Saturday Night Live too easy on Donald Trump? Just the suggestion might send MAGA hats exploding into the sky, but former cast member Taran Killam says executive producer Lorne Michaels was once intent on making the pre-White House Trump “likable.”
Long before Alec Baldwin puckered up for his orange-faced SNL Trump portrayal, Michaels was trying to get the then-candidate to guest-host the show, recalls Killam on Matt Gourley’s Earwolf podcast I Was There Too.
“Lorne was being so specific about what we could and couldn’t say about [Trump], and he was dictating a lot of the settings.” Killam says (listen below) about a proposed sketch mocking a CNN interview with the candidate.
“Lorne was like, ‘It’ll be too old news by then, and you know, you don’t want to vilify him. He’s like any New York taxi driver. I know him, I’ve seen him around at parties for years and years, and he just says whatever it is he’s thinking. And that’s his thing. But you have to find a way in that makes him likable.’”
Killam, currently starring in ABC’s Single Parents, says he was confused about the soft-touch approach. “I was like, what is happening? What? Everybody that I know and respect was, like, this guy [Trump] is a bad dude, this guy is a buffoon.” When he soon saw Trump’s name on the board for upcoming guest hosts, “It was like, Oh, ok, that’s why. I see.”
Trump hosted the show on Nov. 7, 2015.
By that time, with head writer Seth Meyers having left the show for Late Night, SNL had become a “difficult, challenging, competitive and exhausting environment” and “less of a happy place to be.”
Meyers, Killam says, “was the last person [at SNL] who I witnessed really collaborate with Lorne, as opposed to just kind of do what Lorne says.”
The next turning point arrived in 2015 when SNL celebrated its 40th anniversary when so many of the show’s legendary cast members and guest hosts returned – for a moment. “It was exciting and it was flattering” for Michaels, says Killam, but then it “was back to this cast who’s all 40 years younger than you and aren’t as famous as Tina Fey yet.”
“My experience was that he became very impatient,” says Killam, who had joined the cast in 2010 and was let go just before the 2016-17 season began.
Killam says his early weeks on SNL were fairly stress-free, but that his successful imitation of Eminem raised the stakes and the pressure.
In the podcast, Killam also talks about his roles in 12 Years a Slave, Broadway’s Hamilton and directing Arnold Schwarzenegger in Killing Gunther. The SNL-Trump memories begin to arrive about 45 minutes in, beginning with his hiring. “Fear didn’t exist,” he remembers. “You can’t believe it. It’s a golden ticket.” And check out the killer Seth Meyers imitation at 33:15. (Meyers guest hosts SNL this weekend).