October 18, 2008 / 11:35 AM / 10 years ago

Sarah Palin to step into Tina Fey's satirical den

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sarah Palin steps into the lion’s den of political satire on Saturday with an appearance on the comedy show that has mocked the Republican vice-presidential candidate and helped shape the national debate.

Actress Tina Fey accepts the "Individual Achievement in Comedy" for her work on "30 Rock" during the 24th Annual Television Critics Association Awards in Beverly Hills July 19, 2008. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas

Palin’s appearance on “Saturday Night Live” follows a series of dead-on impersonations of her by comedian Tina Fey that have sent ratings for the show soaring and become as talked about as the Alaska governor and self-described hockey mom herself.

Actor Josh Brolin, who captures the Texas swagger and twang of President George W. Bush in the new Oliver Stone biopic “W.”, is expected to join Palin on Saturday’s show, just 17 days before the November 4 election.

“I just want to be there to show Americans that we will rise above the political shots that we take because we’re in this serious business for serious challenges that are facing the good American people right now,” Palin told Neal Boortz, talking about the forthcoming SNL appearance on his syndicated radio show on Friday.

It was not clear whether Fey, the Emmy-award winning star of the TV show “30 Rock” and the movie “Baby Mama”, will reprise her own turn as Palin. Fey’s three skits have boosted “Saturday Night Live” ratings by 50 percent in the past month and attracted more than 38 million viewings live or online.

Fey’s impersonations have included an “I can see Russia from my house” joke skewering what critics see as Palin’s lack of foreign policy knowledge, and a flute-toting bid for a “talent portion” during the vice presidential debate that played on critics’ charges that Palin, a one-time beauty pageant contestant, is too shallow for the vice presidency.

The skits have capped a political season in which comedy has played an influential role.

Palin was a surprise pick by Republican presidential candidate John McCain in August as his running mate, and has been a big hit with conservative Christians who admire her no-nonsense, folksy style. But the choice has been derided by supporters of Democratic candidate Barack Obama, thanks in part to the Fey skits.

“I would expect that the McCain campaign would be much happier if Tina Fey wasn’t so popular with her impersonation of Sarah Palin,” Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst at the University of Southern California, told Reuters.

“It does shape the public perception of Sarah Palin,” Jeffe said.

Democrats Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden have also been lampooned on SNL, and both Obama and McCain have appeared on the show during the long presidential campaign.


Satirical news shows like “The Colbert Report” and Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” along with jokes by late night chat show hosts David Letterman and Jay Leno have gone where straight news reporting has often feared to tread, according to Robert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University.

“We are in a period now that journalists are afraid of being accused of picking on people. Comedy is not only influential but lately it has become an important part of the U.S. civic conversation,” Thompson said.

“What Jon Stewart and Tina Fey are doing is not only hysterically funny, but they really have used comedy to make us ask questions about the things we should be thinking about.”

Thompson said Fey’s skit of Palin’s rambling television interview with journalist Katie Couric was likely seen by more people than the original, which was broadcast in early October as the global economic crisis was seizing the headlines.

“Tina Fey really became the way the entire nation ended up seeing that interview,” he said.

Palin’s standing among Republicans is largely unscathed. A poll last week by HCD Research and Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion found that her favorability rating with Republicans dropped only one percent to 79 percent after seeing Fey’s latest skit.

Palin’s favorability rating among independent voters fell from 37 percent to 33 percent, according to the poll.

Fey has enjoyed the accolades but has said she hopes not to have to play Palin after November 4.

“If she wins, I’m done. I can’t do that for four years. And by ‘I’m done,’ I mean I’m leaving Earth,” Fey said this week.

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