Alec Baldwin, Kate McKinnon and Melissa McCarthy are absolutely heroes during this otherwise dark ride through American history. Their impressions of both Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live are so scathingly accurate, while also endlessly hilarious, devilishly satirical and brave, there's no chance they're not getting under the real Trump's thin orange skin. In fact, McCarthy was seen on Friday dressed in her "Spicy" regalia, driving the Spicer podium down what appears to be Broadway in midtown Manhattan in advance of hosting SNL this weekend.
There's a new show that premiered three weeks ago on Comedy Central at 11:30 p.m. every Thursday called The President Show and, with all due respect to the SNL troupe, this show is even funnier and more relentless than anything we've seen elsewhere. Here's the concept. It's a fake late night talk show hosted by Donald Trump, played by improv comedian Anthony Atamanuik. Imagine Stephen Colbert's 11:30 "Colbert" character, but replaced by Trump and expanded to include material beyond the usual desk pieces.
And yes, Atamanuik's Trump is more clever, more accurate and, yeah, delivers more belly laughs than anything Baldwin's done so far -- and, again, Baldwin has been brilliant. But Atamanuik has really become the gold standard, though lesser known than his counterpart, in terms of not only Trump jokes but chiefly in terms of inhabiting Trump and smartly milking every detail of the real Trump's sociopathy and awkward, enigmatic weirdness. I underscore "smartly" because, unlike, say, Jimmy Fallon's Trump, which is merely an attempted copy of the real Trump without any broader satire under the wig, we're talking about an alt-Trump that has something both insightful and cutting to say. In this regard, Atamanuik possesses the rare quality of being smart and fall-over hilarious.
Maybe it's because Atamanuik's been doing his Trump impression for going on two years, first as part of The Upright Citizen's Brigade in Los Angeles, then as part of Chris Hardwick's @midnight show and online in a series called "Trump vs Bernie" for the Fusion network. That's specifically where I saw my first Atamanuik/Trump video in which Trump shows us how to make origami. There's no connection between Trump and origami, of course, but it doesn't matter. Watching it a second, third, or sixth time (my laughing interrupted most of the jokes on the first pass) it became clear that Atamanuik could inject Trump into just about any situation and it'd be genius.
The weekly show is broken into three segments, one of which features interviews, staged to look like Mar-a-lago, with guests including Dan Savage, Linda Sarsour and Keith Olbermann. The first chunk of the show typically takes place in the Oval Office as the main "set" for the talk show, with Peter Grosz (one of the guys from the Sonic commercials) as Mike Pence, Trump's vice president and hapless sidekick. (During the second episode, Trump speaks to a White House portrait of his hero, Andrew Jackson, who "comes alive" in the painting. Later, Grosz's Pence somehow becomes trapped inside the Jackson painting.)
The funniest segments have been on-the-street bits shot outside of the studio. For instance, a feature titled "Lap of Luxury" was intended to be a tour of Trump's suite in Trump Tower, but (fake) Melania locks Trump out of the house so he shifts gears and, instead, takes us along for a tour of "Trump's New York." The segment culminates with the second funniest thing from the show so far: Trump spots a passing truck and, suddenly animated with boyish exuberance, he insists on doing the "honk" gesture while repeating, "Honk honk goes the truck! Honk honk goes the truck!" But after the truck passes, Trump slips into a dark, twisted funk, describing how he'd like to commit suicide by driving the truck into the river -- a joke that fulfilled more than a few personal fantasy outcomes for the Trump presidency, but which also smartly highlights the Hieronymus Bosch hellscape inside Trump's brain.
You might've also seen a clip from the second episode that went viral. Atamanuik's Trump heads outside again, only this time he interacts with protesters including a young girl who tells him, point blank, "You're a disgrace to the world."
During the this week's episode, Trump visits a school to read aloud to the kids, and it's easily the funniest Trump comedy to emerge so far. At first, Trump is reluctant to be there, but by the end, Trump has to be dragged by Pence, literally kicking and screaming, from the classroom, grappled onto his favorite "Hippety Hop" bouncy ball. One scene from the classroom shows Trump and the kids constructing a building with wooden blocks, while Trump explains how the construction foreman gets a kickback and that the mobsters have to be paid off.
Great impressions are never really about the accuracy of the voice. Great impressions are more about what's being said. Atamanuik explained on the Late Show recently that doing Trump is like doing Shatner -- everyone has their own Trump voice. Anyone can do the voice. True. The point of The President Show, however, isn't just to mercilessly tease Trump for the usual things: his voice, his hair, his hands and his ties. Atamanuik's Trump picks apart every detail of Trump's personal appearance, gestures and voice, yes, but also his rank incompetence, his childishness, his petty vindictiveness, his ignorant thirst for both power and popular affection, and, like any great satire, Atamanuik draws a delicate Colbert-esque balance between being too silly and being too heavy. To be sure, the goal is to be funny, but a funny Trump impression alone probably can't sustain an ongoing series on basic cable. Thank goodness, then, that The President Show isn't just a Trump impression. It's all of the above as well as, most importantly, a source of catharsis for an increasingly damaged nation.