Best Political Impressions In SNL's History

Some Saturday Night Live skits work. Others, not so much. That's what you get from a weekly sketch show with limited time to write culturally relevant material, while also relying heavily on the hit-or-miss comedy chops of celebrity hosts.

But when SNL dives into politics, it truly shines. The show's decades-long tradition of turning cast members into satirical caricatures of the most talked-about figures in contemporary US government is one of modern comedy's greatest-ever legacies (and usually the only thing most people look forward to in election season). In fact, that legacy is so rich and extensive that there are several worthy impersonations that simply couldn't fit on this list.

From primary debates to shocking scandals to hilarious interviews, SNL covers it all with its bevy of political impersonations. Some are goofy slapstick mockeries, while some are so accurate, you might think you're seeing double. All of them are hilarious. These are the best SNL political impressions of all time.

Kate McKinnon as Elizabeth Warren

It's not easy to pick out Kate McKinnon's best political impersonations, simply because she's tackled just about everyone in Washington at this point. Her takes on former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham are beyond hysterical, while her Hillary Clinton is top-notch. Everyone has their favorite, but McKinnon's most uncannily dead-on impersonation is of Elizabeth Warren. The hair and makeup team have managed to make the two nearly indistinguishable, while McKinnon nails the Massachusetts senator's distinctive voice, policy wonk nerdiness, and her crowd-rallying fist bumps. McKinnon's Warren claims her "natural habitat" is "public school on a weekend," and somehow, she makes that sound like a charming character detail and a moment of intimidation.

Warren's departure from the 2020 race brought an end to McKinnon's impressions for the time being, but they're both still working steadily. Hopefully that means we haven't seen the last of McKinnon in the role. 

Maya Rudolph as Kamala Harris

Fan favorite SNL vet Maya Rudolph had only made sporadic appearances on the show after her tenure as a featured cast member ended in 2007, but she returned in 2019 for semi-regular portrayals of then-presidential candidate and current VP Kamala Harris. Harris enjoyed a brief spike in polling support following her first-debate skewering of Joe Biden over racial comments he made in the past, but her fortunes nose-dived shortly after, and Biden retook a commanding lead. Rudolph made this rivalry a centerpiece of her hilarious, maniacally energetic, cocktail-sipping performance, along with Harris' attempts to use humor to engage younger voters.

Rudolph's Harris was such a hit, in fact, that she kept coming back in debate spoofs, even after the real Harris dropped out of the race in late 2019. We're sure the show was thrilled when she got the VP nod, and when the Democratic ticket actually won, ensuring a wealth of opportunities for more classic Rudolph-Harris moments.

Chevy Chase as Gerald Ford

Contrary to public assumptions, Gerald Ford was actually a gifted athlete, having earned considerable acclaim playing college football. Unfortunately for him and his legacy, this was all undone in a single on-camera incident in which he slipped and fell down the last few steps of Air Force One in 1975.

At the time, Saturday Night Live was a fresh-out-of-the-box sketch comedy show that hadn't yet found its footing or developed any kind of reputation for sharp political humor. That changed overnight when Chevy Chase, one of the show's first frontmen, decided to lampoon Ford's clumsiness, and — let us check our notes here — yep. Nothing else. Just the clumsiness.

Chase made no attempt to look or speak like Ford, and rarely parodied anything the man actually said or did. He simply misspoke like a buffoon and used his physical comedy chops to fall down, tumble backwards over the Resolute desk, and splash a full glass of water against his ear while trying to answer the phone. The decision to not even remotely imitate the actual president keeps Chase from ranking higher, but it's still one of the funniest things he, or the show, ever did.

Matt Damon as Brett Kavanaugh

Brett Kavanaugh's appointment to the Supreme Court was one of the most chaotic and divisive judicial confirmations in US history. It hit the rails almost immediately after his nomination, when the former appellate judge, who helped Ken Starr draft the Starr Report recommending President Clinton's impeachment, was accused by multiple women of sexual assault. A deeply partisan and combative public hearing ensued.

Naturally, SNL had a field day with it in their next cold open. Matt Damon plays Kavanaugh as a petulant, overgrown frat boy who brags about his love of beer, gets snarky with his Democratic critics on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and nearly bursts into tears when he holds up an old calendar from the period in question and talks about his epic work outs with "Handsy Hank" and "Donkey Dong Doug." All in all, it's a hysterical, unforgettable, and depressingly spot-on turn by Damon. The only downside is that he hasn't returned since.

Will Ferrell as George W. Bush

George W. Bush infamously struggled with public speaking throughout his time as president. It wasn't all bad for him, of course, since the political persona he crafted for himself was that of a charming country bumpkin, rather than a seasoned, whip-smart statesman. But that doesn't mean comedians let him off the hook. They had an absolute blast from the day Bush announced his candidacy for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination to the day he left office in early 2009.

