Did Palin's 'SNL' Stint Make Any Difference?

Palin shows she can laugh along with the joke, but she can't eclipse Tina Fey.

October 8, 2008, 9:28 AM

Oct. 20, 2008 — -- Three things happened Saturday night: Tina Fey met her career maker on "Saturday Night Live," Sarah Palin showed she could laugh along with the joke and the space-time continuum remained intact. At least for now.

Palin's appearance was, no doubt, the most anticipated "SNL" event of the season -- preliminary numbers show it boosted the late-night comedy show to its highest ratings in 14 years.

Palin debuted during the cold open of the Oct. 18 episode, crashing a mock news conference helmed by Fey's version of her. Watching the real Palin walk past the woman who, pretty much single-handedly, crafted the national conception of her as "Caribou Barbie" was chilling, if not exactly LOL-funny.

Later, Palin took a seat on "SNL's" "Weekend Update." She pretended to chicken out of doing a rap about the McCain-Palin campaign, instead handing the microphone to Amy Poehler who spit rhymes like "I'm Jeremiah Wright 'cause tonight I'm the preacha//I got a bookish look and you're all hot for teacha. … All the mavericks in the house put your hands up" while attempting to raise the roof from her anchor chair.

Palin's on-camera time totaled maybe six minutes. But Sunday, the Alaska governor told WWOR-TV in New York that she had a great time and that she would guest again at the drop of a six-pack.

"I would do that again in a heartbeat," she said. "It was the most welcoming and friendly environment that you could imagine. Everyone was so nice, and you know, you have to have a sense of humor through all of this. You have to have some levity through this. Otherwise, it would really, I think, grind on you and wear you out."

The governor's glowing review of herself doesn't come as a surprise to New York comedian Sara Benincasa, who has been mocking Palin in YouTube videos since she signed onto the McCain campaign.

"Palin shows she can be goofy and fun. Clearly we know she's goofy. This will enable her to show that she has a good sense of humor about something other than moose and hockey," Benincasa told ABCNews.com in an interview before Saturday's show. "Inevitably Palin will think she did an awesome job. She lives in a world where everything Sarah does rocks."

Benincasa plans to riff on Palin's "SNL" stint in a video to be posted online later today. While Palin's appearance on "SNL" was, no doubt, a boon to the program, it remains to be seen whether it will matter come Nov. 4. Fey's impression of her is so ingrained in the public consciousness that Palin playing along with the joke now is practically a moot point.

"There's more fake Sarah Palins than fake Elvises," said Bob Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University in New York.

"They've got in Tina Fey an uncanny matchup of comedian to object of impersonation," he said. "There's no way you can listen to Sarah Palin without sending it through all stuff that Tina Fey has been doing. You really have to look twice."

In an interview with ABCNews.com earlier this month, Thompson said he'd love to see the spoofer being spoofed, but he wasn't sure an "SNL" skit would be a smart move for Palin. Unlike Richard Nixon, who probably earned a few votes when he appeared on the '60s comedy show "Laugh In" and uttered its famous line, "Sock it to me," Palin's problem is not likability.

"I think the work she needs to do is not the kind on a comedy show," he said. "It would be great if she could go on a snobby serious discussion show and blow everybody away. You ultimately want to distance her from Tina Fey, not point out how similar they are."

What Fey and some of these other impersonators have done so well is to highlight the very things the mainstream media have been reticent to point out about Palin, according to Thompson.

"Tina Fey's impressions got out there and became delivery systems for the original sources she was making fun of," Thompson said, referring to the Charles Gibson and Katie Couric interviews.

There is a risk, however, that the jokes will backfire. To some extent, they already did by the time of the debate. Thompson said expectations for Palin were so low in part because comedians had done such a good job of highlighting Palin's weaknesses. When it came time for "SNL's" skit on the debate earlier in October, Thompson said it was not nearly as funny as the week before, because neither candidate did anything too outrageous.

There's also the concern that with an Internet filled with Palin impersonators, there could be a kind of "cultural meltdown" where people start to feel like Palin is being picked on. Thompson said it happened with Dan Quayle.

Ultimately, though, the election does not hang in the balance by these fake Palins. "Whoever loses this election will lose for an incredibly complex recipe of reasons," Thompson said. "Tina Fey may be one of the ingredients. Like that little bit of salt in a chocolate chip cookie, she not insignificant."

Check out some of the many Palin impersonators popping up on the Web:

A fake Sarah Palin Facebook page turned up on the HolyTaco.com. In it, Palin's political views were listed as "None -- I'm not very political," and for religious beliefs it said, "Jesusologist." The page also showed that she listed Katie Couric as a friend before dropping her three hours later. On her wall, Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote: "I seen how you be starin at me from across the water." And McCain wrote: "You're a woman right? Are you busy for the next four years?"

Harry Shearer, the creator of "The Simpsons," has also gotten into the act with a music video called "Bridge to Nowhere," which stars wife Judith Owen, singing an ode to that famous symbol of pork-barrel spending, backed by singing salmon and moose. The song's chorus goes: "Bridge to Nowhere, you're under my skin, when my world is at stake, forsaking you is no sin."

A comedian who goes by LisaNova has posted several videos on YouTube. She plays Palin being interviewed by Gibson, debating Biden and getting schooled by Ralph Nader, who plays himself. But in her most popular video, which has been viewed more than 2 million times, she pretends to be Palin getting the phone call from McCain about being his vice presidential pick. "Scream it, John. Say my name. Say it," she shouts into the phone.

There's even a man playing Palin. In his video, Kevin Watts's Palin accepts the nomination to be the next president before correcting himself and adding "the interim vice president." In a press conference, he said, "No I'm not running with the young black one. I'm running with the old one, Don McCain. We met twice."

Donning glasses, single-strand pearls and a down-do in a Web video for Funnyordie.com, actress Gina Gershon playing Palin "sets the record straight" on rumors about the Republican veep pick.

"Like so many of you, I went to five colleges in six years to get my journalism degree," she said directly to the camera. "Barack Obama only went to one."

Gershon as Palin also praised McCain for his leadership: "He met with me for only 15 minutes and then spent another two hours with me and that was it. I was his choice. That's exactly the kind of decision-making we need in the White House."

At the end, Gershon stands up, rips off her blouse and skirt -- revealing a Stars and Stripes bikini and a pageantlike sash that reads "Vice President" -- picks up a rifle and says, "Excuse me, I've got some hunting to do."

For her YouTube videos, the aforementioned Benincasa zeroed in on Palin's unusual accent that both Alaskans and Midwesterners claim as their own. She stars in the videos with comedy partner Diana Saez, who plays Dina Heath-Barr, Palin's fictitious campaign manager/cousin/stylist/nail technician/jazzercise partner.

"Woven into our jokes about moose hunting are some actual salient points about her opposition to women's reproductive rights, in terms of access to abortion and real sex education," Benincasa told ABCNews.com. "Ultimately, we did it just to be funny. We're lampooning a political character that we think is ridiculous in some ways and definitely beneath McCain's caliber."

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