Whatever else you may have thought about last week’s Republican Convention, it was a gold mine for comedians.
If you watched the Republican Convention live, it didn’t seem like a laughing matter: chants of “Lock her up!”, endless talk about the Muslims and Mexicans who are coming to kill us, and assertions that “our very way of life” is threatened. Even Donald Trump’s attempt to assure us that “I alone” can fix the rigged system was a bit creepy, along with his claim that “I am your voice.” (I’d been wondering why I’ve sounded so raspy lately.)
Away from the podium, the situation was even worse, with calls for Hillary Clinton to be “shot for treason” or left “hanging from a tree“. Perhaps even more disturbing was the Trump campaign’s half-hearted distancing from such rhetoric: “We’re incredibly grateful for his support, but we don’t agree with his comments [about shooting Clinton].”
Admittedly, there were a few moments of unintentional humor, like when Trump’s third wife did a Rickroll testifying to his loyalty, or his daughter introduced him by talking admiringly about policies — equal pay for women and affordable childcare — that are part of Hillary Clinton’s platform, not her father’s. Those thigh-slapping moments, though, were few and far between.
But events and people that are nothing to laugh about are often precisely the ones that we need to laugh at, so for comedians Donald Trump has been maybe the best opportunity since Charlie Chaplin had that German guy to spoof. And last week our political humorists did not let us down. Jon Stewart may have walked into the sunset last year, but the Daily Show alums — Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee and John Oliver — brought their A-game. The other late-night hosts pitched in admirably. And never say Donald Trump never did anything good for us: Jon even came back to cover him.
Trevor Noah got the week off to a good start, with his coverage of Rudy Giuliani’s opening-night fear-mongering.
In my opinion, he also had the best response to the Melania Trump plagiarism flap:
We should be encouraging her. Because if she feels comfortable stealing Michelle’s speeches and we make it normal, maybe Donald Trump will feel OK stealing Obama’s policies, and then the country won’t be in such a dangerous place. And I know people might say, ‘Wait, Trevor, we can’t just just plagiarize President Obama, can we?’ And I say: Yes. Yes we can.
Here’s the whole segment:
Runners-up for Melania coverage were Bill Maher, who reached a similar conclusion by a somewhat crueler path:
She stole a speech about her parents teaching her values, confirming what Donald has always said: Immigrants steal. I hate to generalize, but Slovenia is not sending us its best people. They’re plagiarists, they’re models — some of them I assume are good people.
… And of course in the media this is the only story anybody cares about. Have they been watching this convention? These assholes cheered letting off the cops who killed Freddie Gray. They’re against health insurance and for coal mining. I want them to steal more ideas from Michelle Obama.
and Late Night‘s Seth Meyers, who had the best one-liner:
Melanie did it: She found something less original than being a model married to an old billionaire.
Throughout the week, Meyers had a series of on-point characterizations. Trump’s fog-and-silhouette entrance Monday was “like ET returning to Earth“. Chris Christie’s Tuesday-night speech — with it’s repeated calls to the audience to pronounce Clinton “guilty” — was “a Stalinesque show trial“. Ben Carson’s linking of Clinton to Saul Alinsky to the Rules for Radicals dedication and from there to Lucifer was “the old six-degrees-of-Satan technique“. In his acceptance speech Thursday, “Trump talked about America like he was pitching a post-apocalyptic show to the SyFy network.” And Marco Rubio appeared by video
probably in hopes that once he was projected on a giant screen, Trump would stop calling him Little Marco. “Did you see me Donald? I was 50 feet tall!”
After Ted Cruz’ boo-provoking refusal to endorse Trump, Meyers asked: “Is there anybody more comfortable being hated than Ted Cruz?” Which was followed by my favorite: After playing a clip of Cruz telling the Texas delegation:
That pledge [to support the nominee] was not a blanket commitment that if you go slander and attack Heidi, that I’m gonna nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say “Thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father.”
he imagined Chris Christie’s response: “Ruff-ruff-ruff-ruff.”
