Now that Mitt Romney has well and truly locked up the Republican presidential nomination, his real work begins! Next up: convincing the world that he is not, in fact, a business robot from the future programmed to terminate factory workers’ jobs while looking exactly as unruffled as a TV movie president is supposed to. According to reports, Lorne Michaels has (perhaps somewhat cynically) given Romney the chance to prove his regular guy-ness by offering him a guest spot on SNL. And, Maureen Dowd wrote in her Times column yesterday, he’s actually considering it.
Now, some may Romney’s Top Ten moment on Letterman several weeks ago, where he proved to us that he can say “gangsta” with a surprisingly natural panache and can even cock his head to the side with just the right amount of quizzicality. He did, however, have a hard time trying for funny and moving his arms (which hung limply by his side throughout the entire segment) at the same time. Still, it proved that he was up for a little self-mockery, albeit about his luscious hair. (“It’s a headpiece,” he joked.) But can Romney jab at his own stiff-as-his-starched-shirts persona?
So far this season, Jason Sudeikis — who may be on his last few episodes — has been doing a solid Romney, improved by the jolting nature of the dialogue written for him. His Romney methodically and deliberatively fired his various breakfast foods at Jim-Bob’s Kitchen in Aiken, done his very best to “not appear ill at ease” in a rich man’s study, even unbuttoned his suit jacket in a “raw and unleashed” moment, and dutifully pretended he cared for any number of random places that we all know he wished he’d never set foot in.
To succeed, Romney will either have to one-up Sudeikis’ Romney with just the right amount of perfectly-timed winking, to let us know he’s in on the joke, or actually look comfortable in some other character’s skin. The latter is unlikely, and even the former may be a challenge for our frontrunner. Speaking to Dowd, SNL writer Jim Downey spoke of the “creepy youth minister kind of squareness to [Romney], especially combined with that goofy eagerness to please.” If he does decide to take the plunge, Romney will likely read his lines with so much eager gusto that rather than come off as endearingly self-deprecating, he’ll just come off as himself: laced-up and just trying too hard.
Still, dropping by SNL could ultimately do more good than harm. He’ll never be as memorable as a Sarah Palin with her many, erm, qualities or even John McCain who, though grizzled and curmudgeonly, still retained a certain jokiness, but at least we’ll know he gets it. And, honestly, he really wasn’t all that bad on Letterman. Downey even granted that he’d been — wait for it — “funny.”