You know things are bad when people start saying that comedy will save us. Momentarily buoyed by a series of Saturday Night Live sketches that seem to have gotten under Trump’s skin, traumatized Americans are making all sorts of wild claims about the power of satire in the face of a corrupt authoritarian regime. As a practicing comedian I’m here to fully disabuse you of those notions.
First off, I’m glad people are entertained by Melissa McCarthy’s impression of press secretary Sean Spicer and Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of the president. Currently the Twitterverse is intoxicated with the idea that because Trump was especially irked by his flunky Spicer’s lampooning at the hands of a—gasp!—woman, SNL should develop female counterparts for the whole gang, with Rosie O’Donnell the frontrunner to play human toadstool Steve Bannon.
What an exciting time to be an SNL contributor! So much possibility! As opposed to, say, November 2015, when SNL had Trump on as guest host, gamely going through the paces while giving him national airtime and demographic cred at a point when his candidacy was still considered a bad joke. Of course, whether they’re giving his campaign free exposure a year before the election or taking jabs at the nascent dictator he’s become, either way the winner is NBC’s parent company, Comcast. The telecom giant stands to benefit massively from the Trump appointment of a staunchly corporatist former Verizon lawyer to head the FCC. But boy, that Sean Spicer sure likes to chew gum! Truth to power, yo!
I don’t mean to come off like another humorless doomsday liberal, but it seems you’re asking a bit much of comedy these days. I get it; you’re grasping at straws in desperate times. I realize we all look for signs of hope where we can find them, but I can assure you that comedy’s not the answer. You might as well ask tap dancers to reverse global warming.
For starters, comedy is where a lot of our culture’s atmospheric toxicity came from in the first place. Those Pepe-loving edgelords who shitposted Trump into the Oval Office? Many of them are failed open mikers too creepy and maladjusted to even fit onto the Isle of Misfit Toys that is standup comedy. Those college Republicans clamoring for Milo to speak on their campuses? Thwarted class clowns furious that “no one can take a joke anymore” and eager to find community with others who share their “sense of humor.” All their carping about feminism, safe spaces and “political correctness” roiled through the comedy community long before it went mainstream. Comedy was Patient Zero for Shitlord Syndrome and it’s still in the process of making a painful recovery.
I‘m not saying that comedy has nothing to offer the resistance. But you’re scaring me with all this talk of comedians rescuing us. Comedians are dancing monkeys with shiny behinds. It might feel cathartic to share that SNL clip or retweet that devastating takedown of a Trump tweet, but it’s not gonna save us. File all that stuff under choir-preaching and self-care. It might make you feel better and help cheer the troops but it’s not going to stop the march of an autocratic junta hell-bent on rolling back the past century-plus of human rights. The only thing that’s gonna save us now is millions of bodies shutting down airports, federal buildings and legislatures across the country, along with sustained pressure applied through every meager avenue still left at our disposal.
At best, comedy can offer us a way of looking at the world that’s honest about the horrors but perpetually optimistic about the prospect of laughter. At worst, it’s a haven for every racist, misogynist, white supremacist attitude that enabled this national nightmare. In between, it’s a thing everybody loves that is nevertheless probably not the most effective means of unseating a tyrant. Don’t sit around waiting for comedians to somehow get us out of this mess; demand that they show up and march alongside you. And bring a funny sign.