WASHINGTON – Actor and Grammy Award-winning comedian Patton Oswalt said President Trump is the “worst thing for comedy right now.”
Oswalt also said comedienne Roseanne Barr’s tweets about former White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and comedian Samantha Bee’s rant about White House Senior Advisor Ivanka Trump were not the same kind of situation.
“Trump is the worst thing for comedy right now because the longer he stays in office, the more tense and angry and on edge everyone is, so we’re going to hit a point – we haven’t hit it yet – where even bringing him up, people are just going to be like, ‘I am exhausted. I don’t want to hear this anymore.’ Except if you don’t bring it up, that’s also going to seem weird because people are like, ‘But don’t you – there’s all this,’ like, they’ll see the eight horrible things he’s done,” Oswalt said during a Washington Post Live discussion last week about free speech in comedy.
“We’re going to be in this weird twilight zone where people aren’t going to want to hear about it but it’s going to be the only thing on people’s minds. You know? I said this when Bush was president. When Obama got elected people were like, ‘Oh, you’re going to really miss George W. Bush, as a comedian.’ I said, ‘I’ll give back the 10 minutes I wrote about George Bush if we weren’t torturing people and our money isn’t on fire.’ Like, it was not worth the 10 minutes of jokes that I got,” he added.
Oswalt, an Emmy Award-winner for writing, said he cannot envision what’s next for comedy after the Trump era.
“And I’m telling you, however many great Steven Colbert bits and Samantha Bee bits and John Oliver stuff comes out of this, it’s not going to be worth the warping of so many norms that keep things chugging along. I don’t know how – I can’t imagine what comes after this,” he said.
“I could imagine what was after George W. Bush. I could imagine what might come after Clinton. I cannot see what’s after Trump. I just see a white wall of nothing right now. If you’re making jokes about the apocalypse, ultimately none of those jokes are worth it if the apocalypse happens, if that makes sense,” he added.
Oswalt compared Samantha Bee being “attacked” after Roseanne’s firing to a line from the film The Untouchables in which Sean Connery says, “He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.”
“It’s just this zero-sum game of trophies and, ‘Oh, look who we got to be knocked out.’ But it’s so not; it just shows how degraded, I guess, the discourse has become because it’s not ultimately a First Amendment issue. It’s a corporate issue. If ABC, which is a private corporation, feels like this person that they’ve hired is not representing them the way that they want, then they do have the right, unfortunately, to fire them,” he said.
“I don’t think people should get fired over especially stuff like Twitter, which Twitter, if people were going to get fired over Twitter, there is all kinds of dumb attempts at jokes that I’ve tweeted out, that my friends have tweeted out but Roseanne was unfortunately this prize for a big segment of, I guess, whatever the political divide is,” he added.
Despite saying he does not think people should be fired solely for their tweets, Oswalt said Roseanne’s show-ending insult on Twitter didn’t come out of nowhere.
“She had been tweeting racist stuff over and over and over and over again, so it’s hard to equate her getting fired as if it’s some kind of big tragedy where it’s what business does with Samantha Bee, where the next day Trump, the president, was demanding that TBS cancel her show,” he said.
“That’s the head of the government demanding a broadcast network shut someone down – that’s actual censorship, that’s actual First Amendment violations, as opposed to a company going, ‘Maybe not tweet racist stuff. Uh, you’re fired,’” he added.
Oswalt said he views Roseanne’s tweet about Jarrett, in which Barr the Obama administration official was the spawn of the Muslim Brotherhood and “Planet of the Apes,” as different than Bee calling the president’s daughter the c-word.
“I just hope that in this scalp-hunting point for either side we can cling to a little bit of nuance right now. You know, whereas, you know, Roseanne was attacking a public figure and making this horrible racist comparison,” he said.
“Samantha Bee was trying to talk about this ugly immigration policy and was ending a long thing about it by pointing out that Ivanka was acting, if not premeditatedly horribly, super tone-deaf to post a picture of you holding up your beloved baby while kids are being yanked away from their parents by your dad. You know, so there is two-way, different things going on there. It’s not the same thing,” he added.
Oswalt said it was ABC’s right to fire Roseanne while it was wrong for Trump to call for Bee’s show to be canceled.
“It’s within [ABC’s] right to do it. It’s not within the president’s right to tell a network, ‘I want that show yanked.’ That’s like Soviet-level stuff,” he said.
Oswalt was asked if he thinks comedians have a social responsibility role in the current political climate.
“I think, right now, we have a social responsibility whether we want it or not because you can’t just go on stage and talk about dating or airline food anymore,” he said. “It would be like doing a set during middle earth and not talk about the huge tower with the glowing eye, like, looking at everyone, like, ‘Boy, how about those hobbit villages?’ Somebody would be like, ‘There’s an evil glowing eye. Are you going to talk about it?”’
Oswalt said comedians have a role to play in trying to “topple” what appear to be “vulnerable figures” that are not moving the U.S. in the right direction.
“I guess we can say whatever we want because we have a commander in chief that’s out of his mind and is saying whatever he wants,” he said. “I mean, I guess our responsibility is to keep saying, ‘I’m here and I’m involved,’ and try to bring some, try to topple what seem like these invulnerable figures that I think are steering us in the wrong direction.”