Blog: Laughing at Donald Trump
The day after the election, the depression was palpable on Western’s campus. Stillness was in the air as a collective group of students tried to digest the previous night’s events. Some protested, and many students, myself included, wept.
This didn’t feel like a tragedy we’re used to, there were no lives lost too soon, but an uncertain future in a country where your own rights or the rights of someone you love may be stripped away. The bad news kept pouring in. People went to sleep on election night anticipating the first female president and woke up to a President-Elect who denies climate change, is endorsed by the KKK and faces multiple sexual assault accusations. Dizzying.
This historic election also had some students thinking, “What is the art going to look like in the next four years?” Movies, music, television, literature. How will pop culture respond?
It kind of already has, and it is varied. The comedy came quick, and in many different forms. Most notably, because none seem prepared for a Trump win.
Saturday Night Live
McKinnon had the privilege of portraying Clinton as unhinged and emotional. Snapping back at Trump in the fake debates. She could say all the things the real Hillary Clinton couldn’t, lest she be scrutinized. The real Hillary had to hold it together and stay calm, while her opponent could pretty much say anything and not only keep his followers, but also win the presidency.
It was poignant then, after over a year of over-the-top performances, SNL’s post-election cold open featured McKinnon playing it straight and somber. McKinnon, as Hillary, simultaneously paid tribute to the late Leonard Cohen and lamented her loss.
“And even though it all went wrong,” sang a tearful McKinnon, “I’ll stand before the Lord of Song. With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.” The segment managed to comment on two parallel current events at once, and capture the mood of at least half of the nation.
The critics came out, like they always do, arguing this is hardly a time for mourning.
As a response, I would like to say: things do not look good for Latinos, immigrants, gay people, black people, the LGBT community, Muslims, Jews, and many other groups in America right now. Steve Bannon, who is the actual worst, is the most recent addition to the White House. Those choosing to fight and speak up have an exhausting road ahead of them. Watching McKinnon’s performance, ending with the plea: “I’m not giving up, and neither should you,” is a piece of hope. “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night,” we carry on.
The night continued with a monologue, and return to the limelight, from Dave Chappelle. Chappelle’s monologue, and his entire visit, was humbling to liberal Americans often found living in their own echo chambers.
“I didn’t know that Donald Trump was going to win the election,” Chapelle said. “I did suspect it. It seemed like Hillary was doing well in the polls and yet — I know the whites.”
This sentiment flowed seamlessly into the night’s first sketch: Election Night. A group of upper class whites are shocked when they come to find out… America might be racist. The sketch was a cautionary tale of what can happen when privilege goes unchecked for too long.
“This is the most shameful thing America has ever done,” a disheartened caucasian male remarks. Cue Chris Rock and Chappelle breaking out into uncontrollable laughter.
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
While SNL took a satirical and reflective lens to the election, John Oliver responded with anger and a call to action. Reminding us Donald Trump will have access to the nuclear codes, shape the Supreme Court and the prize at the bottom of this hopeless pit: Mike Pence.
“You see, we’re laughing! We’re having fun!”
Oliver touched on what may have played a larger role in this election than any other in history: the media. Specifically, only surrounding ourselves with media we want to ingest, breeding complacency and seclusion. Oliver himself admitted his show has a bias. Then he touched on fake news, citing a study by BuzzFeed News, of all places, fake news on the right outweighs fake news on the left. However they both run rampant.
“It turns out hindsight, much like the year we’re all desperately looking forward to, is 2020.”
Finally, Oliver called for ongoing support of organizations that are going to need help under a Trump administration like Planned Parenthood and The Trevor Project. He gave a shout out to reputable news sources: The Washington Post, The New York Times and ProPublica.
There is much to examine, and we have four long, long years to study all the broken parts of 2016. These programs themselves are not immune. Last year SNL brought Trump on as a host, and may have played a larger role in normalizing Trump as president. Last Week Tonight’s first segment covering Trump received more views than any other segment of the second season, and featured no minority voices. Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, who saw their ratings spike after having Trump as a guest, also contributed to the problem.
(Graphs from Last Week Tonight study examining the racial makeup of John Oliver’s guests, compiled by me)
“Jokes don’t write themselves, Jews write jokes, and they are scared shitless,” Bee said. She’s right, it should not rest solely on those with a platform to make a point and alleviate the pain of bad news with humor.
She also responded to allegations millennials are overreacting to this election. “Today’s college kids are multiracial and international and actually know people who will be hurt by a Trump presidency, especially the history majors.” Bee placed Speaker Paul Ryan’s office address onscreen and urged anyone who has been harassed in the wake of the election results to send mail.
South Park, forced to rewrite its post-election episode in the wake of a Trump win, meandered around a mostly lackluster half-hour. It’s hard to fault Trey Parker and Matt Stone for this, since they only had less than 24 hours rather than their usual 144 to put together an episode. I’m excited to see what they can do with more time, more thought, less shock.
There is real racism and misogyny in America that has been normalized and tolerated. Comedy needs to face that fact. It stinks, and someday we might get used to the stench. We cannot. We must fight back, we must stand with our most vulnerable.
But, this does not mean we cannot laugh, at Trump, and ourselves. So this is my call to action, a call to comedy. Create laughter, because we could all really use some right now.