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Saturday Night Live is in the business of making fun of people. Be they politicians, celebrities, or momentary newsmakers — particularly if they do something controversial or behave badly. The more famous you are, the more likely it is that somebody is going to throw on a wig and impersonate you (and your looks and your voice) in a sketch on SNL, or they're going to tell a joke or two at your expense during "Weekend Update."
But that's kind of the price of celebrity, or at least a life lived in the public eye; criticism is part of the fame game. One can either get their feelings hurt and complain loudly about how a late-night TV comedy show was sort of, a little, or not very mean... or one can accept it for what it is. If they make fun of you on SNL, you've clearly made it big. Here are some famous people with a good sense of humor about themselves who weren't only not offended when Saturday Night Live teased them, but who were pleased or even thrilled.
Seth Rogen gave Opera Man something to sing about
Adam Sandler enjoyed one of the most successful and high-profile tenures of any cast member in Saturday Night Live history. He dominated the sketch comedy show in the early '90s with characters like Canteen Boy, the Herlihy Boy, and a "Weekend Update" correspondent named Opera Man who would comment on the news in a performative tenor. Nevertheless, Sandler was fired from the show in 1994. He went on to an extremely successful movie career, which took a semi-dramatic turn in 2009 with Funny People. In the Judd Apatow flick, Sandler played a depressed older comedian who mentors a younger up-and-comer portrayed by Seth Rogen.
Years later, Sandler made his triumphant and long-awaited return to SNL, hosting an episode in May 2019. He revived Opera Man for "Weekend Update," and among the things he mocked, in character: the new movie Long Shot, a romantic comedy starring Charlize Theron and Rogen. "Pretty lady, goody man-ah, Opera Man no understand-ah," Opera Man sang. "Silly face but still he score-ah, where have I seen this before-an?" At that point an image of Theron and Rogen cut to a montage of stills from movies...featuring Sandler and several attractive female co-stars. Almost immediately, Rogen responded to the criticism on Twitter — and he didn't mind in the least. "Operaman making a joke about me is maybe the most amazing thing that's ever happened to me," he wrote. "Holy s*** what an insane honor."
This Alex Trebek impression isn't in jeopardy
Before he played broad and wacky characters in movies — Ron Burgundy in Anchorman, Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, Brennan in Step Brothers — Will Ferrell played over-the-top goofs on Saturday Night Live, like bizarro versions of Neil Diamond, Harry Caray, and Robert Goulet. But Ferrell's most famous SNL work might be for showing restraint and simmering, barely released rage as Alex Trebek, frustrated host of "Celebrity Jeopardy!" Ferrell's version of the beloved game show presenter was the butt of cruel taunts from Darrell Hammond's crude Sean Connery and ridiculous pranks by Norm Macdonald's smarmy Burt Reynolds. Ferrell portrayed Trebek more than a dozen times over the years, and while his voice work wasn't overly accurate, he nailed the Jeopardy! host's clipped delivery style and rocked the iconic mustache. Trebek himself was a huge fan of the recurring "Celebrity Jeopardy!" sketches. "I loved them," he told the Archive of American Television.
"It means you've arrived," Trebek said. "If you do a take-off of somebody, it's a sign that you believe your audience will immediately recognize who you're poking fun at." While he appreciated Ferrell's take, Trebek thought somebody else did a technically better impression, on SCTV. "Eugene Levy I maintain to this day did the best Alex Trebek ever, better than Will Ferrell," the host said in the aforementioned interivew. "He looked more the part, too. He had the dark hair and he had the black mustache."
James Lipton was 'grateful' to Will Ferrell
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Another of Will Ferrell's most popular celebrity impersonations on Saturday Night Live was of James Lipton, host of Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio. An extension of his job as a dean of the Actors Studio Drama School in Manhattan, Lipton invited on luminous actors and directors and peppered them with praise-loaded questions about their artistic process. SNL parodied Inside the Actors Studio several times, with Ferrell playing up how solicitous, fawning, and pretentious Lipton could seem. Pulling from a humongous stack of blue notecards like the ones Lipton used, Ferrell, transformed into the host with glasses, a bald wig, and intense stare, asked guest hosts imitating famous actors (Tobey Maguire as Dustin Diamond from Saved by the Bell; Kate Hudson as Drew Barrymore) Inside the Actors Studio-esque questions. Most famously, Ferrell coined the word "scrumtrulescent" as Lipton.
The sketches may have made Lipton appear foolish, but he found them, well, scrumtrulescent. "I love it, it's very flattering," Lipton told CNN in 2012. "I think he's got me cold," he added. Four years later, he told Watch What Happens Live, "I've never been so grateful in my life as I am to Will Ferrell."
Dr. Anthony Fauci signed off of this portrayal
One of the most prominent new newsmakers of the year 2020 was, without a doubt, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, and the public face of governmental and scientific response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. In the early weeks of the public health crisis, Dr. Fauci helped deliver daily high-profile White House briefings, which is the kind of thing Saturday Night Live would definitely spoof. In April 2020, CNN's Alisyn Camerota asked Dr. Fauci who he'd like to play him, should SNL decide to spoof him. "Oh, Brad Pitt, of course," Fauci said with a laugh.
