The Edinburgh Fringe Festival has been a weird one this year. Perhaps it’s just my own inablility to see it, or other engagements that I’ve been distracted by – but there honestly didn’t seem to be much on the festival this year that was a must see. There are a fair share of repeat performers every year, and it’s up to them if they want to do a new show or the same old set, whatever works for them as a comedian. The one thing that I disliked about the fringe this year however is that everyone seems to be trying to do the same shit: rip on the POTUS, Donald Trump.
I know that you have to put in applications for a show a long time in advance, but surely there would be some foresight somewhere – If it’s a hot topic, won’t everyone be doing it? This year I don’t think I’ve seen one show that didn’t have a sly reference to him somewhere, no matter if the context is appropriate or not. Even if a show has no relation to him, the blurb or the copy advertising the show will mention it somewhere. A quick search of the Fringe website had 71 shows that mentioned ‘Trump’ in the title or the blurb of the show – and 218 that mentioned ‘Politics and Trump’. Is that enough to suggest that it’s oversaturated with political satire shows that care more about the climate than comedy?
So many of these shows specifically talk about living in a world that ‘Post –Truth and Post –Brexit’ like it’s 9/11 all over again. There is has been a lot of exaggeration in the impact of politics recently, good and bad we’re all blaming each other for shit that might not be completely true or hasn’t even happened yet. It’s hard to say if many of these shows got some genuine insight that would impact your worldview, or if they are just capitalising on the culture of outrage that we can’t stop indulging in.
In my honest opinion, the comedy in Donald Trump’s position as president died a long time ago. It probably died the day he got inaugurated, and sealed the deal in becoming the ‘leader of the free world’. I don’t think it’s because he’s so dangerous that you can’t joke about it, but the comedy in it all just feels half assed. The week he got elected, everyone I did stand up with that week couldn’t shut up about it. Even then I felt like a little hack trying out my Trump joke, which really didn’t have much to do with him, it was about Keith Richards snorting his dad’s ashes. Doesn’t it bother any of these comedians that this Trump focus, while completely relevant and topical when dissecting the political climate feels quite uninspired?
I heard Brent Weinbach on the Poundcast comment that he didn’t really mind if Trump was elected, because the reign of the last Republican POTUS, George W. Bush was great for comedy. It was great for Brent specifically, I remember him saying that once Obama came in, there was a slump. It kind of was a good time, but I also felt back then that it was cheap. It was always like “Here’s this doofus, and he can’t ever get anything right” and the comedy was derived from that. But with the Trump situation, people have been shitting on him as a person and a businessman ever since he became well known in the early 1980s. He was always this douchey rich kid with some sort of narcissistic disorder, and because he has mostly unchanged in character, the comedy we derive from his situation seems like it’s been done before. The only thing that has changed is his political status. Of course whatever he’s done as a political figure has been questionable, but is it enough that you can make your own spin on it actually funny?
We have all these shows that attack the POTUS because they can either do a bad impression of him, or they genuinely feel politically charged to do a show that takes him on and really takes him to task. Alex Salmond said that he wanted to ‘Roast him’ in his show. But political humour is often bloated with self-importance and a weird strain of righteousness, it’s never all that funny. I am yet to see a stand-up comedy show that uses politics in a way that isn’t just a vehicle to base all the jokes on ‘something’, its never smart enough to use a political background to do what it should be – make the humour so good that it becomes apolitical.
Matt Forde hosts a politics show every year on the fringe, and while it appeals to some, I have always found him to be a grating, dull personality. At least his show always claims to be about politics, never focusing on the comedy. It’s all about current events, which basically only has some degree of comedy for a while before it dies. It feels like all these Trump shows were dead on arrival and the jokes seem lame because we heard it all before. The guy will always be parodied in popular culture from now on and perhaps he may be a regular staple at the fringe over the next few years, but we should at least have the decency to call it out when it’s lazy.