March 29, 2023

Top comedians just made a startling admission about Trump’s effect on comedy

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It’s that time of year when cultural critics start compiling their year-end top 10 lists, and at least one critic at Vulture thinks that the salient trend in 2017 is that Trump has been bad for comedy.

The idea runs against the common wisdom that Trump is the gift that keeps on giving to the comedy world.

After George W. Bush left office and Barack Obama took his place in the White House, comedians on TV and on stage had an awkward period after losing an easy target, prone to the political and personal gaffes that were rich fodder for lampooning by stand up comics, and having to now find humor in the actions of the first black president, a tough challenge without seeming racist towards a man who gave them much less natural material to work with.

Once Trump entered the scene, he offered a cornucopia of comedic opportunities, but, according to Vulture author Jesse David Fox, he’s “a bad subject for comedy: He’s shallow and played out, and already what people expect from the comedy about him is bad.”

Fox offers this example from Patton Oswalt’s new Netflix special, Annihilation, as an example of why comedians aren’t as happy with Trump as a source for their material:

“People tell me, ‘You comedians must be so happy. Trump is president. All this free material.’ You know what, yes, there is a lot of material, but there is too fucking much. It’s exhausting. Being a comedian while Trump is president is like, imagine there’s like an insane man on the sidewalk, just shitting on the sidewalk and yelling about Hitler. So you’re looking at him and immediately think of the funniest joke about shitting on the sidewalk, and you turn to tell it to a bunch of people, and behind you he’s taken the shit and made a sombrero out of it. So you turn and you tell your amazing shitting on the sidewalk [story] and everyone goes, ‘Oh … Turn around, he made a sombrero out of it. Do a sombrero joke.’ Ah, fuck! I can make fun of the shit he did the last couple of days, but by the time it airs, you guys are going to be like, ‘Wait what was that again?’”

Trump is so bad at his job that he provides new material for comedians too rapidly, according to Fox, not allowing the writers enough time to fully develop their material. With something new to joke about everyday, comedians can get lazy and go for the easy humor, Fox says.

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He asked comedian Jen Kirkman whether she thought that Trump was good comedic material:

“Sure, there are jokes to make: Yeah, he’s orange, ha-ha,” she said “but the answer is no. You’re either going to get the same jokes over and over, or we’re going to be normalizing him by making really silly jokes about him.”

Fox claims the basis of Trump’s difficulty as a satirical target is that he is “both incredibly easy and incredibly challenging.” He quotes Larry Wilmore comment that

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“The satirist’s job is to have the flashlight and say, ‘Look at this,’” but Trump already puts a spotlight on himself and says, “Look at me,” Fox added.

Saturday Night Live’s Michael Che told The Washington Post that “Now you gotta dedicate 10 minutes about Trump.”  Based on the live comedy that Fox has seen since the election:

“the process of stand-ups doing Trump material is like a couple having sex on their anniversary long after the passion has faded: No one wants it, but both parties feel like they have to go through the motions.”

The ability to laugh at Trump’s foibles is in one sense only available to people who aren’t the primary victims of his policies, leading one of Fox’s friends to wonder whether joking about Trump isn’t indeed an exercise in white male privilege: “People are going to die, and {they’re] able to just make jokes,” his friend commented.

Fox posts a tweet from a The Daily Show writer that illustrates the point:

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Angelo’s boss on The Daily Show, Trevor Noah is grateful that comedians still have the ability to make jokes about Trump in this country, for now at least:

“There are many countries I’ve been to where people don’t have free speech and one of the biggest things an authoritarian ruler tries to remove is the ability to make jokes about them … A person is less frightening when you’re laughing. It doesn’t diminish what they do, but it’s how we cope.”

Or as Mindy Kaling put it in a tweet:

In the end, Fox is resigned to the affect Trump is having on comedy, leading to this perfect conclusion:

Comedy might never be good because of Trump, but I’m often reminded that it will continue to be good in spite of him.

Let’s hope that comedians can continue to make us laugh during these frightening times and keep our spirits up by at least letting us know that we’re not the only ones that think this is all way too crazy.

Vinnie Longobardo

is the Managing Editor of Washington Press and a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile, & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.

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