By far the most famous impression of the man came from SNL's Will Ferrell, who'd already cut his teeth on political comedy by tackling President Clinton's famously no-nonsense attorney general, Janet Reno. As Bush, Ferrell fumbles and bumbles, mispronouncing words and struggling to understand even basic questions. He didn't quite nail the impersonation at first, but it got notably better over time and never failed to be funny. Ferrell's performance is so strong, Bush himself jokingly told Jimmy Kimmel in 2017 that he once thought he'd actually said the word "strategery," a word Ferrell coined in one of his spoofs.

Kate McKinnon as Rudy Giuliani

Few national political figures have undergone as massive and strange a transformation as former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani has. Once dubbed "America's mayor" for his leadership in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the former presidential hopeful spent his recent years defending Donald Trump through countless scandals. Naturally, SNL was licking its chops from the get-go.

The show may have decided to cast women to portray the various men in Trump's orbit to get under the administration's skin, but nobody can deny it produced some fantastic comedy. And nobody does it better than Kate McKinnon — believe us when we say it was tough narrowing it down to her best spoof. With her bald cap, forced underbite, and crooked right paw, McKinnon's Giuliani is more gargoyle than man, constantly spewing insane conspiracy theories with bulging eyes and a devilish cackle. Like the real Giuliani, McKinnon's caricature typically splits his time between guest spots on cable news and scheming behind closed doors in the White House. Always, he manages to make things worse for his clients and colleagues while trying to do the opposite. Pretty spot on, we'd say.

Darrell Hammond as Donald Trump

If you're going to do an impression of Donald Trump, you'd better do a great job. That's not because he's hard to impersonate, but because he's so easy. The 45th president is an impersonator's dream: He's outrageous and bizarre, and has plenty of distinctive speaking and fashion habits that are easy to latch onto and play around with. Some folks, like The President Show's Anthony Atamanuik, take a hysterically stylized approach to this that still nails the important bits. Other impersonators, like J-L Cauvin, do an equally great job by trying to sound as much like the president as possible.

But of course, the most notable Trump takes are from SNL. Alec Baldwin, who played Trump throughout his single term, gave us what is easily the most famous Trump impression ever. But as great as it is, we think master impersonator Darrell Hammond, who played Trump in the 2015 Republican primary spoofs, takes the cake. He nails the future president's pursed lips, hand gestures, casual lies, frequent smirks, and his smug schoolyard insults, usually directed at Beck Bennett's desperate, flustered Jeb Bush. Hammond has no shortage of killer political impressions, but this is one of his best.

Larry David as Bernie Sanders

Seinfeld co-creator and Curb Your Enthusiasm star Larry David took a "Chevy Chase as Gerald Ford" approach to imitating Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. In other words, he makes little to no effort to sound or act like the progressive champion, and spends far more time talking about the annoyances of being an elderly man surrounded by all these beep-beep, boop-boop machines than he does about healthcare and income inequality. Larry's simply playing himself, in other words — cranky, neurotic, out of patience — and that's precisely what makes the impression so funny.

Anyone who wants to see a jaw-droppingly dead-on take on Sanders can check out James Adomian's stellar performance. But Larry David's lazy attempt fits in perfectly as well, both with the way SNL writes their Sanders caricature as more concerned with getting the TV to work than climate change, and in the larger lineup of other candidates in the always-hilarious Democratic debate spoofs. Bernie might not have won the nomination in either 2016 or 2020, but he's sure to stay a key player on the national stage for years to come. Here's hoping that means we'll be seeing plenty more of Larry David.

Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton isn't an easy target for impressions, largely because, well, she's just not that weird. She speaks normally. She walks and moves normally. She dresses fairly normally. There simply aren't many idiosyncrasies for actors to latch onto. But good impressions are never just about mimicking the target's most superficial qualities. Therefore, as fun as Kate McKinnon is to watch as Hillary Clinton, we give the nod to SNL vet and Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler's late-aughts take on the former Secretary of State and two-time Democratic presidential hopeful.

Rather than focusing too much on Clinton's vocal qualities, physical traits, or habits, Poehler zeroes in on Clinton's ambition. Poehler plays her as a too-polished stateswoman with a jaw-clenchingly forced smile, who is just barely capable of hiding her disdain for the fact that she has to play all these silly political games just to get what she feels she's earned: A four-year stint in the Oval Office. For Poehler's Clinton, it's never about the politics, but about the immense power she's worked so hard for, that is always being snatched away at the last second by less-deserving men.