About two weeks later, when SNL aired an episode full of material filmed by cast members at their homes, Pitt put in a guest appearance in the show's opening sketch, portraying Dr. Fauci with the aid of a white wig and glasses. At the end of the bit, Pitt broke character, removing the wig and spectacles to thank first responders, doctors, nurses, and Dr. Fauci himself for working so hard to contain and treat the coronavirus. The real Dr. Fauci was touched. "I think he showed that he is really a class guy when at the end he took off his hair and thanked me and all of the heathcare workers," Dr. Fauci told Telemundo's Un Nuevo Dia (via Deadline). "So, not only is he a really great actor but he is actually a classy person."
Carson Daly is fine with the 'massive tool' bit
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Jimmy Fallon eschews the biting political humor of competitors like Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel in favor of silliness and party games, and he took heat for not being hard-hitting in an interview with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016. But back when he was a major cast member on Saturday Night Live in the early 2000s, Fallon proved that he could be mean, should the mood strike. In a series of sketches poking fun at MTV, particularly TRL, the network's after-school video countdown and pop music showcase, Fallon portrayed the show's young host, Carson Daly. "Welcome to TRL, I'm Carson Daly," Fallon delivered in an early '00s sketch. "Genial, non-threatening, a little doughy." In another bit (via Salon), Fallon's intro as Daly went, "I'm Caron Daly and I'm a massive tool."
In 2014, Fallon took over as host of The Tonight Show, leading off NBC's late-night lineup that at the time ended with Last Call, hosted by Daly. That put a celebrity and the guy who mocked him in close proximity, but there didn't seem to be too much tension. When Fallon was on SNL, Daly started hosting Last Call, and their offices were next to each other in NBC's 30 Rockefeller Center building in New York, and Fallon would pop over to imitate Daly, much to his delight, Daly revealed to Backstage. "If you can't laugh at yourself, you're really f*****," Daly told Salon.
Jennifer Lawrence enjoyed this pitch-perfect impression
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Pop and R&B diva Ariana Grande obviously has a tremendous voice — she probably wouldn't have scored so many hit songs and sold as many albums as she has if she couldn't sing — but she's also got some comic chops. After all, she did get her big break on the Nickelodeon teen sitcom Victorious, playing the comedically bountiful role of the dumb and naive Cat Valentine. As such, Grande was invited to put all of her skills to use as both host and the musical guest of a March 2016 episode of Saturday Night Live.
One particularly well-received sketch from the installment: "Celebrity Family Feud." The recurring sketch is a clearinghouse for cast members to trot out impressions of famous people, and this one pitted famous directors against acclaimed actors. Leading the actors team was Grande as toast of Hollywood and Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence. Grande not only nailed Lawrence's unique speaking voice, but also her persona and persistent insistence that she's not a diva. "They told me not to do a game show, but I was like screw it," Grande said, in character. "I can have fun, I'm a regular person." Evidently, Lawrence does like to have fun and is a regular person, because she enjoyed Grande's impression. She told Vogue that it was "spot-f******-on."
Paula Deen will 'never miss an opportunity to laugh'
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Food Network host Paula Deen became one of the biggest food celebrities of the 21st century because of her decadent recipes for Southern-Inspired cuisine. However, after she revealed she'd been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and faced allegations of racist behavior and a lawsuit from an employee, the backlash arrived. Saturday Night Live joined in, costuming breakout star Kristen Wiig in a big white wig, putting a drumstick in one hand and a stick of butter in another, and sending her out on "Weekend Update" as Deen. In a highly exaggerated mixture of Deen's Southern accent and vocal patterns, Wiig decried the allegations as "a bunch of booter and awl" (meaning butter and oil) and "as stupid as fat-free cream cheese."
Deen is apparently a longtime SNL fan who knows the show well, so to get skewered was actually sweet for the TV food personality. "We have been big fans of that show since 1976, I think, and wouldn't miss one for anything," Dean told Prevention. "The girl who has played me a couple times — Kristen Wiig, who did Bridesmaids — I think she is brilliant. She is the most talented female that's been on Saturday Night Live since Gilda Radner." As for Wiig's impression, Dean said, "It made me laugh, because to me it was so tongue in cheek. I never miss an opportunity to laugh, even if it's at myself." Dean also stated her intention to write Wiig a thank-you note.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a fan of this SNL line
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It's rare that a Supreme Court justice becomes a pop culture icon or someone with whom the non-political-junkie, general public is intensely familiar, but Ruth Bader Ginsburg was just that special. Appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 after decades of crusading and often feminist-driven legal work, she inspired the narrative film On the Basis of Sex (starring Felicity Jones as Ginsburg) and was the subject of the popular documentary RBG. Those initials became a commonly used moniker, and her face adorned coffee mugs, T-shirts and other merchandise, both with and without the crown that likened her to the Notorious B.I.G.
