Saturday Night Live took home nine Emmys on Sunday night — the most of any show this year — including a supporting actress win for cast member Kate McKinnon and the show’s victory over other variety sketch series.
Two other SNL awards were won by former cast members who returned to take on political roles: Alec Baldwin’s supporting actor in a comedy series win for his take on President Donald Trump, and Melissa McCarthy’s guest actress in a comedy series Emmy for playing former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Having former cast members come back in guest roles it not a new concept to the show — Tina Fey returned to SNL in 2008 to play then–vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and in 2015 Amy Poehler made a guest appearance as the ghost of 2008 Hillary Clinton.
Former SNL cast member Andy Samberg told The Bill Simmons Podcast this week that it was a little strange to see guests consistently take such big roles, but sometimes the popularity of a character (like McCarthy’s Spicer impression) makes a reprisal necessary.
“It takes a while generally for cast members to get the audience on their side,” Samberg said. “You have a cast that … because the show got so much attention the last few years, the audience now knows them and is pulling for them. … But no one knew that Melissa [McCarthy] coming in and doing Spicer was gonna be something that she did more than once, I don’t think. That was my assumption.”
Baldwin’s role was slightly different, in that the show consciously decided he would be the recurring Trump. After using both Darrell Hammond and Taran Killam to play Trump after he announced his candidacy, Baldwin was inserted into the role after October 2016.
“They announced it with Baldwin. But … I don’t know, it worked,” Samberg said. “I’m sure there’s someone in that cast that was like, ‘I have a Trump.’ [But] what are you gonna say? When you work there, it happened all the time. … Tina [Fey] would come in to do Palin, and we were grateful for it because it got so much attention for the show and she was great at it. Just like Alec is great at it.”
Sometimes these returning roles are born from popularity (like McCarthy’s viral performance), and other times they’re born from necessity. And, every once in awhile, they happen because they’re seemingly preordained.
“As [SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels] tells it, the day after they announced [Palin], like five different people came up to him and said, ‘Mr. Michaels, what a gift. She looks just like Tina,’” Samberg said. “There are moments like that where, that’s why he’s Lorne. … He’s like, ‘You know, this moment calls for Alec doing this, and that’s the way it’s gonna go.’ And it worked.”