Darrell Hammond as Dick Cheney

There simply isn't a better impersonator in SNL's history than Darrell Hammond, who left as a featured cast member in 2014 to serve as the show's announcer. During his 14 year stint (1995 to 2009), he gave us a plethora of impersonations of everyone from Bill Clinton to Chris Matthews to John McCain. It was a rare thing indeed for him to not steal the show of whatever skit he wound up in. One of his greatest impressions has to be his take on Vice President Dick Cheney.

Hammond expertly plays on Cheney's public persona as a sneering, heartless string-puller who is secretly calling the shots in the George W. Bush administration. In these sketches, Cheney is frequently confronted with the public's hatred and distrust of him, the rebukes of close friends, and the anger of those he's done dirty. But he shrugs it all off with a bizarre half-smile and some snarky side eye. When he isn't rolling his eyes at those around him, Hammond's Cheney always seems to be silently brainstorming his next bizarre scheme. It's terrifying — and hilarious.

Phil Hartman as Bill Clinton

Phil Hartman wasn't nicknamed "the Glue" for nothing. From 1986 until he retired eight seasons later in 1994, Hartman was one of the pillars holding up Saturday Night Live with his hilarious improvisational skills, his ability to work with and elevate his fellow cast members, and of course, his untouchable chops as an impersonator. He tackled everyone from Frank Sinatra to Barbara Bush to Ronald Reagan (seriously, watch this masterpiece if you haven't yet), but his most notable impression by far is that of Bill Clinton.

With his raspy voice and laundry list of scandals, Clinton isn't exactly a tough nut to crack for even amateur impersonators. That means seasoned impersonators like Hartman can create absolute gold. Hartman lampooned Clinton's indiscretions, of course, but decided to branch beyond that rather low-hanging fruit to touch on the 42nd president's uncanny ability to connect with regular folks. In one sketch, for example, Hartman's Bill Clinton hysterically turns fast food into a vehicle to explain his policies to folks at a DC McDonald's. In reality, it's just an excuse to eat off their plates. It's still one of the funniest SNL bits of the '90s.

Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer

Although he didn't last long as Trump's press secretary, future Dancing With The Stars contestant Sean Spicer was one of the most notable people to hold the office. He was nervous, angry, high-pitched, and, most importantly, almost always lying. He could usually be found chewing gum in an ill-fitting suit, trying to pull off Olympic-level rhetorical gymnastics to explain away the administration's latest embarrassment, and shouting at members of the press who he seemed to hate nearly as much as his boss.

SNL needed someone who could channel Spicer's awkward, belligerent energy, and ultimately tapped veteran comedian Melissa McCarthy for the job. The gender difference might make it seem like a strange choice, but her utterly absurd, dead-on accurate, and hysterically combative performance brought the house down. It also instantly torpedoed the real Spicer's attempts to put a macho, intimidating face on the early Trump presidency, and became the stuff of endlessly rewatchable comedy legend.

Dana Carvey as George H.W. Bush

The Atlantic reports that Dana Carvey once visited the White House in 1992, as Bush Sr. prepared to depart. He told staffers there, "The way to do the president is to start out with Mister Rogers. Then you add a little John Wayne ... you put 'em together, you've got George Herbert Walker Bush." We guess we can see that process in Carvey's timeless impression of the 41st president. Mostly, though, what we know is that he nailed it, time and time again.

That wasn't an easy task, since Bush Sr. simply wasn't an easy man to impersonate. He didn't have his successor's scandals or distinctive voice, nor his son's propensity for misspeaking in public. Carvey could've gone the Chevy Chase route and just exaggerated a single mistake Bush Sr. might've made to the point of hilarious, slapstick absurdity, but he chose instead to do a deep dive into the president's life. He ended up producing one of SNL's best-ever impressions: That of a stiff nerd who wields immense power but will squabble over pennies. The result is comedy gold. Believe it or not, Bush Sr. loved Carvey's work so much that the two became fast and lifelong friends until the former president died in 2018. 

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin certainly made a splash when John McCain tapped her as his running mate in the 2008 presidential election. At first, she electrified the RNC and excited conservatives in a challenging year. But then a series of bizarre interview performances and disastrous public comments turned her from an asset into an outrageous liability that made the party squirm. And of course, Saturday Night Live was taking notes.

If you wondered if SNL had actually tapped Palin to lampoon herself when Tina Fey first took the stage dressed as her in 2008, you weren't alone. That's simply how uncannily accurate Fey's performance is. She nails everything: The look, the voice, the accent, the attitude, the militant cluelessness, and above all, the complete absence of self awareness. Even with Amy Poehler going 100 miles an hour as Hillary Clinton right next to her, Fey's performance stands out as, simply, lightning in a bottle. It isn't just the best SNL political spoof ever, but one of the greatest moments in comedy history.