Page last updated at 22:57 GMT, Saturday, 11 October 2008 23:57 UK

Palin mimic gets US public's vote


Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live

By Rajini Vaidyanathan
BBC News, Washington

At a campaign rally in Florida, Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin shouts out to the crowd: "I love her, she's a hoot and she's so talented."

She is referring to Tina Fey, who, along with the Alaskan governor, has become one of the most talked about women in this election campaign.

Tina Fey's impersonations of Mrs Palin have generated millions of viewers, website clicks and water cooler conversations.

It is on the hit US comedy show Saturday Night Live that Fey parodies Governor Palin.

The resemblance is uncanny, as are the mannerisms and the accent.

Most of the sketches are direct spoofs of Mrs Palin's television appearances.

In one, Fey sends up the governor's interview with American newsreader Katie Couric in which she was quizzed about foreign policy.

Sarah Palin passes back a camera-phone signed 'I am not Tina Fey'
Sarah Palin's supporters say she likes Tina Fey's mimicry

Tina Fey as Mrs Palin: "Every morning, when Alaskans wake up, one of the first things they do, is look outside to see if there are any Russians hanging around.

"And if there are, you gotta go up to them and ask: 'What are you doing here?' And if they can't give you a good reason, it's our responsibility to say, you know, 'Shoo! Get back over there!'"

The fake interview has received rave reviews, but in the real one, Sarah Palin was criticised by many, even from within her own party, for her performance.

Later she admitted she had been "less than successful", but joked there was a reason.

"In response to critics after that interview what I should have told them is, I was trying to keep Tina Fey in business… just giving her more information… job security for SNL (Saturday Night Live) characters."

Guest star

The spoof Sarah Palin has certainly done wonders for the show.

Ratings for Saturday Night Live have gone up, averaging 8.3 million viewers, and the sketches are drawing as many as 9.3 million hits online.

In fact, Mrs Palin herself has said she would like to guest star.

"It would be fun to meet her, imitate her and keep on giving her new material," she said.

That may even become a reality.

There has been talk that the pair could appear on the show together before November's election.

Lorne Michaels, executive producer of Saturday Night Live, has not ruled it out.

Tina Fey with her awards for 30 Rock
Tina Fey has enjoyed great success in acting and writing

He said that the McCain campaign called after the first sketch to say they enjoyed Tina Fey's take on their candidate.

Tina Fey is a huge star in her own right.

An Emmy award winning comedy actor and writer, she is best known in America for her appearances on the hit comedy 30 Rock as well as Saturday Night Live.

She bears a striking resemblance to Mrs Palin, and it seems that the mimicry is mutual.

Kristan Cole, who has known the Alaskan governor for 38 years, said Sarah Palin had in fact dressed up as Tina Fey a few years ago for Halloween.

She said the reaction back in Mrs Palin's home town of Wasilla to the sketches had been positive.

"Anybody I talk to thinks they're funny, nobody is upset by them," she added.

She also said that Sarah Palin wasn't worried about being sent up and had told her that she thought Tina Fey had her mannerisms dead on.

Credibility 'damaged'

"As someone who is very close to her, I don't like unfair criticism of her but the SNL sketch is not in that category whatsoever.

"This thing is just funny… I think everyone expects SNL to poke some fun. I don't think anyone foresees it as negative."

However, others disagree saying the sketches have damaged Mrs Palin's credibility.

In some sketches Fey get laughs just by directly repeating the governors own words.

Palin has been lampoonable because of those terrible disastrous interviews
Professor Larry Sabato

Some commentators go as far as to dub the "Tina Fey Factor" one of the biggest challenges the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate faces.

A study from the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion concluded that Sarah Palin's favourability rating dropped after people watched the Saturday Night Live sketches.

It asked 314 Democrats, Republicans and independents how they viewed her before and after the sketches.

All groups said they saw her in a worse light.

But that sample is small, and political analyst Professor Larry Sabato does not believe Tina Fey has hurt Mrs Palin's image, but that the candidate herself has.

"Palin has been lampoonable because of those terrible disastrous interviews.

"She opened herself up to this. It's reinforced the damage that Palin herself did."

Internet copycats

Mr Sabato strongly rejects suggestions that the sketches will have an impact on the election itself.

"It's interesting, it's fun, but it has nothing to do with how people are voting," he said.

One thing the Fey impressions have done, is prompt a whole host of copycats on the internet.

A search on YouTube brings up a whole host of impersonators - a singing Sarah Palin, a gangsta rapping governor and even a man in drag attempting a spoof.

Sara Benincasa, a liberal comedian from New York, stars as Sarah Palin in a video blog, which she started in September.

"Her life is filled with drama and we are satirising that drama," she said.

"She has a pregnant teenage daughter and five kids. She's really into promoting herself as a hockey mom and a conservative Christian.

"We thought all of those things were ripe for lampooning."

Benincasa explained why she felt Sarah Palin was such a popular subject of parody.

"This person was trying to promote herself as an average gal while running for one of the highest offices of the land. The job of a court jester is to make fun of the king."

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