Sunday, June 16, 2024
'SNL' comedian James Austin Johnson imitates Trump in Chicago.

‘SNL’ comedian James Austin Johnson imitates Trump in Chicago.

“Saturday Night Live’s Influence on Portrayals of Presidents”

Over the years, “Saturday Night Live” has played a significant role in shaping public perception of the nation’s leaders through its portrayals of presidents. From Chevy Chase’s pratfalling Gerald Ford to Dana Carvey’s rendition of George H.W. Bush and Will Ferrell’s portrayal of his son George W. Bush, these comedic impressions have left a lasting impact.

One comedian who has joined the ranks of SNL’s presidential impersonators is James Austin Johnson. At 33 years old, he finds himself in the unique position of portraying two presidents who are constantly making headlines: Donald Trump and Joe Biden. However, it is Johnson’s humorous and absurd interpretation of Trump that has garnered the most attention. His newfound fame has led him to embark on a national comedy tour called “The Age of JAJ,” including four shows at The Den Theatre in Chicago.

The Unique Comedy Scene in Chicago

Johnson expresses his appreciation for Chicago’s comedy scene, noting that the city’s residents have a genuine love for comedy that sets it apart from New York and Los Angeles. He credits the city’s great public transit system, which allows people to enjoy themselves at comedy shows without worrying about driving home. Johnson compares the atmosphere to Canadian cities, where there is an embrace of laughter and beer that is distinct and refreshing.

Originally from Nashville, Johnson’s journey into comedy began at a young age. He recalls his first celebrity impression as a three-year-old, imitating Stevie Wonder by bobbing his head whenever sunglasses were put on him. Over time, Johnson has developed a repertoire of “30 to 40” impressions, not limited to presidents but also encompassing various singers.

Evolution of Johnson’s Trump Impression

Johnson started performing stand-up comedy at the age of 14 but only incorporated impressions into his act five years ago. It was during this time that he began parodying Trump, aiming to offer a unique take on the former president compared to the popular impressions by “SNL’s” Alec Baldwin and others.

To capture Trump’s essence, Johnson emphasizes the importance of finding a hook or keyword that helps him tap into the character’s speech pattern and mindset. However, he decided to deviate from solely mimicking Trump’s actual words. Recognizing that a significant portion of the country had strong negative reactions to Trump’s speeches, Johnson wanted to create a comedic portrayal divorced from the more contentious aspects of Trump’s presidency.

By abstracting Trump’s persona and infusing it with silliness and absurdity, Johnson found a way to satirize the former president while injecting his own brand of comedy. He began imagining Trump discussing topics like Radiohead and “Final Fantasy VII” wizards, using Trump’s distinctive speech patterns and mannerisms in unexpected contexts.

Johnson’s approach to impersonating Trump is not about preaching or influencing public opinion. Instead, he aims to provide a lighthearted escape during tumultuous times in history.


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