Ever since the election of Donald Trump this past November, not much has seemed funny to me. As an avid fan and scholar of comedy, taking away my willingness to laugh is no small feat. But while I'd delighted in the public mockery of Trump the candidate and his lack of any qualifications, discernable plan, knowledge of the job, significant hand presence, or sense of decency, the reality of his looming presidency cast a dark cloud over my sense of humor.
Despite my urge to turn off the internet and cancel my season recordings of SNL and Full Frontal, though, comedy might be our best weapon--or at least a pretty good one--against the coming administration. So, even though these are seriously unfunny times, in the face of his looming inauguration, we need to stand up and laugh at Donald Trump.
While we tend to write off all things comic--comedy is fun, but it's not serious!--comedy has the potential to do real political work. Because comedy not only allows, but expects, us to break the rules and step outside normative constraints, it opens up space to explore ideas and forms of speech generally off limits. And because humor is associated with lightness and feeling good, it can help stave off political fatigue and bring people together--it's easier to connect over laughter than hopelessness.
While I contest that humor is always a useful tool for bringing people together and changing minds, I'd argue that Trump's presidency is particularly ripe for a comedic resistance, for a few specific reasons:
1. He hates it.
It's become increasingly clear that there's little Trump hates or fears more than embarrassment. When mocked, he can't help himself but to respond, revealing him to be the fragile, hot-tempered, petty man-child that he is. It was all in good fun to him when SNL and others made fun of his bravado, his greed, or his fondness for opulence and attractive women--these are things he likes about himself!--but Trump shot back when SNL depicted him as an ignorant laughingstock, calling for the show's cancellation and alleging its involvement in rigging the election against him.
But this doesn't just mean I think we should hurt his feelings. Although I do. But since the election, all forms of performance--and comedic performance in particular--have become increasingly contested. From the Hamilton cast's message to Mike Pence to Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes's controversial anti-Trumps stand-up sets, instances of artists' and comedians' speaking out against the coming administration have been widely disseminated and debated, and it hasn't just been their content in question, but their very right to exist.
We need to laugh at Donald Trump as a reminder that he can't take that away from us, no matter how badly he wants to. And he does want to. Trump may be able to charm reality TV audiences, intimidate those less powerful in business, weasel out of court cases, and work the electoral college, but he can never have the thing that he wants more than all of it, the one thing all the rest of it is for, and that's to never be laughed at.
2. It feels good!
Laughing feels good. It relieves tension, reduces stress, and releases endorphins. Right now, I'll take the good feelings where we can get them.
And "feeling good" isn't just about trivial pleasure. If we can laugh at Trump, at least for that moment we can make paying attention to him bearable. Since the election, my every instinct is to turn away, but if we all turn away then he has free reign. Outrage is going to get tiresome pretty quick, so let's go with "if you're not laughing, you're not paying attention."
3. It's a reminder that this is ridiculous.
I'm not the first to say that one of our biggest risks is for Trump and all he stands for to become normal. Treating him like a "normal" candidate is at least in part what allowed him to get this far, and treating him like a "normal" leader will usher his disastrous vision for the country in right along with him. Trump's view of women, his proposed Muslim registry, his climate change denial, the muzzle he'd like to put on the press--these can't be treated like legitimate political positions worthy of earnest debate.
When we joke about something, it establishes that thing as worthy of being laughed at and undermines its legitimacy. We do it just with our tone of voice all the time when we want to render something insignificant. Laughing at Donald Trump and the ludicrous things that come out of his mouth is a defense against them becoming legitimate, respected ideas, and then, real policies. We don't need reporters to ask follow-up questions when Trump says Mexico will pay for the wall--we need them to laugh in his face!
So, we can't let Trump win, we can't turn away, and we can't let the alternate reality in his head become actual reality. So, let's all laugh at Donald Trump. This is my call to arms.
We need SNL, we need more shows like SNL, we need Samantha Bee and Jon Oliver and The Daily Show, we need The Onion, and we need more satirical newspapers covering Trump around the clock, we need more stand-ups, we need more improv troupes (ok, maybe we have enough improv troupes), we need Trump tumblrs, we need someone to explain to me what tumblr is.
After all, a certifiable moron with a trail of bankruptcies, a lame reality tv show, his hairpiece on backwards, and no experience is literally about to be president. If you think about it, it's pretty funny.