About Christie’s speech: Trevor Noah demonstrated how easy it is to evoke the verdict you want from a friendly audience by getting the Daily Show audience to pronounce Christie guilty of Bridgegate and a variety of other things, some completely absurd. And he protested the RNC’s favoring a chant of “Lock her up” over any serious discussion of the issues facing ordinary Americans, by leading his audience in a chant of “Cut the shit.”
Daily Show reporters also had some good moments. Here, they ask conventioneers: “When was America last great?”
Samantha Bee’s Monday-night time slot was mistimed for convention coverage, so instead she emphasized her journey to Cleveland, during which she stopped in on a moderate Republican politician from Pennsylvania.
SAMANTHA: So we’re stuck with this shit sandwich, let’s eat it.
REP. JIM CRISTIANA: I think that’s a fair way to characterize what I just said.
She also filed short updates from Cleveland.
Trump named Omarosa as his African-American outreach person. She is uniquely qualified, since she is actually the only African-American the campaign has ever reached out to.
Stephen Colbert brought back the Bill-O’Reillyish character from his old show, and did a “The Word” segment on “Trumpiness“.
Eleven years ago, I invented a word: truthiness. Truthiness is believing something that feels true, even if it isn’t supported by fact. … I have to admit [Trump] has surpassed me now. Truthiness has to feel true, but Trumpiness doesn’t even have to do that. In fact, many Trump supporters don’t believe his wildest promises, and they don’t care. … Truthiness was from the gut, but Trumpiness clearly comes from much further down the gastro-intestinal track.
Colbert rediscovered his alter ego when he tracked Jon Stewart to the wilderness cabin where he has been hiding, and called him back to service.
I found that segment surprising, because I was sure Jon was hiding in the ruins of the old Jedi temple on the planet Ahch-To. But Colbert’s mission led to Jon taking over Colbert’s Late Show desk Thursday night.
And Jon closed by addressing Sean Hannity and other conservative voices directly:
I see you. You’ve got a problem with those Americans fighting for their place at the table. You’ve got a problem with them because you feel like the — what’s Rep. Steve King’s word for it? — subgroups of Americans are being divisive. Well if you have a problem with that, take it up with the Founders: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Those fighting to be included in the ideal of equality are not being divisive. Those fighting to keep those people out, are.
Prior to the convention, Colbert took on a different character and invaded the podium to announce “The Hungry for Power Games“.
As for printed humor, Andy Borowitz is the champion.
Donald J. Trump was jubilant Thursday night after accomplishing his goal of delivering a speech that no one will ever want to plagiarize, Trump aides confirmed. …
“There was one sentence toward the beginning that had traces of humanity and rational thought,” Manafort said. “Fortunately, we caught it in time.”
Of course, we can’t forget the great Trump comedy pieces of previous weeks. Like Australian comedian Jim Jefferies’ Trump rant:
He’s a lot of fun. And there’s a little bit of me that thinks: “Fuck it. Let’s do it. Let’s do it and see how fucking crazy shit can get.”
… But this is where it’s not fun. … You’re a 16-year-old boy or girl that’s a Muslim living in this country. You’ve lived your entire life in this country. You’ve always considered yourself American. And then all of a sudden, someone who could be your president says “You are not welcome here” and that you should be put on a register. Now that kid … how fucking quickly do you think that kid could be radicalized now?
Finally, John Oliver summed it all up last night:
It was a four-day exercise in emphasizing feelings over facts. … This is a graph of the violent crime rate in the United States. It’s not a fucking Rorschach Test. You can’t infer anything you like from it. … [Newt Gingrich] just brought a feeling to a fucking fact fight. … I think we can all agree that candidates can create feelings in people. And what Gingrich is saying is that feelings are as valid as facts. So then, by the transitive property, candidates can create facts. Which is terrifying, because that means somebody like Donald Trump can essentially create his own reality.
OK, I have to admit: That part wasn’t funny. There was a lot to laugh at last week, but when you boil it all down, the scary essence is still there.
Even Charlie Chaplin couldn’t sum up the reality of The Great Dictator in a funny way. The climax of his movie was both serious and a fantasy.
We didn’t get that speech Thursday night. So after we laugh — and hopefully regenerate our energies by laughing — we have to go back to the reality of a frightening political situation.