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Why Treating Donald Trump Like a Cartoon Character Isn’t That Funny — Very Good TV Podcast

Shows like "The President Show" and Stephen Colbert's upcoming animated series might do more harm than good.

Gavin Bond

Six months into Donald Trump’s presidency, it’s hard to remember a time when the concept of the former “Apprentice” host becoming the Commander-in-Chief was a joke.

And yet for some time, it really was, thanks to decades of Trump’s standing as a pop culture icon, a notion he more than encouraged with frequent media appearances. The mogul was game for any joke as long as it didn’t imply that he wasn’t as rich or powerful as he said he was.

Since Trump took office, any attempt to keep up with political news inspires a wide range of emotions, but it’s rare that the headlines coming out of Washington inspire much in the way of funny. And it’s an especially acute problem faced by comedians and writers who try to mine current events for laughs.

During a recent Television Critics Association panel featuring writers from the late night comedy world, Comedy Central’s “The President Show” head writer Christine Nangle confessed, “My first thought is always, ‘We’re all going to die.'”

That’s why the growing trend of entire shows devoted to mocking Trump and the circus surrounding him is a bit disturbing. There’s fine comedy being produced on “The President Show,” anchored by Anthony Atamanuik’s top-tier impression, but many of the jokes end up devolving — not into “it’s funny because it’s true” territory, but rather “it’s true, and because of that it really isn’t that funny.”

“The President Show’s” run was just extended by Comedy Central to 22 episodes, and last week Showtime announced the greenlight for an untitled series based on the Cartoon Trump sketches produced by “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

Cartoon Trump was born in June 2016, months before the actual election, but has been a consistently weak element of the talk show, with the jokes rarely escalating beyond the basic repetition of what actual Trump has said, with slight exaggeration.

When an entire group of Americans can wake up to discover via an early morning tweetstorm that Trump has called for the abridgment of their rights, it’s perhaps time to not treat the president as a wacky character, but as an all-too-real figure with real power over day-to-day lives.

This is the discussion at the heart of this week’s Very Good TV Podcast, in which IndieWire TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller and TV Critic Ben Travers dig into why this ongoing trend has proven so troubling.

Listen to the episode above, and don’t forget to subscribe via Soundcloud or iTunes, and follow IndieWire on Twitter and Facebook for all your pertinent TV news. Check out Liz and Ben’s Twitter feeds for more, more, more. Plus, don’t forget to listen to IndieWire’s other podcastsScreen Talk with Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson, as well as Michael Schneider’s new podcast, Turn It On, which spotlights the most important TV of each week.

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