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Live From New York, It's Donald Trump

A photo provided by NBC shows, <em>Saturday Night Live</em> cast member Cecily Strong (left) and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in New York. Trump hosted the show Saturday night.
Dana Edelson
A photo provided by NBC shows, Saturday Night Live cast member Cecily Strong (left) and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in New York. Trump hosted the show Saturday night.

Whether you wanted it or not, Donald Trump, businessman turned reality TV show star, turned presidential candidate, hosted Saturday Night Live this weekend, in a city that seemed to be full of ambivalence over his role.

Trump performed his monologue and skits in a building where just hours prior hundreds of protesters had gathered outside, calling on NBC and SNL to drop him as host. The protest, organized by several Latino advocacy groups, began at Trump Tower in Manhattan Saturday evening.

Police penned in a crowd of a few dozen, shouting against Trump in Spanish and English, as confused tourists walked by the Trump Tower, several stopping to take selfies with police officers. One woman whispered as she passed by, "You know, I agree with Trump." Her granddaughter quickly shushed her. Another man approached the crowd and yelled, "Get a job!"

The crowd of protesters grew as it moved from Trump Tower through midtown Manhattan and gathered at 30 Rock, the headquarters of NBC. Once there, the crowd was met with a small counter protest just across the street. Jill Micah of Long Island held several signs, with slogans like "Americans loves Trump,""Viva Trump 2016," "Build the wall" and "Honk for Trump."

"It's all taken out of context," Micah said of the the businessman's controversial comments about Latinos and immigrants. "It's the press, the media, people like you, but not exactly you," she said, as she pointed towards my microphone. "He said the illegal immigrants who are coming into America, some of them are rapists, some of them are murderers, and some of them are druggies. Yes, that's true!"

Protesters march from Trump Tower to NBC headquarters in New York City on Saturday evening, to protest Donald Trump's appearance as host of <em>Saturday Night Live</em>.
Andrew Renneisen / Getty Images
Getty Images
Protesters march from Trump Tower to NBC headquarters in New York City on Saturday evening, to protest Donald Trump's appearance as host of Saturday Night Live.

When asked whether the protests against Trump would accomplish anything, she looked at those protesters across the street, shook her head, and said, "They lost."

All the protests ended well before the show began, and by the time SNL started, it seemed as if Trump wasn't concerned with any of it. His opening monologue featured Trump flanked by SNL cast members (one current, one former: Taran Killam and Darrell Hammond) impersonating him, with Killam declaring that this monologue was the greatest SNL monologue ever. Classic Trump.

One joke came at the expense of one Latino advocacy group. Leading up to the show, offered a $5,000 bounty to anyone who disrupted Saturday night's SNL episode by shouting that Trump is a racist. Soon after the start of the episode, a voice came through what seemed to be the audience, yelling, "You're a racist!" Trump stopped, said he knew that would happen, and then the camera turned to Larry David (the Curb Your Enthusiasm star who now regularly plays Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on SNL). David had yelled out.

It was all a joke. Trump and SNL had seemingly beat everyone to the punch. And Larry David will get his $5,000 according to a tweet from

Trump's presence in the show was minimal compared to other hosts. He is not a man known for sticking to a script, so it makes sense that he wouldn't be as integral to the show as a host like Justin Timberlake or Miley Cyrus, former Disney stars who grew up reading lines.

But he did try. In one skit, he imagined a future Trump White House, with an aide abruptly entering the Oval Office to let Trump know that the American people were winning too much. In another, he fake-live-tweeted insults about SNL cast members while they performed a skit. And one bit featured Trump, patiently and awkardly waiting for his turn at a solo in a funk band, begging for a chance to show off his laser-harp skills. It was all a good effort, but an Emmy-winning performance this was not.

Simone Ritchie managed to snag a ticket to the dress rehearsal for Saturday night's episode, which took place right before the live broadcast. The college student waited in line outside of 30 Rock for over a day just to get in. Her review of Trump's performance wasn't as critical as that of some journalists. "He seemed like he had a really good sense of humor," Ritchie said of Trump during the dress rehearsal. "Between sketches he'd be dancing around ... He seemed pretty funny."

She acknowledged that on Saturday night, Trump didn't seem presidential at all. "Seeing Trump, it was weird," she said, "because he may be our President. But it seemed like he was getting ready to promote the new season of The Apprentice."

But in some ways, Ritchie pointed out, Trump last night was endearing, even if it all was maybe just a ploy. "Watching Trump, he was pointing at the crowd, smiling, dancing around, you kind of think, 'Wow, this guy is a real person,' but at the same time, that's what politicians do."

Perhaps the most zeitgeist-y moment of Trump's performance Saturday night was a parody of the super-viral music video for the song "Hotline Bling" by the rapper Drake, led by SNL's Jay Pharoah.

In one way it was an outlandish, outsized example of our popular culture's current excess. SNL meets Drake — the most Internet-friendly rapper of our day, a walking meme — meets Donald Trump — a presidential candidate who at times seems bigger than the presidency itself. SNL, and Drake, and Trump, all mashed up together; it was as if pop culture and the Internet gave birth to their own baby, holding this skit up to America like a new parent showing strangers the infant's photos, begging us to say their child is cute.

One of the big discussion points in the aftermath of the Hotline Bling video's release was whether Drake was faking it. Was he dancing in earnest, or trying very hard to pull off whatever you can call those moves? Was he the joke without knowing it, or had he always planned to be the punchline?

Trump operates in that same space. It's hard to tell if you're laughing with Donald Trump or at him, hard to tell if he thinks America loves him or hates him, hard to tell if he's dancing for real or faking it. Whatever the answer, though, it doesn't matter. His SNL hosting gig was only proof of one fact: he's got our attention either way.

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Sam worked at Vermont Public Radio from October 1978 to September 2017 in various capacities – almost always involving audio engineering. He excels at sound engineering for live performances.
Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.