Trump Trauma

'Our Cartoon President': That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore

Animating Trump doesn’t make him any less frightening.

Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey (adapted from Gage Skidmore) /Flickr

At the close of his 2016 election night telecast on Showtime, Stephen Colbert left the audience with an aphorism that, viewed from that November’s perch, offered a glimmer of hope. In the face of something that strikes us as horrible, he said, laughter is the best medicine.

“You cannot laugh and be afraid at the same time,” Colbert observed before paraphrasing C.S. Lewis, “and the devil cannot stand mockery."

What Colbert had no way of accounting for is how ubiquitous the devil we know as Donald Trump would become.

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Fifteen months and many outrageous tweets later Colbert and his “Late Show” producer Chris Licht return to Showtime to give us “Our Cartoon President,” an animated mockery of Trump and his administration’s White House tomfoolery premiering Sunday at 8 p.m.

As written by fellow executive producer R.J. Fried, Trump (voiced by Jeff Bergman) is a safety cone orange self-aggrandizing idiot who is barely tethered to reality and thinks of no one but himself. Donald Jr. is a meatheaded bro; Ivanka is a lissome, brand conscious cipher; Eric is a barely sentient lump of gums and whining. And Tiffany . . . who is Tiffany?

The saddest part about the series is how closely the animation resembles reality. Notice that the term used is sad, not funny. When the audience is already oversaturated with the tangerine terror’s rantings and mood swings, when this living ‘toon clown is dividing families and threatening the lives, health and homes via draconian policies he implements without fully comprehending the ramifications, merely coloring him in as an idiot who doesn’t pay enough attention to Melania simply doesn’t cut it.

In truth, “Our Cartoon President” faced an uphill battle from the moment it was announced. Not only is it forced to do battle with a supersonic news cycle shifting the news stream every few hours, but it’s entering the fray long after NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” found its groove lampooning Trump and his government enablers, and Comedy Central polished the notion of satirical derision with “The President Show.”

This is in addition to the steady defense against insanity offered by late night comedians, including the correspondents and hosts of  “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” and “The Opposition w/Jordan Klepper,” Samantha Bee on “Full Frontal,” Jimmy Kimmel on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” Seth Meyers and his writers on NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and Colbert himself on “The Late Show.”

In ordinary times a person could argue that there’s always room for another comedian to skewer our nation’s top windbag, but these are not ordinary times. And this makes Trump character’s joke about people “kinda [wanting] to see what was going to happen” with his presidency seeing that “it’s happening more than you could have ever imagined” simultaneous bland and depressing.

That said, hidden within “Our Cartoon President” is an animated duo that has possibility, but it’s Donald Jr. and Eric, not Trump and his icy bride. Here, the lesser Trump scions are a modern “Beavis and Butt-Head” albeit slightly dumber. They are other supporting characters are good for a guffaw now and then, and the series’ parody of Stephen Miller is one of the few elements of the premiere that works.

But this is a drop in a giant dose of mediocrity that doesn’t soothe the fatigue born of constant exposure to a living, breathing, one-dimensional caricature.  There’s still a need for a disempowering punchline about the devils in D.C., and we can’t ever stop mocking them if we’re going to make it through this year. Sadly the only major accomplishment of “Our Cartoon President” is to remind us that at some point, every joke ceases to be funny.

 

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Melanie McFarland is Salon's TV critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision