Over the weekend, NBC’s Saturday Night Live returned for its 46th (!) season with a cold open mocking the presidential debate. The sketch saw Alec Baldwin return to the role of President Trump while introducing Jim Carey as Joe Biden. As it turns out, there was some brief internal debate as to whether or not the pre-written sketch would air following Friday’s announcement that the President had tested positive for COVID-19.
In a 14-minute Instagram video, Baldwin explains how NBC and the SNL creative team ultimately decided to move forward with the sketch and even poke fun at Trump’s diagnosis. Namely, they took their cues from the White House.
“We only have the words of the White House itself and the people who work there themselves to go on, and all of them have all been saying he isn’t in any danger,” Baldwin said. “We only have their word to go by. And if their word was that he was in serious trouble, then we probably wouldn’t have done it.”
The sketch was peppered with updated jokes mocking Trump’s positive test and the current administration’s handling of the coronavirus in general. Baldwin-as-Trump even deadpans that the “China Virus has been very mean to me by being a hoax, and that statement will not come back to haunt me later this week.”
The actor argues that the debate and subsequent COVID outbreak in the White House falls under the “topical” commentary category and is fair game as relevant news. He also suggests that there were conversations with NBC executives surrounding the issue prior to air. Though SNL is famously left-leaning in its politics, Baldwin stresses in the video that the show would not have moved forward with the sketch had Trump’s prognosis been worse.
“If there was ever the suggestion that Trump was truly, gravely ill, and people said, ‘Trump is really in trouble,’ then I would bet you everything I have that we wouldn’t even get near that, in terms of content of the show,” the actor said. “They would have done something else. I’ve seen that happen before.”
The season opener was hosted by Chris Rock and featured musical guest Megan Thee Stallion. The episode scored SNL its biggest premiere audience in four years with 7.765 million viewers overall.