The biggest question surrounding Alec Baldwin's "Saturday Night Live" hosting gig this weekend is no longer whether President Trump will unleash a critical post-show tweet-storm against his unflattering TV doppelganger.
No, the biggest question is whether Baldwin can top Melissa McCarthy, whose manic stint as presidential spokesman Sean Spicer fueled the best "SNL" political parody since Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin declared “I can see Russia from my house” in 2008.
McCarthy raised the bar at a time when the satirical stakes are heightened amid the early days of a president who sees himself as both an entertainer and a victim of the entertainment industry.
Baldwin's record 17th “SNL” hosting appearance is shaping up as his most crucial yet – offering an extended opportunity not only to define the first three wild weeks of the Trump Era, but to perhaps shape the actor’s own legacy as comedic performer.
Baldwin, who rolled out his Donald Trump impression in the Oct. 1 "SNL" season opener, likely thought his term would end on Election Day. But Trump upended expectations – just like he’s upended government and accepted standards of presidential behavior
That includes responding to Baldwin's portrayal of him as a man-child who spews bluster out of pursed lips while squinting as if his very face hurts from the orange tint. “Not funny, cast is terrible, always a complete hit job. Really bad television!” Trump, a two-time “SNL” host, tweeted about the show five days before his inauguration.
After the latest “SNL,” Spicer called Baldwin’s Trump takeoffs “mean.” Still, Spicer found McCarthy's depiction of him as a gum-chugging, podium-propelling bully who plays "1984" with the language “cute.”
U.S. & World
Baldwin first hosted “SNL” in 1990, when he was best known for “The Hunt for Red October” and when Phil Hartman was the show’s occasional Trump imitator.
“SNL” transformed Baldwin from a generally serious actor to a comic force, who displayed a knack for impressions (Tony Bennett, Robert DeNiro) and timing (no more so than in the “Schweddy Balls” sketch). The program also gave him ample opportunities to mock his own image as a short-tempered, politically outspoken and press-battling celebrity.
Baldwin's status as the show’s most-seen non-cast member led to his iconic part as smug, conservative network boss Jack Donaghy on Tina Fey’s “SNL”-inspired sitcom, “30 Rock.”
Even if the current buzz is over whether McCarthy will return this weekend, Baldwin’s latest hosting performance could go a long way to determining the role he’ll be most remembered for, long after the last presidential tweet.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.