Figuring out how to joke about the former reality TV star once he was elected to the top U.S. office has been an ongoing discussion in the comedy world. While it seemed fair game for comedians to comment on his hairstyle or Twitter rants when a Trump presidency seemed like a distant, dystopian reality, many are now struggling with how to approach their commentary.
“Can comedians — can I — resist the temptation to treat Trump like just another politician we’re obliged to skewer? Comedy is about finding the absurdity in everything, and here we have a tantalizing target who is nothing but absurd,” Nancherla wrote in the article, which was subtitled “Forget Your Stupid Toupee Jokes.”
The comedian later added, “These sorts of jokes about him fail to even begin countering the disastrous impact he’ll have upon the world. Because the problem isn’t that he’s unmockable; it’s that he’s too dangerous to simply mock.” The danger, Nancherla explains, lies in “his rhetoric ... grounded in hate,” the alarming way he’s been supported by the “alt-right,” and how he’s shown thus far to be someone who “supports free speech only so long as he isn’t the butt of it.”
Nancherla’s article raises an important question about the craft of comedy: Is it a comedian’s mission to simply follow what’s funny and make people laugh in the name of ignoring more complex and difficult truths? Should anyone with a platform in 2016 use it to speak up for what he or she feels is an important message to spread?
In her estimation, the answer to the latter is yes.
Nancherla also invoked fellow comedian Samantha Bee’s words, delivered the day after the election. On her TBS show, Bee reminded all watching that a Trump win was not, contrary to popular thought, a “lucky break” for comedians and that jokes could, as the saying goes, write themselves. “No, no, no,” Bee said about that notion. “Jokes don’t write themselves, Jews write jokes, and they are scared shitless.”
Instead of working off well-tread jabs about tiny hands or orange skin, comedians would do better to use their platforms for good, Nancherla concluded. “This work, my work, feels more active now, more important. I feel driven to express my strong opinions and to challenge people’s thinking, even when it’s scary or inconvenient,” she said.
Read the full column over at The Village Voice.