After opening with a Trump sketch that was pretty hacky, Saturday Night Live managed to go someplace strange and wonderful, with a surrealistic hangover of a short film that imagines the world through the puffy eyes and beleaguered mind of one Donald J. Trump. This week’s host, John Cena, joins the honor roll of SNL Trumps (Alec Baldwin, Darrell Hammond, Jason Sudekis, Taran Killam, Phil Hartman, and the talking Orangina bottle himself), and although he didn’t have to do much of an impersonation, Cena has nevertheless lucked into starring in the greatest Trump sketch the show’s ever done. The way to capture our new leader, it turns out, is not to use the traditional language of comedy but instead to pile on the dream logic and shame until something breaks.
Saturday Night Live, depending as it does on impersonators, usually concerns itself with the way Trump looks and talks, but this sketch makes the smart decision of asking how he sees and hears. Especially how he hears—the visual gags have nothing on the audio. The dialogue is a brilliant stab at the way someone with Trump’s legendary attention span might process language, all fragments and gists and moods. Consider the lovely little prose poem Vanessa Bayer delivers to him as a TV anchor: “Huge, huge success. Fantastic. Victory. Landslide. Fox News.” And although it seems pretty unlikely that Mike Pence would ever go out of his way to keep Trump involved in the government when he could just run it himself, this is definitely Trump’s takeaway from their meetings:
Mike Pence here. Work job. Duty. Focus. Other people. Other people not Trump. So many people.
“Work job.” Even the props are great, particularly Trump’s copy of The Failing New York Times with its headlines reading “FALSE REPORT, BIASED” and “LIES, LIES, LIES.” But the real masterstroke is Bobby Moynihan as a slovenly Trump supporter, who confronts the president-elect with his worst fear:
I voted for Trump. You will fix me. Thing you promised. Thing you promised! Can’t wait for that thing you promised. Hollywood models are not your people. I—I am your people!
It may or may not be true that Trump imagines himself looking like John Cena with giant hands. (It’s probably true.) But is there any question that in his darkest hours, our president-elect—that would-be Astor who had the misfortune of growing up closer to Astoria—is afraid he still doesn’t belong in Manhattan? Or that the gilded world he’s built is designed to sing him a lullaby to drown out that very fear? Listen: Trump. Prestige. Organization. Gold. Exclusive. Luxurious. Prestige. Prestige. Luxurious. Gold. Exclusive.