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The Politics of Funny: Comedians Grapple with Their Approach After The Gloom of Trump’s Inauguration

As they struggle to keep up with the news, voices like Judd Apatow, Dan Harmon, Seth Meyers and Samantha Bee are figuring out how to balance laughs with harsh realities.

Judd Apatow, Donald Trump, Samantha Bee

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Journalists aren’t the only ones struggling with how to approach the Donald Trump administration. Comedians also find themselves debating their role in a world that seems more frightening and irrational by the day.

Fight truth to power? Call out the hypocrisy? Or have fun with the absurdity and serve as a respite to the headlines?

“It’s hard to do comedy when what’s happening is so weird, and what’s happening just keeps coming at you,” said producer Judd Apatow. “It’s such a frantic pace. We’ve really passed the point where daily events would be logical if I was writing a movie. Everything in this is now weirder than the movie ‘Network.’ And so it’s hard to be funny. You could talk about what you’re frustrated about, but life has gotten very scary and absurd. It’s a whole new ball game.”

As Trump takes on the media and consolidates power, it may be comedy that provides the most pointed checks and balances to his administration. “I think comedians have always been at the forefront of critical commentary during America’s critical times,” said “United Shades of America” host W. Kamau Bell. “You know, Lenny Bruce, Chris Rock.”

READ MORE: ‘Full Frontal with Samantha Bee’ Producers on Adjusting to the Trump Era — IndieWire’s TURN IT ON Podcast

“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” producer Miles Kahn said he keeps in mind something that Russian journalist Masha Gessen has noted on his show. A dissident who left Russia after threats on her life, Gessen has been vocal in warning Americans about the autocratic actions of Donald Trump. But she also points out what may be the Achilles’ heel to an authoritarian’s rule: Laughter.

“She talks about how the thing that dictators hate most is comedy,” Kahn said. “They don’t like being laughed at. [Witness] Trump going after Alec Baldwin on ‘SNL.'”

Trump has always been a polarizing figure and the butt of jokes, but having him in office has made it easier for comedians to sharpen their knives, according to “Rick and Morty” co-creator Dan Harmon.

“Now comedy can do anything,” he said. “Comedy was harder the last eight years, because there was a fucking handsome black guy in the White House that wanted everyone to have healthcare. That’s hard to rebel against. Now you can just get out of bed cranky and throw a brick through your window and you’re spot on politically… I think we want to be jaded, we want to mistrust the system. We’re funnier when we’re jesters, when we’re saying, ‘Fuck you,’ to the king. We’d rather have Joffrey in the throne. Comedy works better when Joffrey is king. It’s funnier.”

Still, there’s a catch. Beyond TV’s topical comedy shows, actor Brian Huskey (“People of Earth,” “Another Period”) said he worries modern comedy’s now-familiar trope of faux-ironic detachment could backfire. By mocking ignorant viewpoints, you risk misinterpretation by people who actually hold those views.

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