Trump is bad for comedy but lucrative for comedians

The president is a gift for late-night television ratings, but at what cost?

Chance Wellnitz

Early last week, comedian Dave Chappelle told CBC News, “Trump’s kind of bad for comedy.” Because the president is on everyone’s minds, Chappelle said, many comedians are making the same jokes about him. Chappelle’s comments echo similar sentiments we’ve heard for months now. The day after the election, The Daily Beast asked, “Can Comedy Survive President Trump?”

Not only has comedy survived — it’s a thriving business.

Politically-minded comedians such as Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah and John Oliver have all seen their ratings surge since Trump took office. Alec Baldwin — whose popular portrayal of Trump on “Saturday Night Live” is now featured most weeks on the show — announced he’s co-writing an entire book as Donald Trump. Although people may not have anything particularly new to say about Trump, their jokes are resonating with millions.

Comedy Central president Kent Alterman told Bloomberg that in our country’s current state of unrest, “there is something therapeutic in comedy.”

Comedy, like all art forms, can help us make sense of the world around us. But it can also make us complacent and complicit in things that are no laughing matter.

I’m not surprised that people are capitalizing on the zeitgeist. That’s business as usual.

My main concern is that by laughing at the same Trump jokes, we’ll soon find ourselves embedded even deeper within the echo chamber we were in before the election. We may think we’re holding Trump accountable with our laughter, but we’re letting ourselves off the hook.