Pop Culture

From Palin to Clinton, 'Saturday Night Live's' 10 funniest political impressions

From Chevy Chase's conceptual take on Gerald Ford to Jay Pharoah's pitch-perfect characterization of Barack Obama, "Saturday Night Live" has reveled in its impersonations of political figures for the past 40 years.

Dozens of these impressive impressions were highlighted in a montage featured on the "SNL" 40th-anniversary special that aired in February.

This season, the show wasted no time jumping into the latest political headlines, even including a guest appearance from Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Here are 10 of the series' funniest political impressions, listed in chronological order:

1. Chevy Chase as Gerald Ford

During "SNL's" first season, Chase offered a unique approach on the commander-in-chief that favored klutzy and odd behavior over the wigs, prosthetics and vocal affectation. Despite the visual and audible inaccuracies, Chase's take more than made up for them with an abundance of laughter, solidifying political satire as one of the show's hallmarks.

2. Phil Hartman as Ronald Reagan

One of "SNL's" all-time greats, Hartman transcended the president's passive public persona to reveal a far more proactive version in the brilliant 1986 sketch, "Mastermind." While revealing complicated details about an international operation to his staff, he's interrupted to meet with a Girl Scout who's sold the most cookies — prompting Hartman's Reagan to mutter, "This is the part of the job I hate."

3 (tie). Dana Carvey as George H.W. Bush and H. Ross Perot

In addition to Carvey's attachment of the catchphrases "It's bad! It's bad!" or "Nah [not] gah [gonna] do it" to George H.W. Bush, Carvey captured the cadence of presidential candidate H. Ross Perot during the same election campaign season. The master impressionist was so celebrated for each that he pretaped one of his roles while playing both politicians in a live debate sketch that aired in 1992.

4. Norm Macdonald as Bob Dole

Macdonald's cantankerous lampooning of Bill Clinton's 1996 presidential election opponent may have inspired Dole's decision to confront the former Weekend Update anchor about it on the air. The Dole-on-Dole moment even made "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels do something he rarely does during an "SNL" episode: break character.

5. Darrell Hammond as Bill Clinton

While Hartman, too, captured Clinton's drawl and charisma, Hammond's longevity as a cast member (1995-2009, plus additional cameos as a guest star and announcer) has allowed viewers to see a remarkable evolution in the presidential character as shaped by national and international news.

6. Will Ferrell as George W. Bush

Ferrell's impression can be summed up in one nonexistent word: "Strategery."

7. Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton

Even Hillary Clinton, then a senator vying for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2008, had to giggle at Poehler's demonstrative take on the candidate's laughter while the two shared the "SNL" stage. The eventual winner of that election, Barack Obama, played himself on "SNL," opposite Poehler and Hammond's versions of Hillary and Bill Clinton, respectively.

8. Fred Armisen as David Paterson

One of "SNL's" most controversial impressions, Armisen's interpretation of former New York Gov. David Paterson, who's visually impaired, irked some members of the blind community. But beyond the sight gags that had Armisen's Paterson missing his mark and obstructing camera views on the Weekend Update set, the character's one-liners — especially those at the expense of New Jersey — delivered plenty of laughs and prevented the bit from being one-note. The real Paterson wound up joining Armisen on the show to be in on the joke.

9. Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

When 2008 Republican nominee announced Sarah Palin would be his running mate, the aesthetic comparisons to "SNL" alumna Tina Fey were immediate. Although Fey had left the show in 2006, she returned to play the former Alaska governor with vigor on multiple occasions, most memorably in a sketch that featured her Palin and Poehler's Hillary Clinton.

10. Jay Pharoah as Barack Obama

Although Pharoah joined the "SNL" cast in 2010, it wasn't until 2012 that he succeeded Armisen as the show's primary Obama impersonator — thanks largely to an uncanny ear and attention to mannerism detail. In Pharoah's first sketch as the president, Armisen — playing a different character — helped pass the torch by joking, "I wouldn't want his job, right?"

Honorable mentions: Dan Aykroyd as Jimmy Carter; Phil Hartman as Bill Clinton and James Stockdale; Darrell Hammond as Al Gore, Dick Cheney, and (retroactively) Donald Trump; Jason Sudeikis as Joe Biden and Mitt Romney; Bobby Moynihan as Chris Christie; and Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton.

Follow TODAY.com writer Chris Serico on Twitter.

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