political comedy

16 Comedians on the Role of Comedy During a Trump Administration

Photo-Illustration: Maya Robinson/Vulture

Donald Trump has a complicated relationship with comedy, and many comedians, in turn, have a complicated relationship with him. The president-elect has buddied up with the likes of Howard Stern and participated (if not particularly gamely) in a Comedy Central roast of himself. But he’s also notoriously thin-skinned and seemingly unable to take a joke — his displeasure with Alec Baldwin’s SNL impression has become international news.

At the same time, comedians are struggling to balance the cartoonishly comedic character that is Trump with the gravity of the political situation ushered in by his victory. We reached out to a slew of comedians — from stalwarts who have been performing since the Reagan administration to up-and-comers who started during the Obama years — to see how they were feeling about comedy in the age of President Trump and what they think comedy’s role will be during a Trump presidency.

Maria Bamford
Maria’s show Lady Dynamite is available on Netflix, and she will be appearing at Riot Fest LA.

Ironic racism, ironic sexism, ironic anything unjust — it all seems terrifying now. The stakes are too high, or maybe they’ve always been and I didn’t notice my own privilege. I used to have a joke tag ten years ago where I would say, “But I’m white and rich and so things have really been working out for me. I’m not technically rich, but I do have a lot of shit that I don’t need, that I refuse to share with others and that feels solid.” That seems extremely insensitive now — that it’s hilarious to be selfish and benefit from injustice.

As a comedian I need to be absolutely clear where I stand — to not leave a joke open to interpretation, as in, “I was playing a character,” or “It’s comedy!” I am responsible for what effect my words have on an audience. Yes, the audience also has the freedom to walk out, but for me, I’d like to be more conscious of what other people might be feeling when it comes to injustice in race, gender, sexuality because equality isn’t something that is taken for granted in our country — if it ever was.

I also worry if there is a point where writing humor about injustice may be less useful than taking to the streets. I will march with a sign reading, INVADE US, VANCOUVER!

Rory Albanese
Rory is a former executive producer at The Daily Show and The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore.

Comedy’s role under Trump should be the same as it’s always been: a heady mix of truth to power and fart jokes. But part of me hopes Trump makes comedy illegal, because I want to get in on the ground floor of the comedy speakeasy business. Gonna start bootleggin’ jokes across state lines.

Laurie Kilmartin
Laurie writes for Conan. Her special “45 Jokes About My Dead Dad” is available on Seeso.

I’m interested in future comedians who are coming of age right now, during a “this can’t be happening” presidency. When today’s ninth-graders start hitting the open mics in 2019, then you’ll see. I wonder if they’ll be hyperpolitical, or just say fuck it and be full-on silly.

Regarding Donald Trump, our new leader is a dumb, tweeting narcissist who might have dementia. As long as the Earth doesn’t blow up, this is why comedy exists.

A huge space is opening for artists who want to punch back. I don’t think partisan comedy helps candidates get elected, but it does help the audience get through it. John Oliver and Sam Bee are great, but after you finish laughing, you still have to vote.

If you are a female or person of color or a person who’s not straight or basically any kind of person you don’t see in Trump’s cabinet, then the act of standing onstage, making people laugh, is political. It moves culture. To me, Ellen is a great example of this. I would bet that many of the women dancing with Ellen on her show probably supported DOMA in 2004. Now, they’re hoping this gay lady comes to their row and wiggles with them.

Dean Obeidallah
Dean hosts the Dean Obeidallah Show on SiriusXM.

In my view, comedians have an obligation to rip into Trump — at least those who oppose his bigotry, racism, and sexism. Comedians need to turn Trump back into the punch line he was before he ran for president. Obviously not all comedians will talk about Trump but even those comedians who are not political will likely take some shots at him given how despicable he is.

Kyle Kinane
Kyle’s special Loose in Chicago is available from Comedy Central, and he will be appearing at Riot Fest LA.

It can be more political, but maybe making fun of his hair or calling him orange isn’t the best call to arms for a revolution. If you’re gonna make comedy about it, make GOOD comedy about it.

Andy Kindler
Andy’s annual “State of the Industry” address is a comedic institution. He will also be appearing at Riot Fest LA.

Comedy will have to get more political during Trump’s reign of terror. I was hoping to drop my Trump material after the election but no dice. Of course, nothing is worse than bad political comedy (e.g.: the Capitol Steps, and those Jibber Jabber people, if that’s still a reference). I do look forward to more comparisons of Trump to Hitler. What’s an example, you don’t ask? Trump is like Hitler except at least Hitler was a veteran.

