“Saturday Night Live” couldn’t return to the studio this weekend without recruiting a big star to play Joe Biden. News that Jim Carrey will temporarily join the cast to portray the Democratic presidential candidate has me reflecting on my Top 10 favorite impersonations of politicians in the show’s 45-year history — and they’re not necessarily the ones you might think.
Fred Armisen as David Paterson
Emphasizing the former New York governor’s partial blindness could have come across as a cruel joke, but there was a sweetness in the way Armisen wandered aimlessly around the “Weekend Update” set. Paterson, who initially balked at the portrayal, eventually came around, appearing as himself in 2010.
Tina Fey as Sarah Palin
The show’s former head writer looked so much like the vice presidential candidate that even Fey’s own daughter had a hard time telling them apart. Fey took full advantage, capturing both the Alaska governor’s guile and gumption in a string of Emmy-nominated appearances.
Will Ferrell as Janet Reno
The comic superstar’s take on George W. Bush would end up on Broadway, but he really found his rhythm as host of “Janet Reno’s Dance Party.” The late attorney general showed she had a fine sense of humor — and some fine moves — when she crashed the basement bash during her last day in office.
Darrell Hammond as Dick Cheney
This longtime cast member, who left in 2009 but remains the show’s announcer, may have turned in more political impersonations than anyone in “SNL” history. But he peaked with his interpretation of the vice president as a James Bond villain. While Phil Hartman tackled the controversial politician first, Hammond took it to the next level.
Norm MacDonald as Bob Dole
The “Weekend Update” anchor didn’t appear in a ton of sketches and he barely altered his normal speaking voice when he did. But there was something devilish in the way he approached the Kansas senator, suggesting that at any moment he might turn around and moon the audience.
Dana Carvey as Ross Perot
The show’s standout star for seven seasons became best known for his affectionate take on George H.W. Bush, but his impersonation of Perot was more hilarious, imagining the former presidential candidate as the Church Lady with elephant ears. Any signs of sympathy went out the window.
Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump
This isn’t so much an impression as it is a takedown. The Oscar-nominated actor does nothing to hide his hatred of the current president, casually dropping racist and sexist asides as if he were ordering a Diet Coke. No wonder Trump often goes on a Twitter rant after one of Baldwin’s guest appearances.
Matt Damon as Brett Kavanaugh
The show’s recent habit of having big stars cameo as politicos got old the minute Robert De Niro was recruited to read cue cards in Robert Mueller makeup. But Damon’s one-time appearance as the Supreme Court Justice justified the stunt. You can practically see fire coming out of Damon’s nostrils.
Maya Rudolph as Kamala Harris
Rudolph just won an Emmy for her portrayal last season of the California senator, so expect more pop-ins from the former cast member now that Harris is on the Democratic ticket. No matter how well Carrey delivers as Biden, he’ll have a hard time not getting overshadowed by his running mate.
Kate McKinnon as anyone she wants
For my money, Kristen Wiig and Eddie Murphy had the two greatest runs in “SNL” history. But McKinnon is nipping at their heels, thanks to her layered performances as Hillary Clinton, Jeff Sessions, Rudy Giuliani and Kellyanne Conway. Don’t be surprised if she has a special tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Saturday’s season opener.