With the persona of a maniacal Bond villain hell-bent on world domination who’s so unbelievable he’d be more at home in Austin Powers spy spoofs than in the 007 film franchise, Donald Trump is a big, tempting, easy target. He’s a blowhard with perpetual bad hair days who can dish it out but can’t take it, the man you love to hate. Bashing Trump is big business, fodder for hosts of late night shows and comedy clubs, endless cable “news” programs, and along with Alec Baldwin’s impersonations on SNL, he has even spawned entire TV series: Comedy Central’s The President Show (the fate of Anthony Atamanuik’s hilarious send-up currently seems unclear) and Our Cartoon President, exec-produced by Stephen Colbert, which premiered Feb. 11 on Showtime. Detractors are also taking shots at the tweeter-in-chief onstage, on the page—and in workout videos! Here are a few recent examples:
Onstage: The final frontier, Trump in Space
This mash-up sounded like a good idea: Set in the year 2047, the hour-or-so live stage show mixes musical comedy with the space opera genre to lampoon Trump. Blue state Bernie boosters are pitted against red state Trumperian tyrants in a futuristic galaxy far, far away with songs accompanied by a live pianist (co-composer Sam Johnides). But the clever Star Trek meets Mr. Smith Goes to Washington premise suffers in an execution that’s too broad. Quips such as “Mars-a-Largo” are too few and far between, with the comedy leaning too heavily on the physical side, when the subject matter requires more of a cerebral, satirical approach. The ultra-low budget production also suffers in comparison to one of the genres it’s ribbing—sci-fi blockbusters known for pricey, big screen special effects.
The nine cast members wear blue or red Trekkie type uniforms so we know which side of the political spectrum they’re supposed to be on. Playing a character who belongs to the anti-Trump resistance, Nicole Pellegrino repeatedly shrieked loudly with such an annoying intensity that she made SNL’s Leslie Jones look like a subtle Stanislavsky Method actress preparing for an interior monologue. These banshee-like pyrotechnical vocal antics had all the charm of nails scraping blackboards, and while this may work in a large space it doesn’t in an intimate theatre setting. Although Trump in Space’s songs are, like the acting, energetically delivered, none are memorable and I didn’t leave the playhouse humming any of its tepid tunes.
But I seem to have a minority opinion here. To be fair, Space won the 2017 LA Fringe Festival Encore Award, has been extended, and on the night I attended, most of the audience (much younger than me) laughed, applauded and had a good time. Space is being presented at the Hollywood Blvd. branch of The Second City, that venerable comedic force that began 1959 as a cabaret theatre in Chicago and has spawned countless comics, from John Belushi to Tina Fey to Keegan-Michael Key and beyond. The L.A. outlet is also a “training center” for aspiring comedians.
The one-acter’s book and lyrics are by Gillian Bellinger (who plays Natasha Trump) and Landon Kirksey (who also co-stars), with music by Tony Gonzalez and Johnides, direction by Frank Caeti. Cast member Jessie Sherman resembles SNL alumna Laraine Newman. Of Space’s talents, petite performer Joy Regullano seems to be the most promising. Although unfortunately typecast as a nerdy spaceship techie—Regullano appears to be of Filipina ancestry, although for all I know she is a North Korean who infiltrated the cast to push Trump’s button—the vivacious actress is full of verve and comic panache. I don’t know if Regullano does standup as well as sketch comedy, but hopefully Trump in Space will help this charming clown’s career blast off into the stratosphere.
On the page: It’s Even Worse Than You Think
“Donald Trump is a criminal. He’s been a criminal for most of his life,” author David Cay Johnston boldly asserted Jan. 31 during the Great Minds Series. The Pulitzer Prize-winner and investigative reporter should know: Johnston has known Trump for 30 years, since 1988, when he began covering the big time casino loser at Atlantic City for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Johnston, who was mysteriously mailed part of Trump’s 2005 tax returns during the 2016 campaign, also won the Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) Medal and a George Polk Award. He brings a business savvy most journalists don’t have to his coverage of Trump.
Johnston has taught tax at Syracuse University College of Law, and the focus of his new book, It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration is Doing to America (Simon & Schuster), is less sensational than Michael Wolff’s tabloidy tell-all, Fire and Fury. The 90th edition of the stellar Great Minds Series presented by lefty publicist Ilene Proctor took place at a private home in Santa Monica home. Proctor and author Nomi Prins (her new book Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World drops in May) introduced Johnston, who was then interviewed by investigative journalist Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits and co-creator of a similarly titled documentary.
