Anthony Atamanuik and James Adomian: The Politics Behind the Comedy of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders


Comedy Central just announced their new late night talk show, The President Show hosted by President Donald Trump.

We mean, . While many viewers may have been more familiar with SNL’s Alec Baldwin portraying Trump before the two squared off after a recent Baldwin appearance on Kimmel, those in the know have watched Atamanuik inhabit The Don since early in his candidacy. Atamanuik and began going toe-to-toe in the satirical Trump v Bernie Debates in October, 2015. A nationwide tour followed, along with a Fusion special and an album. We spoke with Atamanuik and Adomian at the finale of their run during last year’s Just For Laughs festival in Montreal, where the two got serious about the politics behind the comedy, with some very prescient thoughts.

On the surprising staying power of both Trump and Bernie’s campaigns

James Adomian: I felt from the beginning that Trump was going to do far better than anyone was willing to admit and I think it’s wishful thinking. I think the media class and elite voices are still deceiving themselves about Trump.

Anthony Atamanuik: They’re in denial and each time he would debate and wipe the floor with everybody, everyone would be like, “This is impossible, this can’t happen.” But this is happening, though. It’s continuing to happen. I think you’re right, the elite class is both in denial and also propelling it, that’s the weird part.

James Adomian: It’s sort of like, “Ha ha, look at this evil clown… let’s keep looking at him!” The amount of coverage that Donald Trump got is insane. Especially when you compare it to the amount of coverage Bernie Sanders got. They basically locked him [Sanders] out of television until it was too late, but then you look and Sanders got like 86% of the vote for people under 45. And that’s basically my whole life, I don’t know anybody over 45. He got more votes than Hillary and Trump combined in that group, which they consider “young voters.” And those are the only people I care about, because those are the people that come to comedy shows.

Anthony Atamanuik: He was speaking to a lot of values that hadn’t been spoken about since 1980. I think that they were new to a lot of young people.

James Adomian: Yes! We took a big rightward turn in 1980.

Anthony Atamanuik: Everything Bernie’s talked about used to be Democratic platform points and then it evaporated. So it was a great realignment. And you know, there is the factor of him being a kindly old rumpled Jewish grandpa. He was a good type of “Old.”

James Adomian: He’s the kind of old person I would like to be if I have the misfortune of ever being old.

On the regional differences during the tour

James Adomian: There are differences city to city, but it’s not what you’d expect. We really had to go through it and see it in person. I hate to sell out a city we went to, but San Francisco was particularly bad. It’s known as a liberal city, but it’s become so gentrified to the point that they’re afraid to laugh at anything.

Anthony Atamanuik: And it’s techie, elite liberalism. And that kind of liberalism is almost as fascist as The Right. The sense of “What is the boundary of language? What is the boundary of what you are allowed to express?” It’s more about “I want to agree with you, I don’t want you to agitate my thoughts.” I think that’s a dangerous current on the Left, and I’m a Leftie, is this policing of language and ideas. And having this head-in-the-sand thing of, “The ills of the world don’t exist if I just pretend that this is the part of the world that is acceptable.” And that’s inherently bad because you are eliminating a bunch of factors that you just find distasteful. Generally, it has to do with poorer, working class people – plumbers and garbage collectors – “gross people” to those who work on apps and like to eat amuse-bouches and jerk each other off about liberal ideas that reinforce their own wealth and status. San Francisco has the largest rate of illegal sex traffic coming into their port, they have an incredible homelessness problem, and an incredible disparity in housing.

James Adomian: In contrast, people think “Oh, you played the South, was the South rough?” No! It was great, it was fantastic! The Atlanta show and the Nashville shows were fantastic. Richmond was really good! It’s not about how liberal or conservative an area is, it’s about how good is that city at laughing at things? And that’s different than ideology.

Anthony Atamanuik: The more integrated the audience – the more you had people of color, women, different strata of economics, you had a better response overall.

James Adomian: If everyone in the crowd makes over $100,000 a year and is mostly white, it’s not going to go well. You have the guilt.

Anthony Atamanuik: In Portland, I had someone stand up and protest me as Trump as if Trump was actually speaking!

James Adomian: It was great, Tony lost it and yelled at the guy to stop protesting the shadow in Plato’s cave.

Anthony Atamanuik: Yeah, don’t protest the shadow, step out of the fucking cave and go protest the object! I think it’s incumbent upon us – who attends comedy show, even in Red States? You’re speaking to your own crowd. But you don’t just say stuff your crowd is going to agree with, if it’s a political show that has a point of view, your responsibility is to agitate. We can just sniff each other’s assholes the whole time, but we need to unpack what’s wrong with us too. It’s basic couple’s therapy – fix your own shit!

James Adomian: This is what I love about Tony’s Trump impression, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for it – it’s dangerous. Donald Trump is a monster, he says terrible, racist things and no one was touching that before Tony. Tony led the way on that. It was really bold and courageous, and that’s what satire should be.

Anthony Atamanuik: But to give the compliment back…

James Adomian: We are literally jerking each other off under the table right now.

Anthony Atamanuik: I always watch James and think, to play this character who is someone you like and whose opinion you agree with, and to make it funny? That’s a real challenge. James is a genius.

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Amy E Hawthorne is a New York by way of LA comedy journalist and founder of ComedyGroupie.com. She's also a produced numerous stand-up shows, got a paycheck and a drinking problem from The Comedy Store and is convinced that the Big Avocado lobby are the ones who really pull the strings in this country.