The media have been talking about whether the success of the Roseanne revival is due to Roseanne Barr’s pro-Trump politics or to the high quality of the sitcom itself. Beating his chest, Donald Trump thinks it’s all about him and is only too glad to take credit for its sky-high ratings. Funny thing is, there are not one but two weekly comedy series that really are all about him. Our Cartoon President and The President Show have created two very different fictional President Trumps, and this week will be the last time to catch them for a while.
Stephen Colbert’s animated family sitcom Our Cartoon President is bright and rollicking; on Sunday, April 8, the finale of its 10-episode run will air on Showtime before returning in the summer for seven more episodes. Comedy Central’s The President Show, a half-hour sketch comedy starring Anthony Atamanuik as Trump, is a dark and urgent tour of Trump’s five-alarm psyche. Its first season ended in November, but it returned on Tuesday April 3, a couple hours after Roseanne, with an hour-long special: In the “Make America Great-A-Thon,” Trump pleads for cash to fund his wall, confesses a lifetime of sins to Robert Mueller, and in unison with Kellyanne Conway (played by Kathy Griffin) repeats the Sinclair News script, “This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.” A second special will air this summer.
These two shows owe much to the tradition of the modern political comedy. The first hit presidential impersonation was Vaughn Meader’s Kennedy; in 1962, his First Family album became the fastest-selling pre-Beatles record in history, and ever since there’s been money in presidential send-ups. Saturday Night Live has given us every POTUS starting with Chevy Chase’s Gerald Ford. (Dan Akroyd’s impression of Richard Nixon didn’t appear until later, after he resigned from office.) The genius of Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush (which turned into the hit Broadway play You’re Welcome America, in 2009) was to find the clueless, defensive frat boy in Bush, which somehow shifted the blame for his military and economic blunders onto the Americans who voted for him. Alec Baldwin’s mugging Trump on SNL won him an Emmy last year, although Baldwin himself has wondered if his impression was “too cuddly.”