He’s not promising to stop doing them, just observing that this comic path has been, shall we say, well-trod over the past three years. For a comedian working today, trying to do a set without any Trump jokes must be like trying to do a set without profanity. It can be done, but unless you have a good reason to hold back, why would you?
It’s also strange hearing The Conscience of Late Night™ sound iffy on Trump material, although since Kimmel’s musings on politics increasingly take the form of lectures and “clapter” material, it’s not strictly inconsistent. America may be tired of Trump jokes, but searing anti-Trump soliloquies? Still a lot of those left in the barrel.
Another possibility: Maybe he’s scarred from that Twitter feud with Hannity and afraid that if he goes all-in on Trump material at the Oscars, Hannity’s gonna karate-chop him.
DEADLINE: Having missed last year, this will actually be your first upfronts of the Trump Era. Having you been saving up a barrelful of barbs for the President and his ongoing big show?
KIMMEL: Oh, wow. Yeah, you know, I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but I guess you’re right. Hopefully it’ll be the last upfront of the Trump era, too. So, I don’t know, I don’t know how much focus there will be on that. I think people have had an ass-full of Donald Trump, and I feel like the upfront is a time to look within and make fun of ourselves.
DEADLINE: So, next week is a Trump-free zone for you?
KIMMEL: Well, I can’t imagine that it will be entirely Trump free, but I’m not planning on that to be my focus. Already I’m seeing a lot of other things to point out, to make fun of. We’re getting all sorts of new terminology that doesn’t seem to last one year to the next. There are initials that I’m trying to decode. I always wonder if the people in the audience even know what some of these things are, so that’s something I want to get into.
Kimmel’s problem in crafting an Oscars monologue is that there are two elephants in the room that simply must be addressed. One is Trump, the other … does not as readily lend itself to impish digs and zingers. But he’s going to have to hit both. Imagine an Oscar night that gave Weinstein short shrift while obsessing about, say, Trump’s hair.
It’s not just Kimmel who’s noticing that comedy has a Trump problem. At Vice, Harry Cheadle is tired of terrible SNL skits showcasing Alec Baldwin’s terrible Trump impression aimed at the 15 percent of the country that occupies the same educational and political strata as the show’s writers:
At best, the cold opens just echo the same beats and jokes as all those other programs (every good liberal recycles material). At worst, these sketches just coddle the audience by reflecting all of their assumptions and prejudices back at them: Yes, Trump is dumb, his administration is full of venal lackeys, Jeff Sessions is creepy, Cohen is a crook, all of your obvious, knee-jerk impulses and prejudices are correct. It’s not just playing to the crowd, it’s spoon-feeding the audience their own spit-up. It’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip come to life. It’s exactly the kind of smug, smarmy bullsh*t that makes conservatives angry enough at the Hollywood elite to vote Trump just to stick it to them.
I don’t think it’s the fact that the humor is bad (although it is in those SNL cold opens) that makes Trump comedy so wearisome. It’s that (a) the topical sort that Kimmel and SNL specialize in tend to reduce to the same exasperated can-ya-believe-this-guy sensibility, which is understandable but tedious, and (b) comedy’s Trump obsession is happening against a backdrop of the broader media’s own Trump obsession. It’s one thing to round off the day with some late-night Trump jokes, but CNN’s also talking about him morning, noon, and night. And in the same can-ya-believe-this-guy tone, just minus the punchlines. You expect that in activist political media but not in all media. That’s the “ass-full” of Trump to which Kimmel refers. You want comedy to break the daily monotony of life, not extend it.
Still, good Trump humor can be done. John Mulaney’s gotten raves online for the Trump bit in his new Netflix special, “Kid Gorgeous,” and deservedly so. I can’t find a clip online but here he is testing out the bit on Colbert’s show last year. He’s derisive towards his subject — it’s comedy, he has to be — but really not in a left-right way, as Colbert himself is. Mulaney’s target is how unusual Trump is compared to other presidents in temperament and experience. He’s a bull in a china shop. Or, to use a slightly different metaphor…