Chevy Chase as President Gerald R. Ford. Dan Aykroyd as Jimmy Carter. Dana Carvey's George Bush, Darrell Hammond's Bill Clinton and Will Ferrell's George W. Bush. Finesse Mitchell is certain he could have joined Saturday Night Live's presidential line of succession, except he left the show a season too early.
"I had a feeling they were going to let me go," Mitchell says, recalling the end of his three-year run on the show in 2006. "Tina Fey and the rest of them were leaving to do 30 Rock, and they still needed to cut some more people, and there was me and Kenan (Thompson), and I knew they were going to cut one of the black guys, and I didn't think they were going to cut Kenan. So I said, 'Maybe it's a good time to leave.'
"That was right before Barack Obama became president."
SNL famously then went through a comedic crisis because the hefty Thompson, the only black male in the cast, was so unlike Obama's physical type that he couldn't make the impression work. Fred Armisen, who is white, has taken on the role, but Mitchell says he is certain he could have been a great Obama.
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"That's a huge deal to be the president," Mitchell says. "That would have really made me a household name."
Fortunately for the Miami-based comic, he has other avenues into your living room.
Next month, he joins the pantheon of sitcom dads in the new Disney Channel series ANT Farm, featuring China McClain from Tyler Perry's House of Payne. And he is enjoying an unexpected career as a relationship advice columnist for Essence magazine while also reinvigorating the stand-up comedy career he put on hold for SNL.
"I really think I'm one of the funniest stand-up comedians out there," says Mitchell, who has a chance to prove that to Lexingtonians with a four-night stand at Comedy Off Broadway this week.
His stand-up career started on a bit of a low note: He was practically booed off the stage in Miami, where he had just graduated from the University of Miami.
"My first time, I did great," Mitchell says of visiting an open-mike night. "I just wanted to see if I could do it, and I did great. It was almost a standing ovation. So the next week, I invited all my friends down, and that's when I got booed. I didn't know that you were just supposed to bring the same routine and build on it. I thought you just went up and started talking.
"Everybody was trying to distance themselves from me because you don't want to be around the guy that got booed. And I was hooked. After that, I respected it more. I put effort into it and started learning."
He was working as an insurance salesman in Miami and often using people he met during the day to build material for his act. It helped establish Mitchell as a storytelling comedian, which the nation first saw on BET's ComicView in 1999. He eventually moved to Los Angeles, where he struggled for three years before landing SNL in 2003.
"It was everything everybody said it was because it was hard, and sometimes it would get on your nerves," Mitchell says. "Meeting a different celebrity every week — Alec Baldwin, Janet Jackson, Jennifer Aniston — being in front of somebody different every week was sort of mind- boggling because I never aspired to be on the show. So being around that, and the prestige that it brought, it combined everything I loved: partying and laughing, and they partied really hard."
Post-SNL, Mitchell has made films, and his advice column has resulted in a dating advice book for women, Your Girlfriends Only Know So Much.
All of it fuels Mitchell's stand-up, which "is about everything," he says. "It's about politics, it's about relationships. It's about men always getting it wrong when it comes to pleasing women, it's about my life, and me taking people on a journey from the beginning to the end of what's been going on."