Comedy in the Trump Age

Just about a year ago, while other comedians on the late-night scene, from Seth Meyers and John Oliver to Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee spent the evening denouncing then-candidate/full-time racist hairball Donald Trump, who was in the throes of accusations of coziness with Vladimir Putin and Islamophobia and racism, one man had the courage to ask the really tough question: if he could ruffle Donald Trump’s hair.

I’m talking, of course, about the infamous segment on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, where Jimmy Fallon spent the interview asking the softest of softball questions, without a hint of pushing him on any issues or criticizing anything he ever said. The segment was widely criticized, with many suggesting Fallon was helping to humanize or normalize Trump.

What was the issue, exactly? After all, Stephen Colbert also had Trump on as a guest last year, and Seth Meyers had Kellyanne Conway on just eight months ago. And sure, Fallon asked some pretty tame questions, but he isn’t a journalist, and it’s not his job to ask the tough questions. Is he really to blame for trying to keep his show apolitical, to want mass appeal? Apparently, yes.

In the Trump era, it’s become increasingly clear that few people are interested in that kind of mass appeal. People want sharper comedy, comedians who aren’t afraid to be critical, to call out bullshit when they see it, to denounce hate. It’s no wonder that the more sharply political late night hosts, like Trevor Noah, Oliver, Bee, Colbert, and Meyers are getting ever-increasing audiences and attention.

Indeed, consider the fact that Colbert’s most popular segments on YouTube are monologues where he denounced or criticized Trump. Bee’s show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee is almost dominated by Bee eviscerating Trump to shreds, perhaps most notably with her segment “Pussy Riot”, made shortly after that tape with Billy Bush came out. For six glorious minutes, Bee alternated between strained, venomous sarcasm and unsurprised fury, unleashing a badly-needed female perspective, noting: “We know this is shocking for most normal men, but every woman I know has had some entitled testosterone monster grab her like a human bowling ball.”

Not only that, but even the relatively apolitical Jimmy Kimmel got a moment in the sun during the height of the health care debate. After an emotional monologue where he discussed his newborn son’s heart condition, Kimmel begged Congress not to remove protections for those with pre-existing condition, pleading in a cracked voice, “If your baby is going to die, and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make.”

And even more recently, as Trump refused to outright condemn white supremacists and Nazis in Charlottesville, late night hosts ranging from the less political James Corden to the more political Meyers  lined up to criticize his silence and condemn white supremacy in the strongest terms.

And in the world of standup comedy, the specials that have been more widely celebrated have recently been those that either dealt specifically with politics or the issues on the periphery, even if those jokes weren’t the main focus. Jen Kirkman discussed sexism and harassment in Just Keep Livin’?, Roy Wood, Jr discussed race and blackness in Father Figure, Hasan Minhaj discussed Islamophobia in Homecoming King, and Maz Jobrani discussed being an immigrant in the aptly named Immigrant.

Even here in Canada, comedy has taken an ever-sharper political edge. Just take the satirical site and now comedy show The Beaverton, which in addition to featuring video segments and articles mocking Trump and the alt-right, also isn’t shy about criticizing the Canadian alt-right, especially in their biting satire of the alt-right, heavy on racism and light on facts Canadian “news” site, The Rebel with their own spin, The Rebelton.

There are still plenty of (mostly straight, cis, white, male) comedians who don’t like this shift at all. Fallon, for his part, has been reluctant to change his show toward a more political tone. Obviously, that’s his prerogative. However, it’s worth noting that we aren’t living in an age when politics is business as usual. The United States’ president is a racist, a misogynist, and Islamaphobic. He’s in cahoots with white supremacists. He and his party don’t care about the effects of their actions, even when people’s lives are at stake. Health care? DACA? Climate change? Just some pieces in a cynical, spineless game. No offense to Jimmy Fallon, who I’m sure is a very nice guy, but it’s irresponsible to avoid this stuff altogether as though they’re just touchy political topics. Comedy has evolved to acknowledge that reality, whether or not all comedians want to get on board.

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Whom would you invite to a dinner party?

Art work by Michelle Cheung for Novella Magazine

You’re having a dinner party or you’re invited to one or you’re just at the right place at the right time and a perfunctory dinner extends into a leisurely span of sitting and talking or into a bass-heavy dancing and occasional nibbling: Whom — I think whom is right — would you want to be with? Yes, yes, family, friends, partners, etc. But fantasize a little. Which celebrity, writer, director, president? I’m sure everyone’s at one point imagined having dinner — and post-dinner activities that may lead to breakfast — with their middle school celebrity crushes. Even now, you only need a bit of prompt to fall into that rabbit hole of fantasy. Here are Novella’s choices.

