Just how long has Donald Trump been infiltrating the zeitgeist? Well, back in 1991 there was a parody of him on, of all TV shows, Saved by the Bell. Yep, somehow Trump’s outsized personality was deemed familiar enough that even a children’s show in the ’90s thought its young audience would laugh to see it roasted.
When we mentioned the bit to Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who played Zack Morris on Saved by the Bell, at the end of an interview about his new Fox series The Passage, his eyes just about bulged out of his head. “We did?!” he exclaimed. “Really? Back in ’91?!”
The Trump reference comes in a fantasy sequence in which Elizabeth Berkley’s Jessie Spano is a contestant on a fictional Blind Date game show hosted by Gosselaar as Zack. Each of her three potential matches are based on ghastly figures from pop culture: “Teddy” Kreuger, spoofing the Nightmare on Elm Street villain; “Mason” Voorhess, riffing on the Friday the 13th baddie; and “the richest kid in the world,” named “Donald Chump.”
Dustin Diamond, who normally played Screech on the series, is in costume wearing a power suit as Chump, tossing fake money in the air.
Gosselaar, who didn’t remember the sequence after we recounted it to him, was shocked that Trump was at a point in his career that supported a spoof like that. “I’m trying to think like where he was” in terms of his public persona in 1991, he says, scratching his head. We venture that it was around the time Trump was making cameos in movies like Home Alone 2 (the movie in fact came out in 1992) suggesting there was a broader pop culture awareness of him at the time.
“He definitely wasn’t on my own radar until later than ’91,” Gosselaar says, trying to get a handle on what the joke was. “Do they have his hair and stuff?” he asks. Not really, we tell him, but he’s holding wads of fake cash, as a way of mocking him as a money-grubbing egotist. “No shit,” he says.
In the end, we both settle on it being surprising that Trump was considered big enough even then that he would be recognizable to an audience that young, to the extent that they would have judgments about his personality that made the “Donald Chump” joke funny.
Gosselaar isn’t surprised that he doesn’t remember the episode. He finds himself routinely apologetic to fans who ask him about specific episodes and moments. “The thing is, you’re a kid so you’re not sentimental about a thing. I don’t remember a fucking thing from that show. I watch clips and I’m like, wow, we did that?”
After one more baffled head shake over the Trump scene, he pledges that “now I’m going to go down that rabbit hole.” Mark-Paul, if you’ve emerged from the rabbit hole with any more surprising Saved by the Bell references to future reality-star leaders of the free world, please reach out!
Our full feature on Mark-Paul Gosselaar will publish Sunday.