Among Claire Foy’s open, political skits and jokes about Netflix’s overabundance of original content, Saturday Night Live took a moment to make a tribute with uncharacteristic gravitas. The show used the moment to say goodbye to the late President George H.W. Bush, who was frequently lampooned in SNL skits during his time at the White House.
During “Weekend Update,” Michael Che broke from the segment’s typical sarcasm to say, “On a serious note, Friday night, former president George H.W. Bush passed away. He was 94 years old. Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends.”
Co-host Colin Jost added, “That’s right. President Bush, who famously was a warm and gracious man who always understood the power in being able to laugh at yourself. So, take a look.”
This cued up a montage of Bush impersonations by Dana Carvey, deadpanning some of Bush’s more famous lines and gesturing wildly. Carvey’s Bush is one of the defining “characters” of his career.
In a response video also shown (originally aired in 1994), Bush good-naturedly pokes fun at himself, insisting the impression is “bad, it’s bad,” all the while gesturing in Carvey fashion.
Not only was the tribute funny and fitting, but it also speaks to an even more remarkable backstory that exemplifies the good humor Bush was known for.
In December 1992, then-President Bush had been defeated by Bill Clinton and was preparing to leave the White House. To say goodbye to his staff, or so it seemed, Bush asked everyone to report to the East Room for a Christmas greeting.
Only, Bush wasn’t the person who walked into the room full of waiting staff. Instead, it was Carvey, whom Bush had secretly summoned to come roast him.
Video captured by C-SPAN shows Bush and his wife, Barbara Bush, laughing and cheering along with the staff as Carvey cracked jokes at the president’s expense.
“Dana has given me a lot of laughs,” Bush said once he took the podium. “He said to me on the phone, ‘Are you sure you really want me to come there?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘I hope I’ve never crossed the line.’ I knew exactly what he meant and as far as I’m concerned, he never has.”
Bush then added, “The fact that we can laugh at each other is a very fundamental thing.”
That moment led to a lifelong friendship between Bush and the comedian who once made fun of him for a living. Following the news of Bush’s death, Carvey issued a poignant statement about his unlikely pal.
“It was an honor and a privilege to know and spend time with George H.W. Bush for over 25 years,” Carvey said in the statement. “When I think of those times, what I remember most is how hard we would laugh. I will miss my friend.”