Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
The Presidential race has been as good for comedy as it has been bad for humanity. Earwolf’s Hard Nation has been one of biggest and best surprises of this dispiriting Peyote trip of a campaign. It’s a consistently hilarious parody of political talk radio that pits Mark Hard (Mike Still), an obese, Trump-worshiping caricature of a blustery, Rush Limbaugh-like right-wing blowhard, against his half brother and political and social opposite, Pete (Paul Welsh), an equally extreme tree-hugging Progressive in the Bernie Sanders mode.
Hard Nation gleans big laughs out of the excesses of both sides of the political spectrum, and while both parties have their foibles and shortcomings, the Republicans had a lot more foibles and shortcomings than the Democrats in 2016 and Hard Nation reflects that. Pete Hard may be the kind of deliberately joyless scold who makes a point of ordering his coffee burnt with no milk or sugar to maximize his non-enjoyment, but Mark is such an oblivious dunce that in one of the podcast’s running jokes, Pete is able to get a big laugh simply by repeating back whatever nonsense his opponent just spewed in an incredulous voice.
The show thrives on the chemistry of its hosts, who have built out the universe of both their relationship and their show in fun and endlessly surprising ways. The gender-role-obsessed Mark, for example, has a wonderfully dense riff on how it’s perfectly okay for him to sew a flag with his daughter because “There’s nothing feminine about sewing! You’ve got a little sword and you’re stabbing a cloth with it.”
It’s a line that says a lot about Mark’s desperate need to over-compensate for his insecurities regarding his own masculinity, and the masculinity of American men in general, but it’s also one of those wonderful lines with the potential to change how we see and think about something we only think we know. From now on, when I think about sewing, I will think of it as the act of stabbing a cloth with a tiny sword, which is pretty damn bad-ass when you think about it.
Hard Nation hit the ground running and in its second episode featured a visit from the hideous man-monster of the hour, Donald Trump, as portrayed by Anthony Atamanuik, who has made his name slipping into the freakish orange skin and deranged psyche of this preeminent political bogeyman for podcasts, live appearances, TV appearances and even a live comedy album opposite James Adomian’s cantankerous Bernie Sanders.
Donald Trump has so many tics and mannerisms and is so distinctive in his syntax and cadences that he’s Jack Nicholson-level irresistible to impersonators. Everybody, it seems, has a Donald Trump, the lowest hanging of fruit for practitioners of this least respected of comic arts.
Yet Trump poses imposing challenges to impersonators as well. How do you comically exaggerate someone who is already so cartoonishly extreme? How do you parody someone who is such crazed self-parody? How can you make Trump seem more ridiculous and laughable than he makes himself seem with every oblivious utterance and blatant lie?
Everyone can do Trump, it seems, but it takes an awful lot to do a definitive Trump, and while Atamanuik’s Trump is not as well known as Alec Baldwin’s, he has unofficially established himself as the official Trump impersonator of the podcasting world. This is similar to how James Adomian has similarly emerged as podcasting’s Bernie Sanders of choice, even if Larry David’s inferior portrayal has taken hold in the imagination of the general public (which is to say, non-podcast people) not because it’s better than Adomian’s (it’s not) but rather because the Earwolfs of the world lack the corporate institutional muscle of Saturday Night Live and NBC.
Atamanuik has set himself apart from the pack of Trump impersonators with a take on the sinister orange bloviator that combines a particularly smooth, even hypnotic purr, with an almost hallucinatory sense of the candidate’s outsized, almost Satanic evil. Atamanuik-as-Trump starts off relatively slowly here. He almost seems borderline human in the early going, but it isn’t long until the fragile mask of sanity slips and Trump reveals himself to be somehow even worse than he already seemed, which is no mean feat.
Atamanuik here takes Trump’s myriad, oft-mocked failings and predilections to their comic extreme. The Trump who discusses the figure and beauty of his daughter Ivanka with the same leering lasciviousness with which he discusses all attractive woman here not only casually lets slip that he has sex with his daughter, but also the specific sex positions they employ.
The man who has run as much against Mexicans as he has for himself lets slip with equal casualness that he likes to takes Mexicans behind Trump tower to beat them, though he then slips them a fifty, because he’s classy. In an even more brutal bit of black comedy, Trump, despite his laughable anti-abortion rhetoric on the campaign trail, talks gingerly here of being responsible for no less than 15 abortions himself, through such unconventional methods as the “furious gut-punch” abortion or inducing a miscarriage by plying the pregnant woman with a lot of cocaine.
The Trump who somehow feels the need to start social media wars with everyone from the Pope to Modern Family producer Danny Zuker to Ford, here vows to hunt down Rosie O’Donnell the way the military previously hunted down Osama Bin Laden, who may have done 9/11 but at least never publicly disparaged Trump personally, as far as we know. For Trump, hunting O’Donnell would clearly be deadliest, most dangerous, and huge game imaginable.
Finally, a man who seems horrifyingly cavalier about the use of torture (which he doesn’t know much about, except that it’s great, always works, and we should be doing it all the time) and nuclear weapons here flat-out volunteers that as soon as he assumes office, he will launch a full-scale nuclear war.
This conceit takes Trump’s nihilism, rage, and opportunism to its giddy extreme by positing the destruction of much of the modern world as the ultimate opportunity for a builder like Trump to not only increase his bottom line, but also rebuild all of civilization in his own image. Trump already slaps his name on everything he owns, and a lot of things he doesn’t. In a post-apocalyptic hellscape, Trump would be able to re-brand this rebooted world with his toxic moniker. We’ve all been living in Trump world for the past year and a half. A Trump-engineered apocalypse followed by a Trump-engineered new civilization would just make that horrifyingly literal.
Tomorrow we will discover whether the waking nightmare that would be a Trump presidency will be an even more traumatizing reality. While it would undoubtedly be good for Atamanuik’s career if he were to spend the next four years impersonating the President (assuming an elected Trump wouldn’t be kicked out of office, or pull a Sarah Palin and peace out as soon as he got bored) instead of just a terrifying threat to democracy and our republic’s future, no amount of laughter would be worth paying that horrifying price.
Nathan Rabin is the author of five books, including Weird Al: The Book (with Al Yankovic) and the recently released Ebook “Short Read”, 7 Days In Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of The Juggalos And The Summer Everything Went Insane.