Impersonating presidents is a laughable offense on 'SNL's' 'Bash'


What a three-way race in the presidential parody pool! It pretty much comes down to a dead heat among Dan Aykroyd, Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman, with a swing-vote chance for Chevy Chase.

And for first lady, we have to consider Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman, Jan Hooks, Madeline Kahn and Mr. Hartman again.

Yes, we're talking the stars, past and present, of NBC's "Saturday Night Live," whose best electoral impersonations are on display tomorrow night in "Saturday Night Live's Presidential Bash." The two-hour compilation of "SNL" political skits (9 p.m., WMAR-Channel 2) is funnier than the real 1992 campaign.

One could even argue some of these comic characterizations have influenced the way people vote, fixing in our minds certain images of chief executives.

Don't laugh. A report on political humor on the CBS Evening News this week featured Mr. Chase recalling his skits as a disengaged, stumbling Gerald Ford. The comedian said Mr. Ford has said the portrayals may well have affected the 1976 election -- which he lost to Jimmy Carter.

The second sketch in Sunday's show offers a prime example. As Mr. Ford, Mr. Chase tries to pay attention to press secretary Ron Nesson (the real guy in a cameo guest appearance) without pulling down the drapes or tripping over his apparently dead and stuffed dog, Liberty.

Later comes a sketch featuring Mr. Aykroyd as President Carter, with guest Gary Busey appearing as first brother Billy, burping and stammering and perfectly projecting the notion of the peanut farmer's administration as a hillbilly incursion.

Seeing skits spanning the presidency from the closing days of the Nixon administration to the recent presidential debates, viewers may newly appreciate the talents of the "SNL" players, especially the astonishing range of the trio of Mr. Carvey, Mr. Hartman and Mr. Aykroyd.

For the record:

Mr. Aykroyd can be seen in the Sunday special as Mr. Nixon, Mr. Carter (several times, including the "Amazing Colossal President" of the memorable "Two-Mile Island" sketch) and a delightfully dead-on Sen. Robert Dole (in a mock 1988 debate sketch).

Mr. Hartman appears as Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, David Brinkley and even Barbara Bush. (In the last instance, the skit includes Ms. Hooks as Nancy Reagan, unwilling to leave the White House during the 1988 transition period.)

And Mr. Carvey is seen as George Bush all the way back to the 1988 campaign, as well as Ross Perot and Dan Quayle.

Although not in the presidential pool, Kevin Nealon deserves a special mention for his sharp turns as ABC attack-dog reporter Sam Donaldson.

So do the late John Belushi -- for an early appearance as Henry Kissinger, with Mr. Aykroyd as a haunting Richard Nixon talking to portraits on the eve of his White House resignation -- and longtime "SNL" writer Al Franken as 1988 candidate evangelist Pat Robertson.

We even see former first-son Ron Reagan Jr., supposedly left home alone (with Randy Quaid as a good Reagan) and doing Tom Cruise's underwear-clad dance from the movie "Risky Business."

Is any of this history worth contemplating on the eve of the real election? Maybe not, but the laughs from "Presidential Bash" will linger -- perhaps because the satire hits near the target so often.

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