"It Feels Like I'm at a Rally": For Pro-Trump Comedians, Business Is Booming
As TV's late-night hosts take aim at the president nightly, right-leaning comics are finding big audiences for live shows, advertising themselves to MAGA audiences with a conservative point of view.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton described half of Donald Trump's supporters as "a basket of deplorables." It was meant as an insult, of course, but in 2018 a comedy troupe embraced the moniker by calling themselves The Deplorables.
They were on a roll, playing more than a dozen sold-out shows at venues with more than 600 seats in between appearances on Fox News and talk radio, Then, in February, one of its lead comics, Terrence Williams, fractured his neck in a ride-share accident on his way to visit President Trump at the White House for a Black History Month celebration. The Deplorables have been on hiatus ever since.
Fortunately for the booming business of pro-Trump comedy, The Deplorables are not alone. There always have been plenty of popular, right-leaning comedians across the U.S., including Tim Allen, Dennis Miller and Jeff Foxworthy. But in the Trump era, some are advertising their politics in advance in order to woo like-minded audiences to their shows.
"Texas was crazy, but Iowa was off the charts. They waited in line for an hour just to thank us," says The Deplorables' Michael Loftus, who wrote for The George Lopez Show before producing episodes of Charlie Sheen's Anger Management and Kevin James' Kevin Can Wait.
Since the accident that sidelined The Deplorables, he created the Loftus Party Live, and there's also something called Chit Chat Live, a tour starring YouTubers Diamond and Silk, sisters (real names: Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson) who host a Fox Nation streaming show. Tickets to their June 22 performance at Trump National Doral Miami run $90 for general admission and $200 for VIP seats.
Another conservative comedian who is cashing in is Evan Sayet, a former writer for Politically Incorrect, Win Ben Stein's Money and The Arsenio Hall Show. "The second I recognized I was a conservative, I could no longer put words in the mouths of guys like Bill Maher and Jimmy Kimmel," says Sayet, who primarily works private Republican events where he can earn more in a single performance than the $2,500 he was making in a week's worth of club appearances.
Sayet created Right to Laugh, a rotating group of comics who performed regularly at The Friars Club in Beverly Hills and the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club & Podcast Theatre at Universal CityWalk before both venues shut down. Sayet's routine also was a staple at parties hosted by Friends of Abe, the private organization of 2,500 conservatives working in the industry before its demise shortly after Trump was elected.
Beyond the in-your-facers like Sayet and company, there also are hybrid performers who are sometimes billed as conservative comics, sometimes not, like Right to Laugh veteran Adam Yenser, a writer on Ellen. (Says Yenser, "I disagree and debate with the other Ellen writers at times, but we get along.") He says he prefers performing for a nonpartisan crowd ignorant of his politics.
"When playing to a conservative audience, the premise gets applause, and it feels like I'm at a rally," he says. "For a mainstream club, I start off nonpartisan, then get conservative. It's fun to see their reaction because they like my comedy at that point. I like to see how far I can push them, then win them back."
Yenser says that what works against conservative comics is "an outrage culture on the left." That's a theme echoed in an upcoming documentary feature, No Safe Spaces, from Adam Carolla, in which Allen and Bryan Callen (The Goldbergs) lament the things comics "can't say anymore" for fear of angering progressive activists. "A booker said as I was leaving a club once, 'You did really good before you started that Republican stuff. Nobody wants to hear that shit,' " says Yenser. "But it was just that he didn't want to hear it."
Indeed, it's not easy for a clear-cut conservative comic to land venues, says Sayet. "Club owners are small-business owners who are overwhelmingly conservative, but if they book conservative comics, they worry that Rosie O'Donnell, Bill Maher, Joy Behar and other liberals won't ever play their club again. It's a business decision."
Legendary comedian Jackie Mason, 88, echoes that sentiment, saying he saves his partisan material for Fox News and talk radio but strives to be mainstream during live appearances. "A comedian that makes you aware of what side he is on is a schmuck," says Mason. "Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert lose half of America."
This story first appeared in the June 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.