Hey, SNL: Jim Carrey’s Joe Biden Just Isn’t Working
The physical comedian’s manic energy is all wrong for boring old Biden. Bring back Jason Sudeikis already!
Some years back, Jim Carrey’s team reached out to me about placing an op-ed in The Daily Beast. The piece, written by Carrey, discussed the supposed dangers of vaccines, including the MMR vaccine, and connected them to autism. We chose to err on the side of settled science and rejected the column, viewing it as irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst—given that the medical community has roundly concluded vaccines are safe and do not cause autism. Carrey eventually placed the column in The Huffington Post, an outlet that ran an extraordinary number of anti-vaxx pieces (and has since taken many of them down).
While a number of other celebrities have flirted with or outright endorsed anti-vaxx conspiracies—including Donald Trump, who tweeted in 2014, “Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes - AUTISM. Many such cases!”—Carrey has made it his cause célèbre, penning op-eds, firing off tweets to his millions of followers (including one where he used a photo—and misrepresented the diagnosis of—an autistic boy without their consent), hosting an anti-vaxx march on Washington, and calling Gov. Jerry Brown a “fascist” over a 2015 California vaccination law. He’s become the Hollywood face of the anti-science movement, which is why it’s rather strange that Saturday Night Live chose to cast him as the foil to Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump.
We are still in the throes of a global pandemic that has claimed over 220,000 Americans, thanks in no small part to President Trump’s careless response to COVID-19—one that prioritized his re-election hopes over people’s lives. And, as we enter the election home stretch, his Democratic opponent Joe Biden has repeatedly cast himself as the pro-science candidate who will “listen to the scientists.” This juxtaposition was on full display during Carrey’s Oct. 3 SNL debut—a reenactment of the first presidential debate between Trump and Biden.
Toward the end of the sketch, Carrey’s Biden whipped out a remote control and paused Baldwin’s Trump so that America could “bask in the Trumplessness.” Then, he turned to the camera to address viewers directly: “Look at me. Look directly into my eyeballs. You can trust me because I believe in science and karma. Now, just imagine if science and karma could somehow team up and send us all a message about how dangerous this virus can be.”
“I’m not saying I want it to happen. Just imagine if it did,” he continued. “So this November, please get on the Biden train, which is literally a commuter train to Delaware, and we can all make America not actively on fire again.”
To see Carrey cosplay as a paragon of medical responsibility, even uttering the words, “I believe in science,” struck a discordant note, to say the least.
Then there’s the little matter of the impression itself. To see Carrey in old-man prosthetics on a sketch-comedy show will inevitably draw comparisons to his iconic Fire Marshall Bill character on In Living Color. And, while Carrey is a lithe, manic comic—one of the greatest physical comedians of all-time—his bouncing-off-the-walls Fire Marshall Bill shtick is the polar opposite of Biden’s sleep-inducing hebetude. The decision to kick off Saturday’s cold open with a feverish TikTok dance didn’t offer any sort of comedic riff on Biden, who isn’t prone to taking big, embarrassing swings at pop-cultural relevancy a la Hillary Clinton, and who would never in a million years possess the stamina to pull off such a feat—all audiences saw was Carrey doing his thing. Even when he is more contained, as in his recent SNL bit painting as Bob Ross, his Biden seems like an old ball of energy ready to burst forth.
If Saturday Night Live was intent on introducing a new, big-name celebrity as Biden for the final weeks of the election, they perhaps could have leaned into the qualities that make Biden fodder for comedy—like the fact that he’s very old and gaffe-prone, and cast, say, Mel Brooks. But it’s really a silly question when the show had a great Joe Biden already in Jason Sudeikis.
Sudeikis naturally excels at playing awkward, average-Joe men imbued with a spectacularly false sense of bravado, and his Biden perfectly captured the essence of a guy whose Twitter bio reads: “Loves ice cream, aviators & @amtrak.” His Biden—replete with big ol’ shiny chompers—was loud at the wrong moments, confrontational, and a little bit creepy.
“Just when you think your lead is safe, my numbers are going to sneak up and surprise you with a nice, sweet kiss on the neck,” he boasted during a send-up of February’s Democratic debate.
Like the real Biden, he had a quasi-maniacal laugh and would regularly spew out car salesman-y phrases or word salad—what’s come to be known as “Bidenisms.” Take the time during that same debate when Biden took credit for creating the Jamaican bobsled team, or when he held Fred Armisen’s Obama captive in the Oval Office with his tall tales of greatness, whilst lamenting how the president didn’t remember to get him a duty-free Toblerone during his tour of the Middle East.
A couple of months ago, Sudeikis explained to Stephen Colbert how he captured Biden. “For a long time there… it was just putting in those fake teeth and talking real loud and saying old-timey words, like hootenanny and malarkey,” he said.
Sometimes less is more.