In an excerpt from You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman published over on Salon, author Mike Thomas digs into Phil Hartman’s impression of Bill Clinton and how he arrived at it. He also delves into the most famous Hartman-as-Clinton sketch on SNL, which appeared soon after Clinton was elected. It was the sketch that elevated Hartman’s stature on the show.
But while the Clinton impression made Hartman a household name in the same way that his George Bush impression made Dana Carvey a one, not everyone was enamored with Hartman’s impression.
Specifically, Bill Clinton didn’t care for it.
In fact, when asked to call in on an episode of Larry King’s talk show in which Hartman was set to appear, Clinton declined. However, he did send an autographed picture with the inscription, “To Phil Hartman—You’re not the president, but you play one on TV and you’re OK—mostly.” with the “mostly” underlined, suggesting that Hartman may have crossed the line on a couple of occasions, which is why — Hartman claimed — he was later shut out of White House events. The White House also apparently killed a scheduled Hartman appearance at the Royal Variety Performance in London, as well, over concerns that it would offend the President.
That tracks with what we know about Bill Clinton. I’ve been following Clinton since I worked for his campaign as a teenager in Arkansas back in 1992, and if there’s one thing I know about the guy, it’s that he has a great sense of humor and he’s marvelously self-deprecating, but he does get a little touchy when other people make fun of him.
On the other hand, Clinton did like Darrell Hammond’s impression of him, though Hillary Clinton apparently did not.