When comedian Kathy Griffin posed with a replica of the severed head of Trump, many thought she had gone too far. Some diehards defended her right to express herself as she saw fit – free speech, don’t ya know – but no one, including the Secret Service, was holding their sides in laughter. She must have known she bombed as soon as CNN axed her (no pun intended) from her New Year’s Eve co-hosting gig.
Likewise, Johnny Depp found himself with a foot in his mouth while speaking to a crowd in England. Hard to believe, but he was trying to be funny when he wondered aloud, “When was the last time an actor assassinated a president? … It’s been a while and maybe it’s time.”
Get it? Depp is an actor, John Wilkes Booth (who killed President Abraham Lincoln) was an actor. We should all pause for the guffaws sure to come.
Okay, maybe not.
Sure, Depp’s approach may not be the seltzer-in-the face shtick of a vaudeville comic or the ‘I laughed so hard I cried’ wit of noted funnyman Lee Harvey Oswald (who assassinated John F. Kennedy), but Depp probably thought any anti-Trump quip was a surefire crowd pleaser.
It wasn’t. Depp apologized for his comments but the damage was done. Sean Spicer, then the White House press secretary, observed – in what may be the only insightful public comment of his short tenure – that there has been a “troubling lack of outrage” over “some of these incidents.”
Is he right? Again, it probably depends on how one reacts to the whole idea of Trump as president – resignation, denial or fury at his presidency seem to be the dominant positions in play, and none are conducive to belly laughs.
Noted comedian Lewis Black was speaking recently at Chautauqua Institution (a centre for cultural and artistic learning in upstate New York) during a week-long exploration of Comedy and the Human Condition.
Known widely for his political rants on the Daily Show, where he adopts the persona of an angry American railing at the social and political absurdity around him, Black asked: “How am I supposed to satirize what’s already satiric? How am I supposed to make something that’s already funny funnier?”
The question has to be more basic than that – i.e. is it “already funny” at all? Since Trump occupies the Oval Office, maybe the whole premise of him as president is no longer comical now that the absurd has become true.
During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of Trump on Saturday Night Live was funny because the audience was in on the joke. We laughed at Baldwin’s arrogant cluelessness and sophomoric frat-boy bullying in the face of the exasperated confidence portrayed by SNL castmate Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton.
We laughed because he would lose and she would win – at least that’s what a lot of us thought at the time. So the fact that they were forced to share a stage together during the spoof debates on SNL was funny as hell. We all knew how it would end so no harm in having a chuckle or two while we waited for the inevitable popping of his balloon.
The thinking was that the billionaire candidate and reality TV host – with exactly zero political experience – may have defied all odds to win the Republican nomination but he could not possibly prevail in a general election against Clinton.
Well he did win and he who laughs last laughs hardest – or so they say.
But no one is laughing anymore. Even the late-night TV hosts who regularly mine the Trump administration for jokes seem to be doing so with the kind of incredulity that only serves to make any punchlines fall flat.
It’s as if there’s been a great cosmic joke played on … well, everyone. The laughter may have subsided because many American voters are beginning to feel that they, and not Trump or his team, are the true butts of the joke.
Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a Canada-raised, U.S.-based writer and occasional lawyer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day.
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