Turn on "Saturday Night Live" on any given weekend and more likely than not, the first thing you’ll see is a blonde-wigged, orange-painted Alec Baldwin playing the role of President Donald Trump. Starting before Trump won the election in 2016, Baldwin has been a recurring cast member of SNL, impersonating Trump when his character was used on the show. On Nov. 23, Baldwin played Trump on the White House lawn, avoiding questions during a press conference regarding his impeachment inquiry hearings.
Despite admitting on the YouTube series “Hiking With Kevin” earlier this year that he doesn't enjoy playing Trump anymore, Baldwin has returned to SNL. He said he played the Trump character because it helped people “manage their pain.”
Humor is a known source of coping with pain or overcoming adversity, but the reality is the Trump jokes are getting old. At some point, we have to acknowledge that we’re beating a dead horse and that, as with all jokes told one time too many, we are not laughing anymore, especially about impeaching a president.
Comedians have been using Trump as the punch line for jokes since before he announced his candidacy in 2015. SNL started parodying Trump in 1988. That being said, some comedians say the jokes’ longevity is starting to have negative effects.
At the Just For Laughs Festival in July, stand-up comedians acknowledged that Trump jokes have a downside. Michael Kosta, a correspondent for "The Daily Show," said during a panel at the festival that laughter, not a political agenda, should be the number one priority in a comedy show.
“If people can have a good time that night, maybe 2 percent of it affects change ... But if we're all laughing, we're getting closer to something,” Kosta said, according to an article about the panel.
Kosta’s comment reflects on how to get an audience to laugh at any joke. People don’t want the same joke over and over again. They want originality and creativity.
Bethy Squires wrote an article for Vulture over the summer titled “New Lows for Trump Brought Out New Lows in Late-Night Comedy,” which talked about how comedy shows were becoming too formulaic. She wrote that after Trump tweeted “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” in July, at least three late-night comedy shows all made the same jokes about Trump having no bones. She added that continually making jokes about Trump has unfavorable effects.
“Responding to Trump is letting him dictate the agenda, both politically and comedically,” Squires wrote. “Reading and replying to his tweets not only spreads his message further, it brings one’s comedic thinking down to his level.”
The argument that jokes about Trump only make him stronger has been made several times. These jokes can do more harm than good.
Caitlin Flanagan wrote for The Atlantic that jokes about Trump only fuel the president’s base. In her article “How Late-Night Comedy Fueled the Rise of Trump,” Flanagan claims that comedy shows have begun to alienate conservatives and make liberals seem egotistical. She wrote that although late-night shows tend to target Democrats, the continuous mocking of Trump has created “an unintended but powerful form of propaganda for conservatives.”
“In other words, they see exactly what Donald Trump has taught them: that the entire media landscape loathes them, their values, their family, and their religion,” Flanagan wrote.
There lies the problem with Trump jokes that should worry Democrats. With an upcoming election, how can Democrats expect to regain control of the White House with a president who has an undyingly loyal fanbase? If comedy is the issue, that's an easy fix. It's time to figure out the next best joke for comedians that isn’t Trump.
Blayr Austin, a comedy writer who works at famed comedy club The Second City, said comedians “shouldn’t feel pressure to respond to everything the White House does.” In her New York Times article titled “Please, No More Trump Jokes,” Austin wrote about how politics and comedy don’t always have to go hand in hand.
“We seem to have forgotten that comedy can play an important role in deflecting from the stressors of life and bringing us together,” Austin wrote. “There’s nothing wrong with taking a temporary break from politics, if only for a minute or two, to crack a corny dad joke.”
In the middle of this impeachment inquiry, it is difficult to avoid the chaos of the White House. It is also true that it is a comedian's job to make fun of the flaws in our country and try to bring some humor to it. As someone who appreciates good, well-thought-out jokes, I don’t think it is possible to avoid politics in comedy. But given the amount comedians try to cover President Trump, a person with no filter who causes so much discord, it is time to look elsewhere for our source of political humor.
Comedians have the power to choose what their content is about and they should look to sources of humor that won’t deepen the divide in politics that is already apparent in this county. Let’s start by finding Alec Baldwin a new, full-time job.
Contact contributor Lena Jacobson at firstname.lastname@example.org.