Last year, Anthony Atamanuik teamed up with James Adomian to create Trump vs. Bernie, a stage show between the two most surprising candidates of the election. It became quite a success, leading to a special episode of @midnight that functioned as a debate between the two personas as well as a special for Fusion entitled Trump vs. Bernie: Debate For America. Now, with the election over and Trump in office, Atamanuik has brought back his take on Trump for Comedy Central’s The President Show, a talk/variety show hosted by the 45th President. I recently spoke with Atamanuik about the show, as well as the state of political satire in the Trump era.
Do you think there’s any difficulty in mocking Trump because he’s such a self-parody on his own, and it can be hard to exaggerate that?
Well, some impressions are exaggerations, but others can be examinations, and I think that’s more what I’m doing. Sometimes, people say that doing anti-Trump satire is pointless because it won’t get him out of office, and I don’t agree with that all. It’s about providing relief from the emotional stress of having Trump in office. It’s about exploring untapped qualities. Like, most people know that he’s corrupt, and I want to go beyond and explore things like how insecure he is, and how much he wants to be liked. Anyone can say things like “bigly” and “yuge,” and I want to examine the less obvious aspects of Trump. If it’s just insults, you’re just playing his game, and you can’t really win that game.
It seemed like during the election, Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio both tried to do that, and they made fools of themselves.
It’s a street game. Regardless of his station in life, and obviously, his father was very wealthy, he grew up in Queens, he’s an outer-borough guy, and he worked in construction. He’s been around a lot of wiseguy types. He’s a got a street mouth, and if you’re a polished person like Hillary or Rubio – although Rubio did have a tough upbringing – you’re not gonna be able to compete with him.
Did the idea for The President Show come out of Trump winning directly, or was it in your head before that? And if Hillary had won, would the show exist in a different context?
I had done some solo shows in the summer after the Trump vs. Bernie tour ended. There was a lot of talk about what Trump would do if he didn’t win, like the idea that he might start his own TV network. Before the election, I had an idea for a Trump mini-series, but the details were never worked out in time. I was rooting for Hillary to win, and I actually didn’t want to have to play Trump anymore. After the election, I went into hibernation for about two weeks, and after that, I did a few shows with Upright Citizens Brigade. I looked back at some of the ideas I had, and this show came from that.
Is there a certain awkwardness in being against Trump as president, but also having it lead to a big opportunity for you?
I get what you’re saying – the “deal with the devil” aspect, but there answer is no. I might feel that way if we were doing soft propaganda for Trump, but I have a platform where I’m given leeway to express myself the way I want. I want to reach some of the people who voted for him not because they subscribe to any white supremacist ideology, but because they were desperate and decided to ride the populist wave. I think I can show those people that what Trump promised them isn’t really there.
Would you consider interviewing Trump while in character as Trump?
I’d have to get back to you on that, but right now, I would lean towards no. I would meet privately with him and tell him why I think he should resign. I would tell him that he doesn’t seem happy, but as for having him on the show, I think that’s where you would get into “deal with the devil” territory. The last thing he needs is another platform.
I’m just thinking of how Colbert would interview conservatives while doing his conservative persona.
Well, we have conservative guests coming on the show. But Trump, he’s not even a conservative. It’s just stream-of-consciousness with him. There’s no value in talking to him. Sure, I could try to trap him, but it wouldn’t work comedically in the way some might think it would.
Alec Baldwin, who plays Trump on Saturday Night Live, took what seemed like a shot at you during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. What were your thoughts on that?
Well, right now my focus is primarily on the show. Plenty of people are doing Trump impressions and Trump-related humor, and I want this show to stand out and be the best it can be. As for Baldwin, I have the utmost respect for him. He was amazing in Blue Jasmine. The guy’s a legend, and he’s always been kind to me. I know a lot of the people who work on Saturday Night Live and they’re all great people.
Any thoughts on the Trump/Putin joke that Colbert made recently, and the ensuing #FireColbert controversy?
I think the right takes up social issues when it serves their purpose. Look at how they pretend to care about women. They’ll talk about their concern for women’s rights in Middle Eastern countries, but there isn’t a single woman on the healthcare committee, and the legislation they pass shows how little they care about women. They take up social causes when it’s convenient for them. As for what Colbert said, I think he’s done a good job of defending himself without me saying anything.
The president gives a very big, very smart speech, and it’s very presidential, OK?pic.twitter.com/g8F016BClq — The President Show (@PresidentShow) May 8, 2017
The President Show airs Thursday nights at 11:30pm on Comedy Central.