One hundred days in, TV’s Trump humor has hit a wall. How could it not? The material is so bountiful, the comedic workload so relentless, and daily occurrences so absurd as to blur into a meaningless and easily lampooned travesty of leadership.
The audience can write and perform the material as easily (and as quickly) as the pros. My impression of Alec Baldwin doing President Trump is almost as good as yours or anyone else’s — and certainly better than that of Anthony Atamanuik, the Trump impersonator who stars in Comedy Central’s “The President Show,” a new but probably too-tardy attempt to beat the world’s most indifferent horse.
“You know what’s crazy?” asked “Daily Show” correspondent Hasan Minhaj during what turned out to be a sharply satisfying monologue at Saturday’s White House correspondents’ dinner. “Every day on ‘The Daily Show,’ we do these jokes all the time: The administration lies, Trump flip-flops — it doesn’t matter. His supporters still trust him. It has not stopped his momentum at all. It’s almost as if ‘The Daily Show’ should be on C-SPAN. It has zero impact.”
A sad but true realization — and to think, only weeks ago, it seemed that TV’s many joke-tellers and satirists might have happily held the only effective key to antagonizing and upsetting a president who is 100 percent ego. Could it be possible to laugh a president out of office?
TV’s funniest people, already loopy from the election cycle from hell, got very busy: Seth Meyers made serious inroads into Jon Stewart territory on NBC’s “Late Night”; Stephen Colbert at last turned his “Late Show” ratings around with wickedly vital Trump jokes; TBS’s “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” and HBO’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” supplemented the outrage with smartly researched pieces that are as stirring to liberal audiences as they are entertaining; and viewers swooned when Melissa McCarthy transmogrified herself into White House press secretary Sean Spicer for several SNL cameos.
But, as Minhaj suggested, there is the dawning notion that these terrific truckloads of humor have not made a dent. It’s all well and good for Bee to tape a “Full Frontal” special called “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” at Washington’s DAR Constitution Hall Saturday. People who attended it said it was a hoot, and the result, which aired while the real correspondents’ dinner was taking place at the Washington Hilton, was filled with humorous barbs and a sense that comedians like “Daily Show” alum Bee, who have long made snide hay of the mainstream media, now see themselves allied with journalists in a determined quest to value fact over fake.
Bee’s special also carried with it the slightest whiff of fatigue. In her white tuxedo with black piping and lapels and backed by a rockin’ glamazon guitarmy, she took the stage and unleashed a barrage of jabs that have become her specialty. As she expressed gratitude for an aggressive media (and urged viewers to donate to the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists), Bee made it clear that it’s still her job to mock the media wherever necessary; Saturday’s big target was Jeff Zucker’s CNN, where ceaseless punditry supplanted original, on-air reporting of any depth.
The better bits of Bee’s special were pre-recorded, including satirical “clips” of her hosting the correspondents’ dinner in different White House eras (Woodrow Wilson, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon) and a “Man in the High Castle” spoof in which George Takei slips Bee a reel of film that reveals Hillary Clinton had become president after all. In that parallel place, life was blissfully dull, and all the late-night comedians were bored.
That might happen anyhow — and sooner than we think. An itinerant late-night viewer is already adept at noticing how similar the Trump-related monologues have become, regardless of who delivers them: Colbert, Meyers, Oliver, Bee, “Daily Show’s” Trevor Noah, or either Jimmies Fallon or Kimmel.
It’s hard to imagine the stamina it will require for all of these hosts to keep the same jokes aloft 1,000 or more days from now, and harder still to imagine the audience’s appetite for Trump jokes, particularly when they don’t seem to make a shred of difference. What’s the point of mocking those who are deaf to all criticism? What fun can be permanently sustained in satirizing a subject who is already a walking, talking satire of his own persona?
The calculated misjudgment in Atamanuik’s “The President Show,” which airs Thursday nights at 11:30 on Comedy Central, is that there is unlimited demand for Trump lampoonage.
Atamanuik’s impression has been called one of the best around, but the premiere episode failed to make a clear case for it. Part talk-show (online screed-deliverer Keith Olbermann was the first guest, with seemingly no idea of what he’d gotten himself into) and part sketches, “The President Show” almost feels like a gentle primer for fans of TV comedy who also happened to have just woken up from a year-long coma. It would be an easy way to acquaint them with the laughably tragic notion of a Trump White House.
Some of the show’s jokes were strong and perfectly delivered in Trumpian bombast: “A me-first country gets a me-first president … me. I’ve ruined everything I’ve ever touched — companies, cities, marriages, toilets. I will use this office to enrich myself and my weirdo family, then tweet us into a war with Hawaii. I have the power to destroy any country on Earth, but I promise you, it’ll be America First.”
Funny stuff, to be sure, but it’s this kind of humor-writing and performing that keeps piling up, to no conceivable end.
However long he’s around, Trump will be an easy and rewarding target. The smartest comedians and late-night hosts should stay as vigilant as the media they now (perhaps briefly) salute and admire, but they should also be wary of the increasing ubiquity of Trump jokes, Trump impressions and Trump everything. The outrage can boil on, but soon enough, audiences are going to want to laugh about something else.