On a rainy June 1st, 1975, after landing in Salzburg, Austria, President Gerald Ford slipped while walking down the boarding stairs. Ford blamed the slip on an old knee injury acting up. Still, the caught-on-camera incident became a massive stumbling block for his re-election campaign.
Long before Chevy Chase trashed his reputation on Community, he served up two minutes of pure comedy gold on SNL: portraying Gerald Ford as a bumbler who stumbled into the Presidency and through a press conference. Even Ford admitted to laughing at the sketch, but this sketch also conveyed that Chase thought Ford was a bumbler, a false reputation that haunted him.
Chase first appeared as Ford in SNL's fourth episode on November 8, 1975, during the show's cold open. As the first Weekend Update anchor, Chase had already been making jokes at Ford's expense from behind the news desk, but it wasn't until episode 4 that Chase's iconic (non)impression debuted. Dressed in a tuxedo but in no other way representative of President Ford, Chase steps to the podium. The subtitles/chyron read, "This is not the President of the United States…But he thinks he is." When combined with the fact that Ford wasn't elected President, along with Chase's distinct political opinion of Ford — "He had never been elected, period, so I never felt that he deserved to be there to begin with" — the subtitle/chyron takes on a double meaning and signaled to everyone that SNL was not going to be kind to Ford. This point of view defines SNL's satiric point. The subtitles are, in their own way, the most biting satire lobbed at Ford: he shouldn't be president and he is too dumb to realize it. Everything flows from this premise. Chase begins his speech but misreads his cards, switching between third and first-person, before announcing that a mystery person running for the 1976 Republican nomination will probably win (Ronald Reagan). Throughout the speech, Chase verbally and physically stumbles, falling several times and banging his head on the podium — each time popping up with "No problem! No problem!" Chase ultimately falls entirely to the ground before springing up and delivering the show's signature line, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" The sketch led to a series of sketches with Chase as Ford, each one featuring new and elaborate ways of falling. The sketches became an early highlight of the show and helped bolster its place at the cutting edge of political satire. Between tumbles, Chase's Ford continued to commit obvious blunders, starting his Christmas address early ("Christmas Eve at the White House"), misreading his written speech ("Introducing President Ford"), and using a glass as a phone ("Ford on the Phone"). As 1976 and the Republican presidential primary rolled around, it was clear that Ford had a Chevy Chase problem.
Other Presidents have slipped and fallen or thrown up on their colleagues, but something about this fall became special. A former national championship football player in college was now seen as an inept, bumbling clown.