As Trump gained prominence in the national political scene, orange-faced and yellow-haired caricatures became regular fixtures of comedy routines across the country. As inauguration day draws closer, new satire mocking Trump has arisen on both national and local levels.
Though the “What A Joke” national comedy festival will not limit its performers to political humor, it was orchestrated by New York comedians Emily Winter and Jenn Welch as a direct response to Trump’s election. The festival is composed of 83 shows taking place across the U.S. and Britain over inauguration weekend and proceeds will go to the American Civil Liberties Union.
“As a black guy, I’m horrified,” said Eric Nimmer, an Austin comedian and UT alumnus who will perform in Austin’s “What a Joke” performance this Friday at The New Movement, of his fear of a Trump presidency. “I still make Trump jokes because he hasn’t really targeted my community yet, but if I were an immigrant, I don’t know if I still
Brently Heilbron, another Austin comedian, compared the fear comedians feel in the wake of the election to what many must’ve felt at another pivotal time in American history: the Red Scare of the 1950’s. However, he believes that comedians will once again be able to fight fear with sharp wit and smart jokes.
“In that era, the artists that were being blacklisted asked ‘How can you out-satirize the absurdity that we’re seeing?’” said Heilbron. “They realized all they had to do is hold up the mirror and let the politicians do the work.”
Nimmer said comedians have been offered a mine of rich comedic material by a historic situation he believes is ironic.
“Right now, we have Black Lives Matter, the Trayvon Martin decision and a lot of contentious racial issues. Historically speaking, the timing for all the racism associated with Trump couldn’t have been any more perfect,” Nimmer said.
In light of the seriousness of theses political topics, Nimmer said comedians must focus their efforts beyond trivial humor if they want their jokes to be effective.
“The worst thing you could ever be called in comedy is a hack,” Nimmer said.
Emily Winter, one of the organizers of the national event, also warned against alienating Trump voters with jokes that specifically make fun of them.
“Taking aim at the people in power is activism, but I would caution the instinct to make fun of the people who voted for him,” Winter said. “The best comedy comes from a place of vulnerability and positivity.”
Winter said “What a Joke”’s purpose is not so much to make commentary on the politics of the moment, but to create an atmosphere of unity and solidarity for all of the people who are ostracized by Trump’s views and to raise money for an organization that she believes will need help more than ever.
Heilbron believes that this sort of unity will be essential over the next four years.
“Being a comedian is a very solitary art, but if you think about it, it’s also a collective experience because your whole audience is with you. I think if we keep the mindset that we’re all in this together, then we’re going to do some great things.”