By Peter Funt
All kidding aside: Donald Trump is no longer funny.
Entertainers, writers, social observers – myself included – have relished taking shots at the president. And why not? Jokes about Trump are the lowest-hanging fruits in comedy.
But recently we have begun to hear politicians and pundits say, “This is different.” The White House is in chaos and the jokes are falling flat. Maybe it’s time to knock it off.
Throughout 2017 I included about 10 minutes of Trump material in my live stage show. As soon as I flashed a giant photo of his orange hair caught in a gust of wind, audiences burst into laughter. When I showed a clip of Trump’s guest appearance on “Candid Camera” from back in the 1990s in which he ruined every scene by stumbling over his own ego, the crowd ate it up.
I’ve taken it all out because I no longer have the stomach for it. Moreover, jokes about Trump now seem tired, even passe.
Looking back over presidential comedy, a benchmark came in 1962 when a little-known performer named Vaughn Meader spoofed John F. Kennedy in an album titled “The First Family.” It was mild stuff, kidding JFK about his “rubber ducky” and mocking his pronounced Boston accent, yet it sold an incredible 7 million copies. Every president since has been lampooned – from Chevy Chase’s bumbling Gerald Ford to Will Ferrell’s malaprop-prone George W. Bush.
Dark Nixon humor
But, except for some dark Nixon humor, notably by the comedian David Frye, modern presidents have generally been mocked with a gentle wink, not a snarl.
Trump is different and fatigue is setting in. Comedy Central is practically an all-Trump channel; “Saturday Night Live” dutifully trots out Alec Baldwin in the role, but increasingly the script isn’t as funny as whatever Trump actually said that week. Stephen Colbert’s nightly anti-Trump rants on CBS are becoming strained. Remember, it was Colbert’s boss, Leslie Moonves, who famously said in 2016 that Trump’s campaign “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
Has it finally reached a tipping point, where Trump’s presidency is too damaging to laugh at?
Comedians who fantasize that they are doing some kind of public service by going after Trump are kidding themselves. He loves it. He even tweeted that NBC should dump Baldwin and give the Trump role to Darrell Hammond. Face it: Trump relishes being the center of attention, even bad attention.
What’s needed is a Trump Comedy Freeze, and a good place to begin would be the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on April 28. Trump skipped the event last year and has not said if he plans to attend this time.
This year’s roastmaster is Michelle Wolf of Comedy Central, who once observed that Trump “shouldn’t even be president of lunch meat” and that he’s “the worst thing to happen to women since yeast.” She has already pledged that she won’t hold back at Nerd Prom, as the correspondents’ dinner is known, whether Trump attends or not.
But why not hold back? Not out of fear but as a show of strength. Imagine Trump’s surprise, whether sitting on the dais or watching from bed in the Executive Residence, if his name is never mentioned all night.
At some point, even a comical president is no longer a laughing matter.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. He is the author of “Cautiously Optimistic.”