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How comedy’s depiction of Hillary Clinton has transformed over the years

Loose Canon: Hillary Clinton (Screenshot: YouTube)

Hillary Clinton has been a public figure for decades now, first coming to the attention of the nation during her husband’s successful bid for the 1992 presidency, following up as first lady, senator, secretary of state, and now presidential candidate. But there has been little consistency in the way she has been portrayed in popular culture. The numerous actresses who play her can’t even seem to reach a consensus about her accent or her mannerisms, let alone her personality or motivations. YouTuber Lindsay Ellis, once the host of The Nostalgia Chick, has devoted an episode of her new series Loose Canon to the many ways in which sketch shows, sitcoms, and animated series have depicted Clinton over the years.

“A full half of this-ish will be more or less the history of Hillary on SNL,” Ellis admits, “but that in and of itself is an interesting history worthy of discussion.” Clinton has been played on the immortal NBC sketch show by such actresses as Jan Hooks, Janeane Garofalo, Ana Gasteyer, Vanessa Bayer, Amy Poehler (the longest reigning HRC), and the incumbent Kate McKinnon. But there are also clips from South Park, Roseanne, Freakazoid, Celebrity Deathmatch, and more. One of the more interesting side trips here involves the durable career of Teresa Barnwell, billed as “America’s top Hillary Clinton impersonator.”

From the beginning, attorney Clinton identified herself as “career gal” and was more actively involved in politics than past first ladies, even being perceived by many as a kind of “co-president” with her husband. This had a definite effect on SNL, where Hooks was the first to inhabit the role, and even on Animaniacs, where both Clintons were included on a roll call of presidents. In those early days, Clinton was briefly thought of as more popular than her husband. After the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Clintons’ marriage was perceived as something more like The Honeymooners or The Flintstones: Clinton was a smart but shrewish wife with an irresponsible lout of a husband. She also started to acquire a reputation as being “over-ambitious” and “power hungry,” a theme that would only intensify as Clinton sought elected office for herself. Ellis says current SNL Clinton Kate McKinnon is her favorite fictional Clinton, largely because McKinnon plays her like something out of Invader Zim.


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