Donald Trump’s Presidency Yields Boom in Satirical Comedy TV Series, Apps

Comedy Central - The President Show - Anthony Atamanuik
Courtesy of Comedy Central/Gavin Bond

Donald Trump’s accidental jobs-creation program? Generating a huuuuge windfall for comedy writers, producers and digital entrepreneurs.

To be sure, it’s hard to find humor in the current crisis Trump has brought on himself — after defending the white nationalists who fomented a violent rally in Charlottesville, Va., and saying it’s “foolish” to remove “beautiful statues and monuments” of Confederate generals.

But overall, his epically turbulent presidency and egomaniacal personality have produced a flood of TV and digital satire, including a wave of apps whose entire point is to make fun of him.

American politics has always been good for the comedy business, dating back to George Washington and continuing on through the rise of political cartoons in the 19th century to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” However, experts say Trump is unique among modern presidents in yielding a bounty of satirical content, while the internet has made it possible for wags to boot up miniature media companies overnight.

“Trump is the target that keeps on giving,” says Virginia Sapiro, a political science professor at Boston University. “As a media star, he is raw material that is instantly recognizable.”

NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” delivered its best ratings in more than two decades, thanks in large part to Alec Baldwin’s bruising Trump caricature. Pointed late-night critics like Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee have seen a similar uptick in viewership.

And more Trump lampoonery has ensued. Showtime Networks has ordered a 10-episode animated show executive-produced by Colbert billed as a workplace comedy about “the truish adventures of Trump’s confidants and bon vivants.” Comedy Central’s “The President Show,” a faux-fireside-chat setup created by and starring Trump impersonator Anthony Atamanuik (pictured above), landed the network’s biggest series debut in three years.

Comedy Central was bombarded with well over a dozen show pitches about Trump in the weeks following the election. The network picked up “The President Show” without even developing a pilot based on Atamanuik’s “pure and simple” premise, says president Kent Alterman: “We didn’t want to do something just for the sake of doing it.”

The cottage industry of Trump humor sites and apps that has sprung up includes The Week in Trump — TWIT, for short — which now has more than 183,000 followers on Facebook and has produced memes and parody videos that have been viewed up to 20 million times each. TWIT was launched a week after Trump’s inauguration by New York-based Meetinghouse Prods., a producer of cable TV shows (such as “World’s Dumbest” for truTV) and web comedy series.

“We want to be surreally funny about the crazy shit that is going on in the Trump administration,” says president Jason Cilo.

TWIT isn’t making money right now, but Cilo views the project as a lab for developing material and letting his company understand how to monetize on social media. “We’re in the comedy business, and there’s no greater comedy engine than Trump,” he says. “It’s not even work. It literally writes itself.”

Another digital start-up is DJ Trump, a free website and app that lets you splice together video using 7,000 words and phrases spoken by Trump culled from news footage — to make him say any combination of inanities. Erik Westland, who co-founded DJ Trump with his Harvard MBA classmate Phil Hu, says the venture is breaking even with server-hosting costs but that he hopes to turn a profit in 2018. “If he’s going to continue to say ridiculous things, it’s going to be a business opportunity,” says Westland.

Other popular Trump-spoofing apps, which are mostly ad-supported with in-app payment options, include Trump Wall Simulator (self-explanatory); Greatest Trump Soundboard, which features hundreds of audio clips (“It’s the greatest Trump soundboard on the Play Store, believe us!”); Trump — Crazy American Style, a “covfefe crazy game” in which you play his personal stylist; and Fake Call Donald Trump, which lets you prank friends by making it look like they’re receiving a call from The Donald.

Of course, plenty of Trump comedy being produced isn’t directly tied to moneymaking ventures, even though, say, the torrents of tweets mocking the president are obviously helpful to Twitter’s top line (and it needs help, as ad revenue has declined in the first half of 2017).

In February 2016, Swedish ad agency Animal AB launched TrumpDonald.org, which lets you blast an eye-rolling Trump and his coiffure with a trumpet. (That’s all it does.) It’s been used more than 673 million times since then. “It was our way of commenting on the election,” says Henrik Johansson, co-founder of the Stockholm-based company. “We have been blown away by the global reaction — much like Trump himself on the website.”