Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump hosted the sketch-comedy show “Saturday Night Live,” defying protesters to make the highly anticipated but controversial primetime television appearance.
Wearing a dark suit, white shirt and red tie, Trump stepped on stage to cheers and insisted in a nearly five-minute opening monologue that saw him flanked by two lookalikes: “People think I’m controversial, but the truth is, I’m a nice guy.”
“It’s wonderful to be here. This is going to be something special,” he said.
Trump, a billionaire real estate developer who has never held elected office, leads the polls along with Ben Carson for the Republican nomination for the 2016 race to the White House and will be hoping that his appearance on the show will cement his status as frontrunner.
But the 69-year-old has courted controversy for his statements on immigration, promising that if he becomes president he will expel immigrants who are in the United States illegally and build a wall along the US-Mexico border.
He has also alleged that Mexico sends rapists and other criminals across the border.
That stance saw Latino community leaders hold a rally Friday in Los Angeles calling on NBCUniversal to drop Trump from “Saturday Night Live.”
And there were more protests Saturday in New York hours before the show was broadcast, with demonstrators marching from Trump Tower to NBC’s studio in Rockefeller Plaza.
There were fears that audience members might seek to heckle Trump over his views and a Hispanic advocacy group had offered a $5,000 reward for anyone that called Trump “racist” during his closely watched opening monologue.
He indeed was interrupted with a cry of “you’re a racist!” — but it turned out to be from comedian Larry David, who co-produced “Seinfeld.”
“Who the hell is –- oh, I knew this was going to happen,” Trump responded in what was clearly a scripted sketch. “Who is that?”
“I heard if I yelled that they’d give me $5,000,” David said, to laughter and applause from the audience.
Other sketches saw Trump poke fun at his own bombastic personality and holding a cabinet meeting as president of the United States, during which he is told the Islamic State extremist group has been defeated.
People in Trump’s America are just “sick of winning,” he is told.
– ‘Nothing better to do’ –
Prior to that, Trump — who has admitted he vetoed some of the skits for being too “risque” — said: “Many of the great have hosted this show. Like me, in 2004.
“A lot of people say: Donald, you are the most amazing guy. You are brilliant, you’re handsome, you’re rich, you have everything going, the world is waiting for you to be president, so why are you hosting Saturday Night Live? Why?
“And the answer is: I really have nothing better to do.”
Trump got plenty of laughs from a sympathetic audience, but that was not enough to satisfy Maureen Ryan, a TV critic with respected show-business daily Variety.
“The fevered lead-up to Donald Trump’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ episode turned out to be more exciting than the edition of the show he hosted,” she wrote.
“Most of the sketches involving Trump were weak, timid or predictable.”
The “racist” sketch with David was one of the few that worked, said Ryan.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, appeared on “Saturday Night Live” last month, playing a sympathetic bartender in a skit that was well received by critics and Clinton supporters.