Q. I wonder what you think of Jim Carrey as Joe Biden. I was really looking forward to seeing him on “Saturday Night Live,” but I think he’s awful.
A. It’s a strange impression, and I mostly dislike it. On the one hand, there are moments when Carrey looks uncannily like Biden, and his voice is often pitched at a perfectly Biden level of righteousness, folksiness, uncle-ness, and empathy. Carrey channels the vice president more accurately than Jason Sudeikis, whose Biden was amusing but not particularly precise. Plus, he is Jim Carrey, and his energy comes through the screen and demands your attention.
But it’s that energy, among other things, that gets in the way of his success. Carrey has chosen to infuse his Joe with some of the manic physical clowning that he uses in his comedic work. On last week’s show, he had his very jolly Biden doing a dance of sorts, using his fingers as if they were guns. Maybe a decade or two ago, with a younger Biden, that kind of intensity would have worked, I don’t know. But now, it’s a misguided choice that makes me think more about Carrey and his style than about Biden while I’m watching. He is trying to be funny too broadly and aggressively, rather than sinking into the smaller, more distinctive Biden quirks.
Perhaps Carrey is working too hard to make the best of the bad scripts? Some of my dissatisfaction with Carrey does come down to the writing, which, in the first three cold opens of the season, has been predictable and worse. Maybe the writers think pulling Maya Rudolph’s far better Kamala Harris out of nowhere in a sketch, as a kind of deus ex machina, can solve everything. But it can’t. Is Biden hard to satirize without relying on the clichés about how he’s old and rambling? The writers don’t seem to have found a more creative way to goof on him, and they haven’t sharpened their sketches enough to give them real bite.
I’m hoping that, if Biden wins the election, Lorne Michaels will help Carrey tone his impression down — that, or find someone else to take it over for the next few years.