Many of us, during this election cycle, have found us switching from live TV to our Netflix queues in search of escapism. But because the two people currently running for president of the United States have been in the public eye for decades, there’s always a danger that you might be reminded, on-screen or through some clever joke, that November 8 is coming.
By the numbers, odds are pretty good that between the two candidates, the one you’ll see will be Donald Trump. According to IMDB, since 1981 Donald Trump has made over 230 film and television appearances — 219 as “Self” and 20 as an actor usually playing “Donald Trump,” though there may be some overlap between the two.
This includes talk shows and news programs, but it’s still more than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who has 196 listed appearances as “Self,” beginning with Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential run, and only two real listed appearances as an actor (both of which were “Saturday Night Live” cameos).
Since Trump has been such a prominent figure in pop culture, it made sense to create a simple guide for navigating his most notable cameos and guest starring roles over the decades he’s been a public figure — not to mention a selection of the sorts of jokes that TV and film have made referencing “The Donald” over that same period of time. Theoretically, this could be used to avoid any potential reference to Trump you might encounter while bingeing your way through classic comedies or dramas — a Trump trigger warning, if you will — but the actual content of these appearances, when you look at the big picture, provides a fascinating insight into what he’s represented for so many years to the American people.
This is not every appearance Trump has ever made (remember, over two hundred listings on IMDB). Instead, here are some films and scripted series you might encounter today, omitting “Saturday Night Live” cameos, professional wrestling and anything related to “The Apprentice.”
“The Jeffersons” (1975-1985): “My Hero” (1981)/”You’ll Never Get Rich” (1985)
No details were seemingly available for this episode, but we wanted to include “The Jeffersons,” as there are two listed appearances, both of which constitute his earliest on-screen work. The official episode description for “You’ll Never Get Rich,” courtesy of TV Guide:
In Atlantic City, Florence hopes to hit the jackpot while Louise’s hunt for celebrities turns up Phyllis Diller, Joe Frazier, Charo, Helen Reddy, Engelbert Humperdinck and Michael Spinks. Isabel Sanford, Marla Gibbs.
Presumably Trump was integrated into the latter plot-line. Guess he didn’t make the TV Guide cut above Engelbert Humperdinck (understandably).
“Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” (1992)
Trump gives Macauley Culkin directions to the lobby of the Plaza Hotel, in a relatively painless cameo that nonetheless has been immortalized as the header image for legendary Twitter account @ArtHouseTrump.
“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (1990-1996): “For Sale by Owner” (1994)
Mr. and Mrs. Donald Trump (then Marla Maples) visit Bel-Air (to Carlton’s endless excitement) to potentially buy the Banks’ house. “I like keeping a low profile,” Trump remarks at one point. “Everyone’s always blaming me for everything,” he says later.
“The Associate” (1996)
Yeah, making a movie in the ’90s about Wall Street without a Trump cameo would probably seem a bit weird. Here, Trump blows off the scheming Frank (Tim Daly) for the firm secretly run by Laurel (Whoopi Goldberg), who’s pretending the real person in charge is a white man. Trump does not appear in the climatic final scene, where Laurel reveals her true identity, which is a shame. It would have been interesting to see his reaction.
“Sex and the City”: The Man, the Myth, the Viagra (1999)
The Viagra reference in the title refers to Ed, a 70-years-young gentleman Samantha finds herself encountering. Where do they meet? A bar/restaurant where Samantha’s enjoying a Cosmo and Ed is finishing a meal with Trump. Carrie’s voice-over:
“Samantha, a cocktail and Donald Trump: You just don’t get more New York than that.”
Trump exits the scene by saying to Ed regarding an unspecified business deal, “Think about it. I’ll be at my office at Trump Tower.” You know, in case you hadn’t caught that he was Donald Trump.
Woody Allen’s black-and-white examination of celebrity journalism isn’t available to view online in any capacity, but per a review by Neil Norman of the London Evening Standard (cited by Wikipedia), it appears Trump’s cameo involves him planning to buy and demolish St Patrick’s Cathedral. Very on brand for his real estate tycoon image.
“The Job” (2001-2002): “Elizabeth” (2001)
In the short-lived ABC cop comedy, Elizabeth Hurley (playing herself) ends up at dinner with Detective Mike McNeil (Denis Leary), but their date is interrupted by The Donald wandering by for a cheek kiss for Elizabeth and a not-so-gentlemanly question for Mike as to whether or not they’re involved.
In the opening minutes of Ben Stiller’s male model comedy, Trump gives red carpet testimony to Derek Zoolander’s impact on the world of male modeling. Presumably, Derek Zoolander never had to worry about Trump coming into his dressing room before a show.
