The show business of politics

A bumptious self-confidence has taken the Rev. Al Sharpton, ordained at the age of 10, far.

Having failed in runs for mayor of New York and the U.S. Senate, he has raised his sights and is now running for president, although some suspect he is really running for the Rev. Jesse Jackson's unofficial post as Democratic Party powerbroker.

That campaign has now landed Sharpton a spot perhaps more suited to his talents - guest-host NBC's "Saturday Night Live" on Dec. 6. Sharpton has stood out from the eight other Democratic candidates for his wit and energy, and that has helped obscure his past problems with race-baiting and murky finances.

Whatever. "SNL" producer Lorne Michaels invited Sharpton to host the show, and Sharpton told The New York Times, "Lorne and I talked and he assured me that it was going to be apolitical, though there may be some digs at me. I said, 'Fine.' "

He's got that right. On a recent show's "Weekend Update" segment, regular Tina Fey said, "Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark has started giving out Clark bars as souvenirs at his rallies. Not to be outdone, candidate Al Sharpton continues to eat - and be - Nutrageous."

Over its 28 years, "Saturday Night Live" has become curiously intertwined with American politics. Alumnus Al Franken is now a designated harpoonist of the right for liberal Democrats. Before he became governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger's accent - "Vee vill pump you up!" - was relentlessly mocked by both Hans and Franz. And Bill Clinton's attorney general was skewered on "Janet Reno's Dance Party." Reno herself appeared on a reprise of the bit during which she broke through a wall, surely a first of some kind. Dana Carvey practically made a career imitating the first President Bush.

Al Gore, Sen. John McCain and Jackson have been hosts, and Gore and George W. Bush did cameos for an "SNL" special in 2000. Although being a guest is hardly a launching pad, it does ratify a certain standing for Sharpton as a political celebrity.

And, as Rev. Al himself might say, "No justice, no peace, and live from New York it's Saturday Night!"

Dale McFeatters writes for Scripps Howard News Service.

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