This week marked Alec Baldwin’s 17th time hosting Saturday Night Live, something he has done more than anyone else—his closest rival is Steve Martin, who comes in second at 15 times and hasn’t hosted in more than eight years.
Over the 27 years since Baldwin first hosted SNL (with musical guest The B-52’s, no less), he has been the show’s go-to Tony Bennett, Robert De Niro, and, of course, Pete Schweddy, who famously shared his “Schweddy Balls” with the hosts of NPR’s “Delicious Dish.”
Yet since Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination last summer, Baldwin has become a de facto member of the show’s cast, displaying an unprecedented level of dedication to impersonating the new president. His tour-de-force performance began with his first debate against Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton in October and has continued on into Trump’s troublesome first few weeks in office.
After the epic return of Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer in the cold open, Baldwin walked out onto the stage in Studio 8H and told the crowd, “I know you have seen a lot of me this season, but tonight, I am hosting for the 17th time,” celebrating his “all-time record” with cast member Pete Davidson, who was still three and a half years from being born at the time.
It was not only a Trump-free monologue, but with Baldwin on hand for the whole night, it was almost a Trump-free episode. After a hilarious taped sketch in which Kellyanne Conway went full Fatal Attraction on CNN’s Jake Tapper, Baldwin’s Trump finally appeared, more than an hour into the show’s 90-minute running time.
As promised by McCarthy’s Spicer earlier, Trump appeared in The People’s Court to take on the three judges from the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals who ruled against him on the travel ban.
Asked by the presiding judge if he was aware that he was in a “TV court,” Trump replied, “That’s OK, I’m a TV president.”
“Thank you, judge, or what do you call a lady judge, a flight attendant, something like that?” Trump continued. “I signed a tremendous travel ban. I didn’t read it, but I signed it.” He wanted the “so-called” judges’ ruling overturned, along with $725. When the defendants tried to defend their decision, Trump hit his own gavel on his podium and yelled, “Wrong! Overruled!”
It would have been easy, and more than a bit expected, for Baldwin to play Trump throughout the night in various contexts. Instead, he boldly ceded the stage to a series of female comedians who did the heavy-lifting when it came to critiquing the new administration.
Aside from McCarthy as Sean Spicer, McKinnon was the real star of the show Saturday night, playing not only Conway, but also Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Senator Elizabeth Warren. Then there was Leslie Jones, who appeared late in the show as herself, auditioning to take over as Trump when Baldwin ultimately decides to move on.
President Trump reportedly did not like that his press secretary was being played by a woman because it made him “look weak.” There is absolutely nothing “weak” about Leslie Jones, but somehow it’s hard to imagine that Trump would be cool with her playing him.
By almost entirely eschewing his Trump impression as host, Baldwin did something the real Trump is incapable of: He became a true team player and empowered the women in a meaningful way. In the end, it was the most subversive way to mess with Trump imaginable.