Such a public figure is likely going to be impersonated on Saturday Night Live, and Kate McKinnon obliged, creating a Ginsberg character and performing as her frequently on "Weekend Update." As the justice, McKinnon would offer withering put-downs of newsmakers and that the subject had received a "Gins-burn," before jumping up to dance provocatively for a few seconds. In a stage interview with NPR's Nina Totenberg in conjunction with the release of the RGB documentary in 2018, Ginsburg admitted that she'd seen the SNL bits and liked them. "I liked the actress who portrayed me," Ginsburg said. "And I would like to say 'Gins-burn!' sometimes to my colleagues." (Now that's a Gins-burn.")
Donatella Versace offered up some pointers
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Maya Rudolph is among the most versatile cast members in the long run of Saturday Night Live. She could portray the unsure tween host of the school news show "Wake Up, Wakefield," or half of the pop duo Gemini's Twin, and then also impersonate everyone from Justin Guarini to Diana Ross to Condoleeza Rice to Donatella Versace, designer and creative director of the high-end Versace Group. Rudolph's portrayal of Versace was less than glamorous, characterizing the clothing magnate as mean, drawling, sneering, sleepy, and maybe a little drunk, and often surrounded by scantily-clad male model types. (Her catchphrase: a hostile "GET OUT!")
On a 2010 appearance on The Joy Behar Show, Versace said that not only was she "fine" with the sketches, but that Rudolph's portrayal was "hilarious." She also revealed that she'd talked to Rudolph over the phone to "give her some tips" for the impression. "If you're going to impersonate me, do it better," she joked. One of those suggestions, which Versace shared on The View (via Elle): Don't wear costume, or prop jewelry. "It looks fake," she said. "I only wear real." Proving that there were truly no hard feelings, the two even appeared together at the VH1 Fashion Awards — with Rudolph in-character and introduced as Donatella Versace.
Melania Trump seems to like this impression
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While Saturday Night Live's assessment of President Donald Trump's administration has been strongly and bluntly critical (which includes Alec Baldwin's impersonation of the Commander-in-Chief as a constantly pouting egomaniac), cast member Cecily Strong went a different way with her portrayal First Lady Melania Trump, presenting her as an innocent mildly distant individual in way over her head and sometimes racked with guilt over her role in supporting as divisive a figure as her husband.
In 2018, Strong appeared on The Tonight Show, and mentioned that the First Lady appreciates her impersonation. She told host Jimmy Fallon that when Donald Trump hosted SNL in 2015 and Melania Trump came to the cast dinner, she and Strong had a brief interaction. "She pointed at me when she walked in," Strong said, "and then I think [Donald] said, 'She likes your impression.'" Strong added that she's heard from sources close to the First Lady that Trump regularly watched SNL and that she "likes it."
David Letterman said this SNL star can 'do whatever'
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Busy with his duties as the host of "Weekend Update," Saturday Night Live cast member Norm Macdonald didn't appear in a high volume of sketches. One of them, during his 1990s tenure, was a parody of The Late Show, the CBS late-night talk show hosted by David Letterman. Macdonald, who could be so audacious and scandalous with his dark humor on "Weekend Update," gave a fairly restrained performance as Letterman, doing a faithful and almost sweet imitation of the comedian and host. "At the end of the day I didn't want to do an impression of someone I considered funnier than me in the first place," Macdonald told The New York Times.
After one sketch aired, Letterman rang Macdonald. However, the venerated chat show host wouldn't be the first to address the elephant in the room. "He was just talking about stuff, he never got to the point, and I knew why he was phoning, so it was all awkward," Macdonald recalled. "Finally, I go, 'Hey, Dave, I did an impression of you.' I just blurted it out. And he goes: 'Oh, yeah, I'm fine with that. I like you, Norm, you can do whatever you want.'" Letterman explained that Joe Piscopo once did an impression of him, and he didn't like it, "because that guy's not funny."
Macdonald told Rolling Stone that when the talk show time slot after The Late Show opened up in 1998, Letterman wanted him to get the gig. CBS went with Craig Kilborn instead.
George H.W. Bush invited Dana Carvey to an event
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Dana Carvey was arguably one of Saturday Night Live's biggest stars in the late 1980s and early '90s, portraying Garth in "Wayne's World" sketches, one half of bodybuilder duo Hans and Franz, the ultra-judgmental Church Lady, and perhaps most notably, his wildly silly impersonation of President George H.W. Bush. Carvey nailed the specific timbre of Bush's voice, but his mannerisms and favored phrases were almost purely invented — Bush didn't really say "Not gonna do it, wouldn't be prudent," nor did he mug or wave and point as much as Carvery's version of him did.
Bush lost his re-election bid in November 1992, and showing appreciation for all of Carvey's ribbing, if not marking the end of an era with a show of good faith, Bush invited Carvey to a White House party in December. It was as much of a holiday affair as it was a send-off party for staffers who'd be out of a job when Bill Clinton was inaugurated in a month. Carvey arrived the day before, and Bush put him up in the illustrious Lincoln Bedroom, reserved for distinguished guests. Carvey entered the party and did his Bush impression for the crowd, and was followed by the president. "Dana has given me a lot of laughs," he said. "And the fact that we can laugh at each other is a very fundamental thing."