This weekend, Donald Trump will take a risk few other presidential candidates have taken before when he hosts a live late night comedy show.
The Republican presidential hopeful is scheduled to headline the Nov. 7 episode of “Saturday Night Live,” and while he is far from the first politician to appear on the program, he is one of a very small group of individuals to commit to hosting while actively seeking the presidential nomination. GOPer Steve Forbes hosted in 1996, long after his hopes for victory had faded, and the Rev. Al Sharpton hosted in 2003 before losing the Democratic nomination to John Kerry. (Sharpton is now an MSNBC host.)
In 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney briefly flirted with the idea of hosting, but backed off. Until now, no front-running candidate has ever put themselves in this position and the stakes couldn’t be higher, with Trump’s consistent lead in the polls looking as tenuous as ever.
The difference between Trump and his predecessors is that he is a seasoned performer. Not only has he hosted “Saturday Night Live” before, in 2004, but he starred in his own popular reality series (“The Apprentice” and its spin-off “Celebrity Apprentice”) for over a decade. Trump is known for getting laughs on the stump, especially at the expense of his Republican rivals, but one constituency that isn’t amused are some members of the Latino community, who have applied pressure on MSNBC’s parent company NBCUniversal to cancel Trump’s upcoming hosting gig.
Trump is arguably the most controversial hosting choice on the show in years. And while to a certain extent “SNL” relies on buzzworthy, unpredictable moments – think musical guest Sinead O’Connor’s decision to rip up a photo of the Pope during a 1992 performance – to stay relevant, the kind of heat Trump’s appearance is generating may not be entirely welcome.
The opposition to Trump’s appearance is largely rooted in his oft-repeated, controversial statements on immigration. When Trump launched his bid for the White House this summer, he claimed undocumented immigrants are often “criminals” and “rapists,” a statement he has refused to retract. The resulting uproar led to some high profile businesses to sever ties with Trump, but also appeared to buoy his standing in the GOP primary polls.
His recent appearances on late night talk shows have shown that audiences are tuning in for Trump, and ‘SNL’ will likely see a boost too. Whether it’s Trump fans or detractors, many will be eager to see what material the candidate is willing to perform. If an early pulled promo is any indication, the real estate mogul is game to make fun of fellow candidates to score a few points.
Historically, ‘SNL’ has been a popular stomping ground for candidates to make cameos to prove they have a sense of humor about themselves. Hillary Clinton has already appeared this season in a sketch where she played a fictional bartender named Val. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin made a high profile appearance in 2008 prior to that year’s election alongside her running mate Sen. John McCain (who himself hosted in 2002). And a then-Sen. Barack Obama appeared as himself in a Halloween-themed sketch in 2007 where he boasted about his steadfastness at being himself, even at a costume party.
The tradition of political guest stars on “Saturday Night Live” actually extends back to its debut season 40 years ago. When then-cast-member Chevy Chase’s impression of President Gerald Ford became a breakout hit, the commander-in-chief himself filmed a segment introducing an episode hosted by his press secretary, Ron Nesson. In the ensuing decades, Ralph Nader, George McGovern, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Al Gore and New York City Mayors Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani have all hosted the show – albeit not in the midst of a campaign.
Trump’s penchant for off-the-cuff remarks and unpredictable outbursts makes his hosting foray fraught with tension. Long-time ‘SNL’ fans may recall a similar vibe surrounding a 1990 episode hosted by stand-up comedian Andrew “Dice” Clay. The leather-jacket wearing provocateur was selling out stadiums at the time with his unique brand of crude (and many argued sexist) material. There was enough opposition to his appearance that one female cast-member, Nora Dunn, refused to appear in the show he hosted.
So far, there have been no reports of behind-the-scenes drama regarding Trump’s appearance, but protesters have delivered a petition with over a half a million signatures to NBC while holding a “Dump Trump” rally outside the network’s headquarters in New York City on Nov. 4.
“We believe this individual has been very divisive toward the Latino community,” Brent Wilkes, the national executive director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, told NBC News. “He’s called us rapists, murderers. He’s called us criminals. He’s called us drug dealers. And that’s extremely offensive to us. And there’s no space for someone like that on a comedy show like ‘Saturday Night Live’.” The civil rights organization ColorofChange has echoed the same sentiment, arguing that ”there’s mounting evidence that Donald Trump’s racist demagoguery is resulting in real-world violence, including physical and verbal intimidation, against people of color.”
Meanwhile, his closest rival in the polls, Dr. Ben Carson, has said he wouldn’t host the show himself, because he thinks the “presidency is a very serious thing and I don’t like making light of it like that.” Trump has said that ‘SNL’ producers have been “begging” him to host, and has already predicted his episode will deliver ratings “through the roof.” The real estate mogul has also claimed in an interview on Fox News that he resisted appearing in some of the more “risqué” sketches pitched to him because: “I’m leading in Iowa, I want to stay leading in Iowa.”