Kimberley, Contributor

It’s not a hard answer really — who would you want to spend a leisurely evening with, basked in moonlight and the flickering of a single candle on your beautifully decorated table? For me, it would be a literal dream, (and I’m saying this literally because I have had this dream many times) to spend an evening, sharing a meal with Frank Ocean. Ever since 2011, when Frank dropped his first mixtape, Nostalgia Ultra, I immediately became a super fan. Who wouldn’t want to know what goes on in his mind? The opportunity to spend a night, picking his brain — or listening to anything he would want to say — is something that I wouldn’t be able to pass up on. Frank’s lyrics are beautifully written, and combined with the soft velvet of his voice, he creates an aura of mystery that one can’t help wanting to unravel.

Adina Heisler, Contributor

Ok, I’ll admit it, I’ve become a cable news junkie. I used to be totally uninterested in it (back in the more innocent time of two years ago), but that was before we entered the upside-down of politics and “covfefe”. I’ll be the first to admit they can get a little sensational and sometimes spend more time debating tweets or obvious facts, but when you cut out the noise and the partisan-ness, you can find some actual journalism. So I’d invite Jake Tapper (I’m just a tiny bit obsessed with him), Chris HayesRachel MaddowLester Holt, and Anderson Cooper. I’d probably be a little too intimidated to say much, but honestly I’d be happy enough just to listen to the five of them talk. If I did ever pluck up the courage to talk to them, I’d probably ask if they could give me some advice or encouragement to me, since I’m hoping to be a journalist some day.

Drew Brown, Editor-in Chief 

Besides great food, dinner conversation is key, so having the right mix of people at a dinner party can make or break your event. I have been in love with Grace Jones since she first asked us to pull up to her bumper. After reading her book I’ll never write my Memoirs, my love for Grace Jones grew even more. Not only would she have plenty of stories to tell, but I might be able to convince her to sing after a few bottles of wine.

I would also add Diane von Furstenberg, who I think is the epitome of style and grace. Diane would also have great stories about her life, fashion, and, of course, Studio 54. Both Titus Burgess and Andre Leon Tally would have all of us in stitches, and I would love to pick the brain of Grace Coddington, whom I adore.

Natasha Grodzinski, Contributor

Sade. Photo source.

It has been a long-standing dream of mine to host a dinner party with famous folks in attendance, so you can bet I’ve given this some thought before. To start with, I’d need to invite my ladies Georgia O’Keefe  and Frida Kahlo. Both were fantastically talented artists and fiercely independent women. I would love the opportunity just to hear them speak and share ideas. Obviously I would need to invite Jane Birkin simply because she’s everything and I’ve got a feeling she would know which wine to bring. There’s no way I wouldn’t invite Trevor Noah who 1) I love and 2) is absolutely brilliant. My final, and very coveted, invitation would probably have to go to Sade Adu, an unbelievably beautiful and talented woman. Would this be the wildest dinner party? Probably not, but I think some fascinating conversations could come out of it.

Hoon, Managing Editor

Erika Weihs, Virginia Eggleston, Grace Paley, Molly Wilson, and Sybil Claiborne at the weekly Greenwich Village Peace Center vigil. Photo by Ruth Sondak, sourced from War Resisters League.

Party of five, Robert B. SilversElizabeth HardwickLore SegalGrace Paley, and yours truly, at hardwood tables and comfortable booth kind of a bistro, well lit enough to read the menu but dim enough to be unselfconscious. Talk about politics and books with plates of porterhouse, salad, and cheese going cold and limp late into the night. Talk about food. Talk about sex and New Jersey. Talk about gentrification. Talk about newspapers. Talk about music and movies. Talk about Hollywood. Grace (Paley) might want to make posters. I might need Kleenex from tears. Elizabeth (Hardwick) might want another glass of wine. Robert (B. Silvers) might need a cigarette, might want to go out on a boat. Lore (Segal) might take notes. Talk about traveling. Talk shit about neighbors. Talk shit about writers. Talk shit about readers. The fun stuff. That’d be nice, getting to befriend some of my favorite writers and editors, all of them, except Lore (thank God), dead. They would still have things to say.

Claire Ball, Contributor

In all honesty, I have never thought about who I would invite to my dream dinner party before, so trying to make a decision and think about this question was difficult for me. My invitees are fairly predictable, especially if you know me, and not very under the radar. Let’s just say my dinner party would very much be a ridiculous A-list affair. To start, I think I would absolutely have to invite my number one crushes, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jake Gyllenhaal. I think Jennifer and Jake would both be super cool, down to earth people to have at a dinner party. I think they’re great actors. I also find Jennifer hilarious because we share the same sense of humour. She is basically my spirit animal.