“Two Weeks Notice” (2002)
Call it “The Associate Part 2,” as another example of a Wall Street-set film that used Trump to establish its authenticity. Trump is very good at reminding people that he’s famous for being rich.
“Da Ali G Show” (2000-2004): “Politics” (2003)
Trump seems exceedingly unamused by Ali G (Sasha Baron Cohen) as he pitches an ice cream-related business idea, in part because he seems to pick up pretty quick on how this isn’t a serious interview opportunity. He exits with some relative restraint, which is to be admired given the circumstances.
Here are a few of the quotes we found from various films and TV shows featuring an offhand reference or mention to Trump.
“Designing Women” (1986-1993): “Marriage Most Foul” (1991)
Julia Sugarbaker seemed to have a weird fixation on Trump. There’s a notable rant directed at a photographer where she calls him out for gender bias: “I don’t care how many pictures you’ve taken of movie stars. When you start snapping photos of serious, successful businessmen like Donald Trump and Lee Iacocca in unzipped jumpsuits with wet lips, straddling chairs, then we’ll talk.”
But more importantly, the 1991 episode “Murder Most Foul” dealt with one of the rocky moments of Marla Maples and Donald Trump’s marriage (with a cameo from Maples herself) and Julia calling Trump’s private line to give him a piece of her mind about his dating life. Video below:
“Cheers” (1982-1993): “One for the Road” (1993)
In the series finale, Rebecca (Kristie Alley) confesses that she’s not happy with her choice of husbands, noting that:
“Can you believe that? I shoot for Donald Trump, and I end up with Ed Norton.”
(Because it’s 1993, the Ed Norton she’s referring to is not the Oscar-nominated actor, but the “Honeymooners” character.)
“Friends” (1994-2004): “The One with Phoebe’s Uterus” (1998)
While Phoebe decides whether or not to serve as a surrogate mother for her brother and his wife, Chandler tries to make a Trump joke. It goes badly, and not just because it’s predicated on the audience remembering that apparently Trump was famous for wearing blue blazers in the 1990s:
“I don’t know, but Donald Trump wants his blue blazer black.”
“Sex and the City” (1998-2004): “Sex and the City” (1998)
That’s right, “Sex and the City” is a two-fer. Here is how Mr. Big (Chris Noth) is first described to Carrie in the HBO series’ pilot, by Samantha:
“You see that guy? He’s the next Donald Trump. Except he’s younger and much better looking.”
“Gilmore Girls” (2000-2007): “The Ins and Outs of Inns” (2001)
Lorelai and Sookie find out that the property they’re hoping to acquire for their new inn already has an owner. Sookie’s kneejerk reaction?
“Tell me it’s not that bastard Donald Trump.”
“Frasier” (1993-2004): “Frasier-Lite” (2004)
Frasier’s radio crew is looking to fatten up prior to weighing in for the first day of a weight loss contest. In preparation, they’re filling up on fatty foods:
Bob ‘Bulldog’ Briscoe (Dan Butler): “We got cheeseburgers, donuts, french fries, tacos…”
Gil Chesterton (Edward Hibbert): “And a duck confit that’s as rich as Donald Trump and twice as greasy.”
“Transporter 3” (2008)
In the Jason Statham-starring action film, bad guy Robert Knepper is displeased by the work the Transporter has done. So, he gets classy with the pop culture references, borrowing from the then-popular reality show:
“That won’t be necessary. You see, since we had our little chat at the beginning of the mission, I’ve been thinking I don’t need the best man for this mundane assignment. Any idiot with a drivers’ license will do, so, in the words of the great American Donald Trump, I’m sorry, but you’re fired.”
Here’s what’s interesting: All the on-camera appearances Trump made in his pre-candidacy career are relatively flattering to his ego, certainly. But even the shows and films that refer to him as an off-screen presence, without his tacit approval, uphold his public image as a successful businessman. And a notably apolitical one; the only controversies invoked are financial ones, not ideological.
When Donald Trump participated in his 2011 Comedy Central roast, the only material that was off the table was “any joke that suggests Trump is not actually as wealthy as he claims to be.” What mattered to him most was projecting an image of success — one upon which his status as a pop culture figure, going back decades, has been built.
If Trump wins the election, it’ll be a win fueled by angry political rhetoric. If he loses, that sheen of success he’s carefully cultivated all these years will be tarnished. Either way, it’s going to be odd to look back at all these jokes and cameos, most of which were fun, harmless moments that quasi-celebrated a guy who seemed to be very, very rich. And more importantly, it seems like Hollywood is going to have to find another billionaire icon to use for these sorts of moments. Trump, as a punchline, has been forever changed.