'SNL' just introduced a new Joe Biden and the reaction is mixed: 'That was the worst'

·Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
·6 min read
James Austin Johnson becomes the latest 'Saturday Night Live' performer to play President Joe Biden. (Photo: NBC/Twitter)
James Austin Johnson becomes the latest performer to play President Joe Biden on Saturday Night Live. (Photo: NBC/Twitter)

New Biden, who dis? That's what Saturday Night Live fans were asking on Twitter when the late-night comedy institution introduced yet another new actor as President Joe Biden. As you might recall, Jason Sudeikis played the current POTUS back in his Veep days, but then he went off to merry old England and became Ted Lasso. After a three-episode 2019 run by Woody Harrelson and a one-shot performance by John Mulaney, Jim Carrey picked up the baton during the 2020 presidential election, ironically resigning from office just after Biden clinched the presidency. Enter cast member Alex Moffat, who seemed poised to become a four-term SNL president. 

But viewers tuning into the Season 47 premiere instead saw a whole new POTUS — and to say they were confused is an understatement. As Twitter users furiously tried to deduce his identity, some even mistakenly thought that host Owen Wilson was taking a turn at the presidential podium. 

So who exactly is this Biden? None other than James Austin Johnson, one of the three new comedians hired as Featured Players this season. Funnily enough, the Tennessee-born comic rose to prominence by imitating another Oval Office occupant: former president Donald Trump. In August 2020, Johnson dropped a Twitter video where he impersonated Trump riffing on one of the central mysteries of Scooby-Doo: why Scooby himself never seems to actually do anything. 

After that "Scooby-Don" video went super-viral — and was followed by several more — Vanity Fair wasted little time labeling Johnson "the best Trump impersonator of all." Yes, even better than SNL's own in-house Trump impersonator: Alec Baldwin, who happily retired his divisive performance last season. 

In a nod to his past, Johnson dropped a Scooby-Doo reference into his inaugural address as Biden, and also gave a shout out to another childhood animated favorite — Voltron — while talking about how he intended to bring the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party together. He also referenced Trump in another portion of his address, observing that what sets Biden apart from his POTUS predecessor is his desire to stay out of the spotlight. "I'm like an oil change — you don't think about me until you absolutely have to."

Based on the mixed reaction to Johnson's SNL debut, it's safe to say that he won't be named the "best Biden impersonator of all time" in the immediate future. Once viewers figured out who he was, the takes on his performance were all over the map. 

Others felt compelled to mourn Alex Moffat's abbreviated tenure. 

But don't cry for Moffat! After all, it's not like he followed Beck Bennett out the Studio 8H exit door or anything. Moffat remains an SNL cast member, and even appeared alongside his replacement in the cold open as... U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. That's a job that'll last him another three years, or another year depending on how the 2022 elections go. 

While the social media jury's still out on Johnson, they had nothing but praise for the classy way that Colin Jost and Michael Che closed out the first "Weekend Update" of the season. The duo gave the final jokes of the night to their "Update" predecessor, Norm Macdonald, who died on Sept. 14 following a private battle with cancer. (Pete Davidson also honored the late comic, wearing a T-shirt with Macdonald's face on it.) "Norm is the reason I ever wanted to host 'Weekend Update,'" Jost remarked before rolling a clip of classic Norm-isms. 

Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. on NBC and Peacock .

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