- Associated Press - Sunday, November 8, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - During Donald Trump’s opening “Saturday Night Live” monologue, he was heckled by someone offstage calling him a racist.

But it was comedian Larry David, who moments earlier had performed his own impersonation of Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

“Larry, what are you doing?” Trump asked.

“I heard if I did that I would get $5,000,” said David with a shrug, echoing an offer reportedly made by pro-Hispanic groups protesting Trump’s appearance.

“As a businessman, I can fully respect that,” Trump said.

Amid high anticipation, sharp criticism and calls for Trump to be dumped, the Republican presidential candidate hosted Saturday’s “SNL” as scheduled.

Despite a 40-year history of lampooning politicians while inviting some to mock themselves as on-air guests, booking a presidential candidate to host the NBC sketch-comedy show was almost unprecedented.

Previously, only eight politicians had served as guest hosts. Only one of those - the Rev. Al Sharpton, in 2003 - was actively involved in a presidential bid at the time. (Hillary Clinton appeared in last month’s season premiere, but not as the host.)

The Saturday TV platform granted Trump fanned the flames of outrage sparked in June when he announced his Republican candidacy for president and described some Mexicans who are in the United States illegally as criminals and rapists.

NBC faced mounting pressure from a coalition of advocacy groups calling for Trump to be dropped from “SNL” for what one spokesman termed his “racist demagoguery.”

Hours before the show aired, dozens of protesters marched from Trump Tower to NBC’s studio in Rockefeller Plaza, chanting in both English and Spanish and carrying signs. In Spanish, they chanted: “The people united shall never be defeated” and signs declared SNL racist.

“I feel like they’re giving him a platform,” said Hazel Hernandez, 26, who emigrated from El Salvador and now lives in Brooklyn. “I’m an immigrant myself, so I’m pretty outraged. I’ve been in this country for many years, and I’m outraged that they would let him host SNL. It’s upsetting.”

Trump’s comments last summer spurred NBC to sever its Miss Universe ties with him while declaring he would never return to his “Apprentice” role.

But leading up to Saturday’s broadcast, NBC did not respond to the outcry.

It wasn’t Trump’s first turn as guest host. The billionaire developer and media personality presided in April 2004, a few weeks after he debuted as host of NBC’s “The Apprentice.”

Typically outspoken, Trump welcomed the controversy, predicting it would only boost his audience.

For candidate Trump, whose many interview and debate appearances have drawn large viewerships, a spike in this week’s “SNL” ratings seemed assured.

___

Associated Press writer Katie Park contributed to this report.

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