Tonight The President Show debuts on late night, and with it, perhaps, the magic formula that Comedy Central has been looking for since it lost The Colbert Report. At the helm of this new show- the President of the United States, Donald Trump as filtered through the brilliant mind of Anthony Atamanuik.
Ever since Comedy Central first teased the new weekly series in late March, we’ve been anxiously awaiting any details about the new series, and Wednesday morning, Comedy Central finally gave some answers, hosting a press breakfast and press conference with the Prez, his VP, and the man behind the character. They also unveiled the new studio and set, which includes a Presidential podium, a beautiful re-creation of the Oval Office along with a guest couch, three doors, and a desk full of Trump/Atamanuik photos.
The new series promises to give Saturday Night Live and Alec Baldwin a run for their money. The set is impressive and detailed, the hair and make up are spot on, and Atamanuik’s performance is cutting and hilarious. Even the studio audience seating includes Presidential appointments, with chandeliers and lamps providing atmosphere.
The press conference began with an introduction from Trump’s sidekick, VP Mike Pence played by Peter Grosz (who has plenty of experience in the world of political satire), and an opportunity to question DT about his new show. After answering a series of questions in character and full make-up, and some photo-ops with the press, Anthony came out and answered some serious questions about the run of the show, playing Trump, and his own thoughts about the Commander-in-Chief.
The format of the show at its simplest is this: Trump hosting his late night show. “He’s excited about it. We are in the Oval Office. He has hollowed out the back of the White House to put seating in, and that is our conceit.” Beyond that, he said, the show will roll out much like other late-night shows, with desk bits, a sidekick, banter, interviews, and field pieces. “We’re going to take our characters … take Trump out into the field, put them in the world. See what it’s like to have those characters interact with the world. We have some really funny pieces, I think, tomorrow night.” Atamanuik said the field segments they have lined up for tomorrow night’s show even made him laugh- and he admits he doesn’t like to watch his own performances.
Guests will include real world personalities and a few fakes, like his friend and collaborator James Adomian, who went on the road with him for a 40 city tour as Bernie Sanders. This week, his first guest will be Keith Olbermann. “We’re so honored to have Keith Olbermann there,” he said. “I think he’s a stalwart of liberal thinking. It’s an opportunity for me, as Trump, to interview him, but I’ve tapped from my own mind in there, too.” That synthesis between Tony and Trump, he said, will help to stave off any Trump fatigue. “We know that you can’t have 6 bowls of chocolate ice cream, you’ve gotta break it up.”
The idea for the show sprung out of conversations with Tony’s old friend, Adam Pally, who is the show’s executive producer. He said that after Trump won the election, he and Adam had discussed doing a Colbert-style talk show, in the sense that it would be a character who hosts the show. They envisioned a sort of fireside chat themed show, but updated from FDR’s fireside chats to fit Trump’s persona. They pitched the show in January, and by mid-February, it was a go (which means when Alec Baldwin was firing shots at Atamanuik, calling him an “internet comedian,” Tony already knew he had the weekly spot). Of course, Baldwin is the most well-known Trump impersonator (for now), but had been criticized as delivering a shallow impression of the President.
Atamanuik explained how he sees Donald, and how he creates his character:
“I like to say that I do an impression of his psyche, I do an impression of his soul,” he said. “I feel like the thing that’s missing in how people portray Trump is the sort of … I always say he’s like if you took Frank Sinatra and then threw him in a bog for 4,000 years and dried the body out, that would be Trump, with all the rotted charm. He fancies himself as a rat-packer, right? But he’s sort of this insecure, almost, like, dowager living in a mansion, right? He has an almost weird feminine quality to him that he tries to overcompensate with this sort of swaggery masculinity. And then within that, he talks to himself, if you ever watch it, he doesn’t actually talk to people. He tells himself his story, and then you’re just witnessing him tell himself a story.”
Atamanuik also likens him to a New York apartment dweller, “one of those weirdos with a granny-cart rolling down the Upper West Side, and he got elected President! So we have a New York shut-in that is the President of the United States. So that to me is where the sweet spot is for him.”
The superficial elements of Trump, he said, are easy. “That’s all conditioning and training and learning it, and observing him and watching him. But in watching him, I learned all these psychological refrains that I found were fascinating.”
While Atamanuik doesn’t pretend that his show is going to end Trump’s Presidency or anything that dramatic, he does hope to have an impact. “I think that we can contribute to examining his identity and forcing cable news media, and so on, to stop doing this pretend game, where just because he’s the President, we now pretend that he’s not this weird, lecherous guy. And I think that this is the great irresponsible action of the Fourth Estate — that they are pretending that everything is the same.”
He considers Trump a result of everything we’ve been doing wrong in our culture. “He is a just a representation, a Godhead, of what we’ve done in the last 40 years, the last 60 years in this country to serve this,” he said referring to corporatism and profit seeking “versus serving each other, and there’s a way to serve both and we’re not doing that.”
And he said he hopes Trump will be watching. “I would want him to watch and go, “Oh, my God. That’s how I come off? Oh, my God, that’s who I am?”
The President Show debuts tonight, Thursday, April 27 at 11:30 pm. Don’t miss it.