One of the first questions people (okay, my parents’ friends) ask me is, “As a comedian, are you excited that Donald Trump is running?”
FUCK NO, LADY!
Sorry lady, you’re just trying to make conversation at my mom’s party. I realize that. (Nice crocheted vest by the way.) But comedians are not vultures that feed off of society’s problems. Save for a few douchey dude exceptions, most comics are actually concerned about the direction of this country and the people in it. And I’ve already had sex with all those douchey dude exceptions so I don’t have to talk about them anymore! For most of us, Trump is much scarier than he is funny. And not because every comic is a liberal, tree-kissing, free-bleeding leftist. Comics run the gamut more than you’d think. And save for a few crazy road hacks, I’ve never seen comics this united in fear and anger. Because Trump doesn’t even understand what the presidency entails. It’s like hiring a plumber to do open heart surgery, or some other metaphor that 10,000 other people on Twitter (and also Tom Hanks) have already come up with.
That brings me to another reason many comics don’t rejoice at the presence of Trump: It’s hard to write good, original material about him. The things Donald Trump says and does are too absurd to parody, too parodic to mock, and too horrifying to feel good about repeating on stage, screen or in print. The things Donald Trump says are so specific and insane that there are very few comic responses to them. Most of the jokes you can write about Trump are so obvious, non comics (some of us call them civilians because we are pretentious assholes) have already put them up on social media before we’ve even begun. And Trump churns out so many horrifying statements in any given day that the old ones stop being topical very quickly. You can’t heighten a Trump statement to take it to a logical yet insane conclusion. Everything Trump says is Face. Value. Terrible. You can’t be like “He might as well have called Mexican immigrants rapists,” for example, because he DID. He fucking did do that. ON DAY ONE.
I asked some comics how they feel about writing Trump jokes. This is what they said:
“I’ve heard so many non-comics who’ve said that Donald Trump becoming president would be great for comedy,” says stand-up Nick Stadler. “They ask, ‘What would comedians do without Donald Trump?’ What would we do? Maybe go back to writing actual jokes again? Wouldn’t that be something? It’s not particularly fun when you can get a laugh simply by saying a candidate’s name and then repeating what they say verbatim. Part of the joy of crafting a bit is in finding the absurdity within the mundane. How can you make Trump more absurd than he already is?”
Stand-up Riley Silverman confirms, saying, “They said this a lot during Bush’s presidency, too. “Comedians won’t know what to do when Bush is gone” and I just was like.. I don’t think you know what comedians do.”
Stand-up and writer for Triumph’s Summer Election Special 2016 Dave Sirus had this to say: “Trump makes reality itself hacky. He creates an impossible situation where you have to heighten an already supernatural level of ridiculous behavior; every time you think you’ve figured out a new ironic way to make him look crazy, he beats it. He cheapens the idea of writing politics jokes by making the set up such a softball anyone could do it, meaning anyone can write a Trump joke. Not everyone can write a page of Rubio jokes.” (Author’s note: I have personally watched Dave Sirus write pages and pages of Rubio jokes in minutes and my jealousy is infuriating.)
There seems to be an agreement that Trump cheapens what we do. Anyone can write a Trump joke, because his flaws are so obvious and his hypocrisy is so blatant.
Lucie Steiner, a writer for Jon Stewart’s new HBO show, has a brilliant work-around for this problem. “To me the way the press failed to inoculate us against Trump is a lot more interesting for comedy than Trump himself,” she says. “Trump is what he is. But the ranks of TV journalism are filled with star fuckers who crave sensationalism more than truth. They’re so designed to focus on the competition of the election that they can’t stop for a second and be like, ‘wait, you just called for like five different war crimes.’ Trump could light someone on fire and they’d be like ‘how do you think this burning corpse will affect his polling numbers?’ There’s a lot of comedy there, as frightening as it is.”
This indeed takes a lot more skill and insight than just making fun of a Trump quote, and it is something shows like Full Frontal With Samantha Bee have done quite successfully.
Kenny Keil works for Mad Magazine, every kid’s first introduction to parody. “Dude is basically what would happen if that WC Fields quote about there being ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ got bitten by a radioactive white supremacist,” he says about Trump. “I never figured out how to handle that comedically without feeling complicit in building his brand awareness.”
When fucking COMEDIANS brand you as a soulless attention whore, you have a serious problem.
Kenny brings up another question: Are we doing a disservice by drawing attention to Trump? Some comics think so. Others believe it’s important to write Trump jokes despite how hard it is to make them original and new.
Stand-up and actor Paco Romane believes mocking bullies like Trump is important even if it gives Trump attention. “If the aim of comedy is to punch up there is no more ‘up’ than Donald Trump,” he says. “He is a high status heel that embodies an ‘I don’t care’ attitude while also displaying an incredibly thin skinned insecurity. It’s akin to making fun of the playground bully that you know sits alone in his mansion while mommy and daddy fly off to amazing places. There is a whiff of sadness that emanates from Donald but all of that is soon forgotten the moment his buffoonery rears its ugly head. You hope to write something new, funny and insightful but you might not care if you’re the one millionth person to make fun of his orange hued, cocaine sniffling, racist head because you realize he’s no longer amusing or bumbling but calculating and authentic in his offensiveness.”
I also spoke to one stand-up, Jen Saunderson, who may have dissuaded her dad from voting for Trump because of her Facebook jokes. Fuck yeah, Jen! Virtual high five! Oops, I missed.
When I come up with Trump jokes I try to tackle them from a deep psychological perspective instead of just relaying his quotes. It kind of works? But just like Trump makes everyone into a comedian, he also makes everyone into a psychologist. It’s pretty easy to understand his mindset because he’s so simple, so blatantly narcissistic and insecure.
Yay, whoreish self promotion! This joke is just okay. The other thing is, I didn’t have to photoshop this “tweet” like I have in the past because there’s an entire website dedicated to creating fake Trump tweets. That’s how much non comics have jumped on the “making fun of Trump” bandwagon. He’s the Guy Fieri of politics.
Whether or not we’re feeding into Trump’s attention grabbing or punching up in a necessary way, the consensus seems to be that Trump makes our job harder because we’re parodying a parody. Because writing a Trump joke is so easy, anyone can do it. (And writing an original Trump joke is so hard.) Stand-up Adam Cozens summed it up best: “If you need Trump to be president in order to be funny, you probably aren’t very funny to begin with.”
Hana Michels is a comedian in Los Angeles.