John Lithgow on Comedy in Age of Trump: "No Sense of Irony, Wit or Self-Awareness"

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and guest John Lithgow - Publicity Still - H 2019
Scott Kowalchyk/CBS

Ahead of the release of Bombshell, John Lithgow dropped by The Late Show Tuesday to chat with host Stephen Colbert about his role as disgraced former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes in the Jay Roach-directed drama. During the interview, the two also spoke about the comedy of Trump and Lithgow's satirical poetry collection inspired by the current administration. 

Bombshell follows a group of women, including Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, who confronted the toxic atmosphere at Fox News and accused Ailes of sexual harassment, which eventually led to his resignation in 2016.

Lithgow joked that his wife still hasn't recovered from experiencing the "first look" at the movie, which shows Lithgow looking 300 pounds heavier with "a fat nose and earlobes." Opening up about the transformation, he said the prosthetic sessions took two and a half hours each day for the 17-day shooting period. 

Lithgow stars in the film, which releases Dec. 20, opposite Margot Robbie, Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Kate McKinnon and Allison Janney. 

Moving on to other projects, The Late Show host mentioned the op-ed that Lithgow wrote in The New York Times recently, titled Trump is a Bad President. He's an Even Worse Entertainer. "Why can't we look away?" he asked the actor, referring to the Trump's worldly audience. Lithgow said that Trump is doing "something" right; yet there is "no sense of irony, wit or self-awareness" in his language or behavior. The actor went on to say, "I've never seen him attempt to tell an actual joke, he mangles everything that resembles a punchline. Yet he has a mass audience ... he's doing something right," the actor concluded.

He later said, "There's one thing he has achieved in entertainment: He's turned our comics into geniuses. Political satire has never been more important."

Speaking of political satire, Colbert took an opportunity to mention Lithgow's book, a satirical poetry collection called Dumpty: The Age of Trump in Verse, which was published last month.

As the title suggests, the book is inspired by the Trump administration. In addition to writing the poems, Lithgow is responsible for the front cover illustration, which shows a smirking Trump in his signature suit and red tie.

Asked why this particular art form appealed to him, Lithgow told a story of when he was asked to perform at the New York Public Theater gala and sing "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General" from the comic opera Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan. He decided to perform the song as former U.S. National Security advisor Michael Flynn, and appeared onstage in full Flynn makeup, a navy suit and a red tie. He launched into the song, with the audience having "no idea" who he was impersonating, but then tweaked the last line of the song to include Flynn's name. When the audience realized, Lithgow slowed the tempo down and sang his own rewritten lyrics to the third verse. 

Months later, he met with his literary editor and sang the song to him.

"He looked at me and said, "There's your book." The actor then turned to Colbert: "Here's my book."