It’s always interesting when an impressionist talks about their craft, all the more so when that impression is a good one. The Trump presidency was a goldmine for this sort of peek behind the curtain, because virtually every working comedian occasionally impersonated Trump, but most of their Trumps were horrible, which meant that the few people who got Trump dead-to-rights were frequently asked how they did it. James Austin Johnson, who has arguably the funniest Trump impression outside of the Hall of Presidents, gave one of the most revealing answers: Half the battle is picking the right version of the person you’re trying to impersonate. While other impressionists used the Trump of the 1980s as a starting point, Johnson went straight to what he called “Rally Trump,” a rambling, love-starved old man who seems perpetually about to cough up a lung. More evidence that the key to a good impression is a carefully-chosen starting point arrived on Tuesday, as former Saturday Night Live cast member Dana Carvey discussed his terrific Joe Biden impression on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. “I do him at the town hall, when he’s like the gentle father to the country,” Carvey told Colbert. The results speak for themselves:
For comparison purposes, here’s a clip of Biden being a gentle father to the country in his February town hall. (He doesn’t do the “Number one…” thing Carvey mentioned in this clip, but he did it several times during the full town hall.)
There are two key differences between Carvey’s Joe Biden and the mostly-lackluster Bidens on Saturday Night Live. Number one, Carvey is taking virtually nothing from the Onion’s “Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am in White House Driveway” version of the character. The Onion’s Biden requires a level of wackiness that Biden has rarely exhibited in public since he was telling stories about Corn Pop, which was all the way back in June of 2017. Number two, like Austin doing Trump, Carvey has thought about the way Biden’s mind works—his Bob Woodward to Joanne Woodward to Bob Redford free association is masterful—and his impression comes as much from the way Biden tries to get a point across as from his verbal and physical tics. It’s such a funny impression that we’re calling it now: Despite the fact that Carvey has never played Biden on Saturday Night Live, he is nevertheless Saturday Night Live’s greatest Joe Biden. Isn’t that special?