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Culture Vulture

Let Trump's presidency bring on humour, not violence

The US head of state is providing much fodder for late-night talk shows and comedy sketches, but a satire video with a shooting scene perhaps oversteps the line

On Nov 8, 2016, I stood among supporters of former United States secretary of state Hillary Clinton, under the largest glass ceiling in Manhattan, waiting for the results of the US presidential election to be announced. 

Of course, as most would know by now, there was no metaphorical breaking of the glass ceiling that night. 

In the wee hours of the morning, then Republican candidate Donald Trump clinched the required number of electoral collage votes to enter the White House. 

Clinton supporters who had lingered in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Centre till the very end were heartbroken: Some were catatonic, rooted to the ground in disbelief, others were crying, their blue (the colour of the Democratic Party) eye-shadow streaking down their faces. 

On the floor, discarded, was a copy of the American constitution and numerous American flags, which supporters had been waving hopefully just hours earlier. 

The scene was one of ideological carnage. 

But with what little positivity she had left, one Clinton supporter was overhead telling her friend: "At least SNL will have good jokes for four years." She was referring to Saturday Night Live, the long-running comedy sketch show on cable network NBC.

And she is absolutely right.

Mr Trump, if nothing else, has made comedy great again, as late- night talk shows and comedy sketch shows lampoon the 45th US President and churn out quality programming.

But as much as the new president is a gold mine for purveyors of popular culture, he is also a landmine.

SNL has seen a spike in ratings, according to entertainment magazine Variety, which reported that viewership this season was up 22 per cent as of Feb 5 - the strongest ratings performance in 22 years.

The show's Feb 11 episode, hosted by actor Alec Baldwin, also brought in a 7.2 Nielsen overnight rating - the show's highest-rated episode in more than six years.

The 7.2 rating means 7.2 per cent of households in 56 American markets tuned in to the show.

In comparison, Mr Trump, who hosted the show in November 2015, while he was a presidential candidate, brought in only a 6.6 overnight rating (ouch).

The recent record-breaking February episode featured Baldwin as Mr Trump in a TV courtroom - The People's Court - taking on the judges who declined to reinstate his travel ban.

Actress Melissa McCarthy reprised her role as White House press secretary Sean Spicer, berating the press corp.

And in the SNL images which are flashed on screen after advertisements, Baldwin was featured wearing Mr Trump's signature red cap with the words: Make America Laugh Again.

Naturally, Mr Trump is no fan of the show. He tweeted in December: "Just tried watching Saturday Night Live - unwatchable! Totally biased, not funny and the Baldwin impersonation just can't get any worse. Sad."

From his physical appearance and mannerisms to his speeches and late-night tweets, Mr Trump is a writer's gift from the comedy gods, which late-night talk shows such as The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and The Daily Show With Trevor Noah have mercilessly exploited.

On last Monday's episode of The Daily Show, Noah even launched a tournament to determine Mr Trump's greatest tweet.

Viewers can vote on the Third Month Mania website for their favourites and the winner will be revealed in two weeks.

Some of the gems up for the title include poorly spelt celebrity commentary: "@Miley Cirus is on a very triky and slippery path right now. The right moves will lead to greatness, the wrong moves to oblivion! GUIDANCE."; environmental advocacy (only for bald eagles): "It's Friday. How many bald eagles did wind turbines kill today? They are an environmental and aesthetic disaster."; and playground bully antics: "Truly weird Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky reminds me of a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain. He was terrible at DEBATE!" (who would have thought capitalising the last word in the tweet could be a thing).

It is understandable if some might be too angry to laugh. After all, in his 61 days as US President, Mr Trump has disrupted trade, issued travel bans and could possibly leave millions without healthcare, among other things.

But while he is in office, writers and artists might as well have a go at him.

That said, writers for satirical online newspaper The Onion are struggling with finding a fresh angle to poke fun at Mr Trump.

The site's editor-in-chief Cole Bolton told The New Yorker magazine: "We don't do 'The Angry Orange Wind Bag'-type stuff... It's hard to go more extreme with Trump, the way we do with other public figures. So sometimes we go for the people around him."

Others have perhaps taken political satire a little too far, as with the latest music video featuring rapper Snoop Dogg and a clown called Ronald Klump.

Towards the end of the video - a remix of the song Lavender which can be watched on YouTube - Snoop Dogg points a pistol at the Ronald Klump character, who is clearly modelled after the likeness of Mr Trump. He pulls the trigger and a sign that says "bang" drops from the barrel of the gun.

The video ends with Ronald Klump in chains, which perhaps suggests that the clown did not die in the end, but was merely incarcerated.

Mr Trump took aim at Snoop Dogg's "failing career", after the video was released, while other artists have come to the rapper's defence.

However, in the US, where gun violence is rife and presidential assassinations have been a reality, the suggestion of any president, Mr Trump included, being shot perhaps oversteps the boundaries of tasteful, jocular and even meaningful political satire.

Mr Trump is President. Make a statement, laugh, but don't use comedy to veil suggestions of violence.

The world doesn't need that kind of LAUGHTER.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2017, with the headline 'Let Trump's presidency bring on humour, not violence'. Print Edition | Subscribe