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Most politicians have a love-hate relationship with Saturday Night Live. The NBC sketch comedy series has been poking fun at elected officials — with various degrees of brutality — since it premiered in 1975, and savvy presidential candidates know that studio 8H is a pivotal stop on the road to the White House. But most of those appearances are dutiful at best (see: Barack Obama in 2013) and disastrous at worst (see, or rather, don’t: Donald Trump in 2015).
One notable exception: Senator John McCain. The longtime Arizona senator and two-time presidential candidate — who died on August 25 at age 81 after battling brain cancer since 2017 — took the stage at Saturday Night Live several times over the years, and each time, he looked like he was having a gosh-darned blast. Take a look back at his three most memorable SNL moments.
“To Love, Honor and Stalk” (Oct. 19, 2002)
McCain was the first sitting senator to ever host SNL, and while he played himself (and other politicians, like then-Attorney General John Ashcroft) in several sketches, he also fully committed to some sheer nonsense — with hilarious results. In this Lifetime movie parody, Amy Poehler stars as a woman whose husband, played by McCain, continually invades her personal space — whether she’s in the shower, coming in the front door, or even on the witness stand testifying against him. Simply managing to stand uncomfortably close to Poehler without breaking for the entire length of this sketch would be a victory for most hosts, but McCain drove the jokey melodrama home with his creepy grin and weaselly line-readings. (“Shall I loofah your back?”)
“McCain in One” (May 17, 2008)
Two months after winning the Republican party nomination for president, the 72-year-old Senator addressed the nation from Rockefeller Center. “I ask you, what should we be looking for in our next president? Certainly, someone who is very, very, very old.” He went on to spoof his reputation as a political maverick by boasting about reducing Arizona’s length of paved roadway to less than 900 miles, and forcing residents of the state to drive to New Mexico if they want to mail a letter. McCain delivered the speech with a winning earnestness and subtle comic timing, proving once again that he understood the value of self-parody when it came to winning the hearts and minds of the American people.
“John McCain and Sarah Palin do QVC” (Nov. 1, 2008)
Three days before the presidential election, McCain returned — alongside Tina Fey as his much-mocked running mate, Sarah Palin — for one last SNL hurrah. In a send-up of Barack Obama’s expensive 30-minute campaign ad, which ran on several broadcast and cable networks, McCain and Fey’s Palin talked up their potential administration (and some quality products) for the QVC audience. With his good-natured sales pitches for things like “McCain’s Fine Gold” (featuring a cameo from Cindy McCain) and self-deprecating humor (“I’m a true maverick — a Republican without money”), the Senator held his own with comedy veteran Fey and generated plenty of laughs himself.