''Saturday Night Live'''s Dana Carvey and Phil Harman impersonate Ross Perot and Bill Clinton

By Mark Harris
October 23, 1992 at 12:00 PM EDT
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If you’re still not convinced of the importance of your vote in this year’s presidential election, consider this: Your choice not only could shape the next four years of NBC’s Saturday Night Live but it could also determine your own future as a parlor impressionist. Entertainment Weekly, cognizant of the gravity of the occasion, asked a pair of master impersonators, SNL‘s Dana Carvey (as both George Bush and Ross Perot) and Phil Hartman (as Bill Clinton) to illustrate the ways and means of playing a presidential candidate from the inside out. So stand up, straighten that tie, and sharpen that sound bite. In case of emergency, spin doctors will be standing by.

Bill Clinton:

THE KEY IN THE DOOR Ignore that upturned thumb; Clinton’s other hand is making his signature gesture. Think of jamming a key in a door or clicking an invisible TV remote. ”He’s more controlled than Bush,” says Hartman. ”But after the convention, he loosened up. Now he’s practically an opera singer.”

THIS FINGER’S FOR YOU ”Clinton loves connecting physically with people,” says Hartman. ”He’s a handshaker, a patter, out there grabbing and greeting. And he never stops smiling — even when he’s angry, he’ll give you that grin.”

THE VOICE ”Bill Clinton has a breathy voice,” says Hartman. ”It’s similar to Jimmy Carter’s, Jimmy Cagney’s, even Donald Trump’s. It’s Cagney doing ‘Aaaah, youuu dirty rat,’ but with a slight twang. And he has that John Wayne thing of running out of air before he can finish a sentence.”

PUT YOUR HANDS TOGETHER ”I’ve noticed that Clinton really likes double hand gestures,” says Hartman. ”He likes putting them against his chest, palm to palm, or making two fists.” What does the body language mean? ”It says he’s Mr. Sincerity. That’s what he has over Bush — he does that tear-in-the-corner-of-the-eye stuff perfectly.”

Ross Perot:

THE DOGGIE DOOR Here’s how to do Basic Bush: Keep your palm flat. Tilt it down. Repeat. Now, what are you actually saying? Simple, says Carvey: ”’We were here, but now we’re down here.’ Bush loves to use his hands to organize ideas. And if he suddenly has a new one, he quickly goes to the Waving Index Finger.”

THE INTERLOCKING FINGERS Bush’s thumbs-up, folks-comin’-together move keeps his hands from flapping. ”He must have been told not to use his hands so much,” says Carvey. ”He tries to keep them glued to the desk. But then they creep up, and you see his thought — ‘Uh-oh! Don’t use hands!’ — and they go back down.”

THE HITCHHIKER Bush uses this gesture — one thumb up, one over the shoulder — to convey a must for any candidate: a combination of optimism and vagueness. Where’s that thumb pointing? ”Over there,” says Carvey. ”Those…people…out there…doin’ that thing in that whole area…down there…doin’ that whole thing.” Gotcha.

THE SIX-SHOOTER ”Here he’s Happy George,” says Carvey. ”He just loves being President — especially those first two years. But he has a lazy tongue — he laughs with his mouth open and it sticks out a little bit. Casey Kasem has the same sort of smile. Bush has turned into quite a character,” Carvey concludes. ”I’ll be sorry if he has to go.”

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