I would also invite Chelsea Handler because I love how brash and honest she is about everything she talks about, and Ellen Degeneres (I don’t feel the need to explain why). I am also a not-so-low-key Harry Styles fan so I would obviously have to throw him an invite and, ideally, the cast of Game of Thrones would be fun.

Chris Zaghi, Fashion Editor

From left to right: Her Majesty, The Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, Leigh Bowery, Naomi Campbell, The Divine David, and Isabela Blow

Just try to imagine this scenario with me: A majestic set of wrought iron gates open up to a winding gravel road; the driveway is lined with nothing but cherry blossom trees; the wind blows them past your car as you drive up to a gorgeous manor tucked away amidst giant oaks and elms; the staircase leading up to the entrance seems to get longer and higher as you walk up; the doors lead to a gilded hallway covered in portraits of royalty; you come to a set of large mirrored doors and the doors swing open and reveal a beautiful room, gold leafing on the walls, pastel pinks and blues are woven throughout, Baccarat crystal chandeliers bathe it in light; as your eyes focus, you notice a beautiful round antique mirror table with 6 people sitting around it; there are cakes and pastries scattered across its surface, champagne bottles pop in a continuous rhythm; the riotous laughing and cheering is almost contagious, but you dare not interrupt the party you’ve just stumbled into. You focus on the guests. You quickly notice me, proposing a toast to my 5 extraordinary guests. Beside me, Marie Antoinette yells “Let us eat cake!” as she stuffs a kiwi tart in her mouth. Across from her, Naomi Campbell calmly says “I can tell you’ve had your fair share already.” And the table bursts into laughter. Beside her, Isabella Blow sends a text message to her pal McQueen — “you‘re missing out darling!” while Leigh Bowery does his best impression of Sasha Velour’s “art-drag” shtick. The room once again breaks into laughter, but something catches the Divine Davids eye. He tilts his head in confusion and says “Well, that’s not very lovely…” We all turn to look at you, standing there, silently watching this marvelous kiki unfold. Congratulations. You’ve just ruined our night.

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JFL42: We Have 42 Reasons To Laugh

Heading into its 4th year, JFL42 may be getting older, but the laughs aren’t getting any quieter, as the comedy festival lines up the most innovative and uproarious comedy acts in one of a kind festival.

“JFL came about by sort of us trying to rethink what a comedy festival would look like, with our smartphones,” said JFL42’s vice-president of programming, Robbie Praw. “So we came up with this interactive, pass-based ticketing and reservation system. You use your credits to reserve your place at the shows, and upon arrival, you check in and you get a credit back to see another show. The point is to be able to expose the audience to as much new comedy as possible, and as the festival grows in different directions, the pass evolves and the entire Festival changes.”

Eight of the 42 reasons to attend JFL42 are their headliners, which include Bill Burr, Hannibal Buress, Patton Oswalt, Craig Ferguson, Chris Hardwick, John Mulaney, Miranda Sings, and Trevor Noah.

Trevor Noah FINAL

“We managed to convince the amazing Trevor Noah to come here two days before he takes over the Daly,” Praw said excitedly. “It is so cool. He’s one of the best stand-up comedians in the world.”

Along with Noah and the other headliners, JFL42 will be doing a series of podcasts, including a set with YouTube sensation turned E! television celebrity, Grace Helbig. Host of her own show, The Grace Helbig Show, she will be doing a live taping of her podcast Not Too Deep With Grace Helbig, a first for the multi-talented comedian.

Another powerhouse performer on the roster is Iliza Shlesinger, who has been called the next Tina Fey by Esquire Magazine. Shlesinger was the youngest person and only female to win Last Comic Standing, who will be bringing a whole new dynamic to her performances, coming off her two new Netflix specials, Freezing Hot and War Paint.

And of course, there is Miranda Sings, whose target audience is about from 10-18, and whose interactive performances are making this young audience interested and invested in comedy by introducing them to this new art form from a young age and inviting them to grow with her.

 

Miranda_Sings_Headshot_Tor15_FINAL

“Within JFL42, you can find your favourite comedian you don’t even know about,” said Praw. “And that is really the idea of the festival.”

JFL42 is a 10-day comedy festival, running from September 24th to October 3rd, at various venues across the city. Check out https://www.jfl42.com/ for passes, venue information, performers and more details.