Stephen Colbert’s once struggling late night talk show finally found its footing and audience last year once he and his writers turned both barrels towards Donald Trump. Now the president himself has returned to the airwaves as the host of his own late-night talk show — kind of.
The President Show stars improv veteran Anthony Atamanuik as the Commander-in-Chief hosting his own gabfest, hewing to the same format that has been the industry standard for decades. “Trump” opens his show with a monologue delivered in the form of a press conference, including questions from reporters. He then presides over the proceedings from the comfort of the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, while beside him on a sofa sits his own Ed McMahon in the form of Vice President Mike Pence, played by Peter Grosz, whom you most likely recognize as the straight man from a long-running series of commercials for Sonic restaurants, but who has also worked as a writer for Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Colbert Report. Grosz’ Pence is a bumbling square whose primary function is to serve as a stooge and whipping boy for his mercurial boss, who has no illusions about Pence’s true feelings. When Pence attempts to flatter Trump by declaring “I have to say Mr. President, it’s an honor—“, Trump cuts him off: “No, it’s not. I’m a pig, you hate this.”
It’s been said of the real-life Trump that he’s so arch, so absurd that he defies satirization, but Atamanuik’s take on the president puts that notion to rest. Atamanuik doesn’t try to get Trump just right, like, say Alec Baldwin. Instead he opts for a few key gestures and verbal tics, but fully embraces how childlike — not childish — Trump is. A scene where he spots a semi rolling down a New York City street is an inspired bit of improv, as Atamanuik leaps to his feet and begins to ape the sound of a trunk horn while miming the motion of pulling the chain, imploring the driver to give him a blast. When the blast comes, the President is delighted.
Atamanuik’s Trump really hits its stride during a piece where the president visits a school, where he begrudgingly agrees to read the children a story, then pulls out a copy of “Art of the Deal,” but then finds joy in sitting on the floor with a giant pile of blocks and action figures to play real estate developer with some of the kids: “The yellows are the illegals we hired to do the job.”
The show needs some polish, which should come in time. One bit, “Screaming at the Television,” in which Trump flips through the cable news channels screaming at the television, should be a slam dunk, but fails to deliver on its promise, as the execution is just a bit off. It’s funny, but it could be a lot funnier.
An improv performer by trade, it’s where Atamanuik excels, especially during the nightly interview he conducts, typically with stars of the Trump Resistance movement, like Keith Olbermann and Dan Savage, both of whom he momentarily cracks up. While sparring with Linda Sarsour, one of the organizers of the Woman’s March held the day after Trump’s inauguration, “Trump” boasts that his inauguration had the most white tarps of any inauguration ever, and then a beat later tosses out “Talk to me when you organize a white tarp march,” a KKK joke so sly that it went virtually unnoticed by the audience.
It goes without saying that if you’re a Trump supporter who lacks a willingness to laugh at the man’s foibles, this is not for you. It is a sometimes ruthless 30-minute teardown of the man (he calls his daughter’s recent booing in Germany “the worst thing the Germans have ever done, ever”), his administration (Sean Spicer has “a taste for his own mouth”), and those who backed for him (in a mocking voice Trump sneers “I want jobs to move back to America, but I also want 24 socks for a dollar”). But if you’re in the mood for a thumb in the eye of the most powerful man on Earth, “The President Show” can offer some sublime moments.
New episodes of The President Show air Thursdays at 11:30pm ET on Comedy Central.