There’s no video with more viral potential than a well-timed political sketch. Sure, anyone on the Internet can bust out Donald Trump’s resting squinty face or spice up Hillary Clinton’s laugh. Comedians have mimicked Trump and Clinton for years, but of all the countless parodies, some impressions just stand out. Not only do these comedians absolutely nail the quirks, they build and sustain full characters as times change.
With Clinton and Trump campaigning in earnest, comedians will inevitably be stealing some of the spotlight. Saturday Night Live returns Saturday with Alec Baldwin as Trump and Kate McKinnon as Clinton, so here’s a look at eight of the best Trump and Clinton impressions of all time, from Anthony Atamanuik’s fearless Trump to McKinnon’s broad Clinton.
Write to Ashley Hoffman at Ashley.Hoffman@time.com.
The show’s charming, Emmy-winning star serves up a maniacal Clinton underneath the woman who’s seemingly “got it together” — crazy ambition eyes and all. It’s one of SNL’s funniest political sendups since Will Ferrell’s nuanced Broadway-bound George Bush caricature. Like Ferrell, McKinnon has proved she has tricks up her sleeve for all the impression-based bits that made her a MVP on the show. When Amy Poehler, who previously played Clinton on SNL, passed her the torch, McKinnon went in an entirely new direction.
As the kind of public servant who even dreams productively, she’s finally so close to the presidency she can taste it. When Clinton herself guest starred on the show, SNL didn’t shy away from Clinton’s late embrace of gay marriage or the e-mail investigation, but it’s all affectionate. “I just try to channel her staunchness and sweetness at the same time,” McKinnon told TIME. The Ghostbusters star will still be on hand to play the nominee on SNL this fall, and Clinton has endorsed the impression most recently after McKinnon won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.
Most Clinton impressionists play up a candidate who can seem overly eager to connect to the public. But during her time on SNL, Amy Poehler didn’t try to exaggerate Clinton’s voice or go for robotic disaffection. Instead, her interpretation of the then-Secretary of State is less impression, more cleverly written sensible character who repressed all human emotion about Barack Obama or Sarah Palin’s success until she couldn’t stand it anymore so she’d snap off a chunk of the podium wood mid-speech. Poehler played Clinton stiff but approachable.
Ana Gasteyer’s frank delivery and rousing voice during her time on SNL made for a relatively accurate Clinton impression. This performance was at its finest when she was dead set on proving that she just loved making toast for her family. She never magnified Clinton’s quirks, but her relationship with Bill was ripe for direct parody. She was all business as she made her bid for the U.S. Senator in a spotlight war with her goofball husband.
On The Tonight Show, host Jimmy Fallon is in top form as a self-congratulatory Trump who peppers in reminders that he might actually be totally self-aware. His take is mostly Trump lite: a mogul with a yell-happy strategy, cocky smack-talk in a New York accent and he’ll always throw in a mention of something “huge” to draw the biggest laughs. The most scathing it gets is his insistence that a wall is the ideal solution for every problem facing America, an answer Fallon’s Trump finds amazing—like the host finds most things. Sitting among multiple self-portraits, he’s got some seriously nuanced interpretations of Donald’s mouth moves.
Born at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater, Anthony Atamanuik’s parody is sharp, clever and gutsy. What makes his dedication to impersonating Trump unique is that he offers his version of the real person, not some cartoon. With a sense of humor that’s uniquely suited to Trump’s big personality, he milks every Trump idea for everything it’s worth. There’s a ridiculously absurdist premise for all his comedy bait comments (“we need a new moon, badly”) and he even produced his own epic poem about how he imagines the candidate really feels.
But this is no one-off impression: Atamanuik toured in the media-savvy live show Trump vs. Bernie along with his debate opponent Bernie Sanders (the hilarious James Adomian).
Darrell Hammond is so used to knocking out Trump’s requisite beats by now, it’s like watching Trump in action even when SNL’s writing of him doesn’t dig too deep. The comedian has a reservoir of pitch-perfect impressions, and he’s been one of the most physically active Trump impressionists since he took up the mantle in the ’90s back when he was confident he could improve the White House by making it a casino. He luxuriates in the bread and butter of Trumpisms: the grimace and the confident smile, the explanation-light plans and an all-around disdain for people with less money.
Taran Killam took a serious approach to the honor of playing Trump on SNL. After all, he spent a week with the guy and took what he wanted from him: the furrowed brow and the selective zingers. Killam immediately got the self-satisfied grin down, and he got more confident as the show progressed. Killam always hit the mark when he was taking a tour of the people who distress him the most.
In the late ‘80s to early ‘90s the late Hartman played the real estate alpha dog with that signature braggadocio. Sketches were heavy on extravagance (in Trump’s world, stuff was gold) and all of it was prime material for his side-hustle Trump, the board game.
During the Hartman era, the thrill of being filthy rich just didn’t tickle Trump’s fancy anymore, so Hartman rolled his eyes and shrugged at his life of non-stop boredom. (In case you didn’t know how momentous his wealth was, in the Christmas special, they try stringing the tree with diamonds to bring back the sparkle, but it doesn’t work.) For a break from the current Trumpmania, this was classic Donald for a simpler time.