Jen Kirkman
Jen’s special Just Keep Livin’? is available now on Netflix.

I don’t want to normalize this like Jimmy Fallon did by rubbing Trump’s head. This isn’t a joke and people are hurting. Many women are traumatized including me. Nothing is good. Jokes about Trump aren’t enough. We are just pissing into the wind. Many comedians, especially women, have always been political and most of us got harassed daily. None of us are excited about comedy because of Trump and anyone who is is scum.

Baron Vaughn
Baron’s album Blaxistential Crisis is now available on AST Records, and he will be appearing at Riot Fest LA.

Comedy has ALREADY gotten more political. It’s a reaction to the culture at large, and the culture at large has had all this stuff shoved down its throat for the past few years. There’s a new level of awareness about how the government works, mixed with a deep division in this country, sautéed with hatred and a sprinkle of xenophobia, then finely caramelized in racism. It’s a good thing to expose all the flaws in our institutions. It’s the only way to see what needs to be fixed. However, that doesn’t mean anyone will like it.

Eugene Mirman
Eugene Mirman voices Gene on Bob’s Burgers, and he will be appearing at Riot Fest LA.

Comedy will hopefully be both a distracting source of joy and a check on Trump’s sour, bullish ignorance and potential abuse of power. Stalin was always famously four jokes away from feeling ridiculed enough to step down and allow for a regulated, free-market economy. I think comedy will both get more political and also more silly — sometimes together, sometimes totally separately.

Aparna Nancherla
Aparna’s album Just Putting It Out There is available on Bentzen Ball Records, and she will be appearing at Riot Fest LA.

Comedy inherently gets more political reflecting the circumstances surrounding it, so even if it’s not in a direct way, it will unavoidably be impacted by what’s going on in the country and world. If people don’t feel affected by what’s going on, I guess I’d love to know what’s bopping around in their heads instead. It’s good if we become more aware of the political process and our role in it, rather than become further jaded and removed.

Bryan Safi and Erin Gibson
Bryan and Erin’s late-night show Throwing Shade airs on TVLand.

In this hellscape, downplaying what’s going on is every bit as political as yelling about it ‘til you’re hoarse. So, shrug emoji? We hope that our poop jokes are in the name of justice.

Sue Smith
Sue was named one of Brooklyn’s 50 Funniest People in 2016.

Comedy sheds a light on dark places you don’t want to check out by yourself. This whole situation has been so upsetting that all New Yorkers have upped their antidepressant dosages, myself included. If we can at least kinda laugh at it, then we can start to heal.

Maysoon Zayid
Maysoon’s TED talk “I Got 99 problems … Palsy Is Just One” has been viewed more than 9 million times.

Comedians must not back down. Trump is terrifying but also comedy gold. He’s a bully who can dish it out but can’t take it. It is our duty as Americans to mock him until he breaks. It’s also our job to speak the truth when others fear doing so. The best journalism I witnessed this year was provided by comedians like Samantha Bee, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver. We need to fight the power while staying funny.

Eliot Glazer
Eliot writes for New Girl and hosts the live musical-comedy show “Haunting Renditions.”

I can’t even begin to imagine. Everyone was so nervous about making jokes after 9/11. But we were all united against one enemy, one force of darkness. This time, the noise is coming from inside the house. It’s like there are sleeper agents everywhere, ready to slap on a red hat and normalize the abnormal. I don’t know where comedy goes, but the clearest way to make light of it is to be vicious. Samantha Bee and her writers are razor sharp, and they don’t play nice. I never enjoyed it when Jon Stewart or John Oliver or even Sam Bee yell at the screen, but that’s because I was bathing in the soft, warm glow of Barack Obama’s intellect, reason, and extra chill. Now, more than ever, I want John Oliver, Seth Meyers, and Sam Bee to scream at the screen so that we never, ever forget that whatever this comedy language is directly informed by the LUNACY, the clownishness, the anti-intellectual darkness of a Trump presidency.

Lachlan Patterson
Lachlan’s special Live From Venice Beach is on Seeso and available on Audible Channels.

I don’t do a lot of political material because it doesn’t last very long. It’s a business decision really. I want to write material that will last a long time. That’s why I write about how the guy who named all the birds was lazy and how I’ve never met anyone who puts medium gas in their car.

16 Comedians on the Role of Comedy Under Trump