Rumours that comedian Rosie O’Donnell is due to play White House chief strategist Steve Bannon on this weekend’s episode of Saturday Night Live have sent social media into overdrive.
Currently experiencing its highest ratings in 22 years, what’s behind SNL’s resurgence in popularity?
Since debuting in 1975, Saturday Night Live has been a bulwark of the US TV landscape. As America’s longest-running comedy-sketch series, generations have grown up with its oft-emulated brand of slapstick and satire.
But as celebrity, politics and modern living changed over the years, so too have the targets of SNL’s jokes. With the arrival of Donald Trump’s White House administration, SNL has been gifted a comedy cash-cow.
Alec Baldwin’s devastating portrayal of Trump triumphed with viewers when it debuted in the run-up to last year’s US Presidential Election and has since become a staple feature of the series.
Last week, Melissa McCarthy’s ultra-caustic turn as White House press secretary Sean Spicer went viral on YouTube.
On social media, fans of the show are raving about its persistent jabs at the new presidency.
“This is hilarious. Comedians have never had it so easy with this admin,” said Youtube user mimi k.
“Trump made SNL ‘GREAT’ again!” exclaimed Steven L.
“I don’t care who you voted for, that was funny as hell,” added Joe Momma.
‘Boring and unfunny’
It remains to be seen whether SNL’s Trump bump is due to new viewers from across the political spectrum, or merely re-engaged liberals who had fallen out of love with the show in recent years.
One viewer who has been less than impressed by the cutting caricatures is the president himself.
“Watched Saturday Night Live hit job on me. Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!” Trump tweeted three weeks before voting day last year.
“I watched parts of @nbcsnl Saturday Night Live last night. It is a totally one-sided, biased show – nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?” he tweeted again less than two weeks after winning the presidency.
“@NBCNews is bad but Saturday Night Live is the worst of NBC. Not funny, cast is terrible, always a complete hit job. Really bad television!” he wrote five days before inauguration.
‘Part of American culture’
In this extraordinary time of western political upheaval, that the most powerful man in the world should feel compelled to repeatedly condemn his own parody has become an added draw for SNL fans.
After last week’s stinging routine from Melissa McCarthy, Spicer told Fox News he thought her impression of him was “cute” and “part of American culture.” Trump, however, stayed uncharacteristically silent.
Fans began to wonder whether SNL had genuinely hit a nerve. Politico reported that behind closed doors Trump was furious his administration was being made to “look weak”.
In particular, it is thought Trump took exception to his staffer being spoofed by a female comedian.
This tension between SNL and Trump has created genuine suspense for fans of the series – eager to find out which member of the White House administration will be in the firing line next – simply because they know it riles the president.
As SNL has forged its recent reputation for Trump baiting, fans began submitting their own suggestions on how best to lampoon the leader of the free world.
Enter Rosie O’Donnell. The actress and comedian has never previously appeared as part of the Saturday Night Live cast, but has been embroiled in a very public 10-year long feud with Donald Trump.
Frequently referred to in the US tabloids as each other’s nemesis, the spat dates back to 2006 when O’Donnell criticised Trump’s Miss USA beauty pageant on talk show The View.
She has since described Trump as a “snake-oil salesman” who should “sit and spin”, while Trump in turn has called O’Donnell a “fat pig” and “a real loser”.
After McCarthy’s outing as Spicer last week, Twitter user @calvininsf tweeted at O’Donnell to ask whether she was “willing to take one for the team?”
O’Donnell replied to say: “I am here to serve – Alec has Trump – Melissa has Spice – I would need a few days to prepare – so if called – I will be ready.”
The discord between O’Donnell and Trump has provided a ripe opportunity for SNL’s sketch writers. They are in the unique position of knowing that the target of their jokes is watching, but remain tight-lipped about whether they will take up O’Donnell on her offer.
Seemingly keen, O’Donnell has changed her Twitter profile picture to a superimposed image of her face on the body of the White House’s Steve Bannon.
A caricature of Bannon has already appeared on SNL, played by regular cast member Mike Day dressed as the Grim Reaper.
Having O’Donnell portray Bannon would doubtless infuriate the Trump administration further – especially in light of recent press speculation about the amount of power Bannon wields in the White House.
‘I can see Russia from my house!’
SNL has got its teeth back after an arguably lacklustre and directionless few years.
During the last White House administration, President Obama was parodied more than 50 times by SNL cast members Fred Armisen and Jay Pharoah. But those impersonations never quite resonated with viewers in the same way Baldwin’s Trump and McCarthy’s Spicer have.
The last time SNL so overtly contributed to America’s national dialogue was Tina Fey’s impression of former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin.
Palin’s misquote “I can see Russia from my house!”, which was said to have derailed her 2008 vice presidential campaign, was in fact a line from Fey’s SNL skit.
Whether SNL has the potential to shape our perception of Donald Trump in the way it did Palin remains to be seen.
SNL’s current growing ratings can in part be attributed to its biting humour and supremely talented cast – but just as important as the jokes is how Trump reacts to them.
Alec Baldwin is again set to host the show this weekend.
If O’Donnell makes an appearance, then it will no doubt help boost those record viewing figures further. Not just because she is funny, but because Saturday Night Live strikes at the very heart of American politics.