If one does not follow the news closely, in particular about Trump—which is most of what some cable “news” channels cover—Worse might be an excellent starting point for informing oneself about 45 and his regime. But for someone like myself, who watches endless hours of mostly cable TV news, subscribes to several publications, and read Johnston’s excellent 2016 book, The Making of Donald Trump, little if anything the author related during the Great Minds talk and bookselling event sounded new or original. So I read the first chapter of Worse and it is mostly more of the same stuff you regularly hear about on the talk shows where Johnston himself is a habitué. For instance, consider how many times those familiar with this subject have heard the following recounted in his tome’s first chapter:
“Bill Clinton couldn’t control [his] impulses” (this might have been breaking news circa 1991); “The Trump presidency is about Trump”; “he spends hours each days in front of a television”; Omarosa’s oft-repeated quote about “bow[ing] down to President Trump”; his love of “revenge” and “getting even”; Steve Bannon on the “deconstruction of the administrative state”; Ben Carson’s belief that “Egyptian pyramids were not tombs for dead pharaohs but granaries”; and so on.
It sounds like a litany of “Trump’s greatest hits.” To be fair, I hadn’t heard that “Trump appointed as FBI director a lawyer who earned more than $17 million the previous year defending corrupt banks involved in money-laundering and other white-collar crimes the FBI…investigate[s].” (However, others such as The American Interest reported this back in mid-2017.) One attendee at the Great Minds event said she’d never heard about the “cocaine”-related accusations, which refers to someone identified as “drug trafficker Joseph Weichselbaum,” who Johnston alleged Trump did business with in chapter 8 of his previous book.
So I emailed Johnston, whom I’d interviewed in 2016, asking what was new in Worse, and he replied via email: “Book is full of material has not been reported and we [hear] glancingly in the news about what is going on in our government. Read about the veterans on the proposal to cut benefits or round down checks or all the stuff at OSHA or the Inside story of EPA.
“From my [many] speaking engagements I know that the vast majority of Americans are [un]aware of these things. The news has focused on the tweets[,] in the palace intrigues, not the substance.
“Did you know about the RCP [Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, mentioned on two pages in the “Trade” chapter]? It’s terribly important has gotten almost no attention here but when I was on Australian national TV they were totally familiar with.
“How about the silica in Burley industrials? For the sleep apnea rule that also is not being advanced.”
About 100 people attended the event (which was also streamed live, as moderator Palast repeatedly reminded listeners), including notables such as longtime anti-nuclear, anti-vote theft activist author Harvey Wasserman and Debra Olson, granddaughter of California’s “People’s Governor” and co-author of the new biography The Honorable Governor Culbert Levy Olson. Before and after speaking, Johnston signed copies of Worse.
Politics & aerobics: Trump Resistance Workout video
My favorite part of the Great Minds evening was actually something quite original. The heroic—and preternaturally fit—Jane Fonda may have turned to aerobics videos as a way to raise money for her and then-husband Tom Hayden’s “Economic Democracy” campaigns, but I don’t recall any of the peace activist’s workouts per se being overtly political. So the live performance by female “super trainer” “Ya-Vanna Flex” and two similarly athletically garbed males performing the Trump Resistance Workout in order to combat “Trump Trauma Syndrome” struck me as hilarious.
The trio strutted their stuff in the front of the room, demonstrating “the easiest, fastest way to transform visceral disgust into powerfully potent activism!” Among other things, viewers learn how to “deflect the grab! We wanna push that tiny hand away! We don’t let him touch us!” One can learn how to do moves like the “Impeach reach,” “Putin punch” and “lunacy lunge” by “purchasing” the workout video for the Orwellian price of “19.84” (about $8 less than Worse).
Covering Trump in a variety of media is now a cottage industry. But of these three examples, the faux workout video was the most innovative. Watch the Trump Resistance Workout at the Great Mind Series, and/or watch the longer version here.
For more information from the publisher about David Cay Johnston’s It’s Even Worse Than You Think, see here.
Trump in Space is being presented Fridays at 8:00 pm through April 27 at The Second City Hollywood Studio Theatre, 6560 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles 90028. For info: (323) 464-8542 or the theatre website.