Critic's Notebook: Comedy Central's 'The President Show' Delivers Toothless Trump Satire
Anthony Atamanuik's impersonation of the president seems designed more as entertainment for tired conventioneers than as cutting-edge political humor.
Those who think of Donald Trump as the most successful performance artist of all time might get a kick out of Comedy Central’s new weekly series lampooning the president. Starring comedian and Trump impersonator Anthony Atamanuik, it purports to be a talk show hosted by Trump himself, complete with an Oval Office setting and a sidekick in the form of Mike Pence. Unfortunately, The President Show turns out to be mostly toothless satire, replete with broad, shticky comedy more suitable for the Borscht Belt than late-night television. Those looking for more incisive political humor will find it in plenty of other places, most notably The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Comedy Central’s own The Daily Show.
After a tired opening bit in which "Trump" introduced the show accompanied by an obsequious Pence (played by actor/writer Peter Grosz, a veteran of Colbert and Veep), the debut half-hour included several brief segments. The first featured Trump comparing and contrasting such things as clam chowder ("Nice!") and corn chowder ("Not Nice!") to predictably silly effect. It did provide the opportunity for one good joke, about the German audience who recently heckled Ivanka: "This is the worst thing the Germans have ever done!" Trump fumes.
A videotaped segment depicted Trump returning home to Trump Tower, only to discover that Melania has changed the locks. So he ventures to Times Square, where he amuses onlookers by scarfing down white sauce at a halal stand and acting like an overexcited infant when a truck passes by.
That was followed by an interview with Keith Olbermann on a set designed to look like Mar-a-Lago. Olbermann, currently hosting a strident anti-Trump show called The Resistance on GQ.com, would have seemed a natural first guest. But he looked visibly uncomfortable attempting comic banter with Atamanuik’s Trump about such subjects as Mike Flynn and Roger Stone. It wasn't for nothing that at the end of the segment Atamanuik put an arm around Olbermann's shoulder and gently chastised, "I blew the last line, Keith."
Only in the show's final moments did its humor have any bite. Atamanuik delivered a brief monologue in which he cleverly shortened Trump's catchphrase from "America First" to "Me First" by simply dropping a few letters, and savagely mocked Trump voters' motivations. Suddenly his act seemed less designed to entertain tired businesspeople at sales meetings and more reflective of an actual point of view.
As Alec Baldwin has demonstrated with his brilliant recurring turn on Saturday Night Live, a little Trump imitation goes a long way. Baldwin's emphasis on Trump's grotesque self-absorption and willful ignorance is as disturbing as it is hilarious. Atamanuik's Trump is more like an overgrown baby, easily distracted and consumed by his oversized appetites. It's a gentler approach, and one that's perhaps necessary if it's going to be consumed at length on a weekly basis. But the writing is going to have to get a lot sharper if The President Show intends to be anything more than a silly diversion.