber so I just went down and hit wood. I was in the hospital for about a week. I peed blood. It was a little frightening, and it was painful.
I spent the night with my wife in the White House with Gerald Ford. I was invited to stay and then do the Correspondents’ Dinner [in 1976]. I took John [Belushi] and Danny with me. As we were driving into the White House, one of the Secret Service looked into the back of the car, saw John and Danny and said, “Who the hell are they?” I said, “They’re my Secret Service.” He looked at John like he was from Albania, which I believe he was. When we were in the White House foyer, Danny reached into his pocket and took some change out and left it in a little tray there, as if we were in a motel.
I got to know the Bushes and Obama, but I was closest with Bill Clinton. We were friends pretty much immediately. He was aware of my work and obviously excited about it enough to say, “Hey, do you want to stay at the White House tonight and we can talk?” I remember when I got up early the next morning — my wife and I were in the Queen’s or Lincoln bedroom — I stepped out into the little hallway just to look. I was in my underpants, and there was Bill, in shorts, being led by two Secret Service guys unhappily to go jogging, like he was being woken up and rudely being made to do that. There was such a funny, resigned look on his face.
This story first appeared in the April 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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