Q&A with comedian Norm Macdonald on comedy in the Trump era
Published Sunday, March 18, 2018 11:00AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, March 18, 2018 12:43PM EDT
OTTAWA – Since he announced his candidacy, Donald Trump has been fodder for late-night hosts and throughout his presidency they’ve found new material in his policy and speeches, and all those tweets.
Canadian stand-up comedian and former Saturday Night Live Weekend Update anchor Norm Macdonald joined CTV Question Period guest host and Ottawa Bureau Chief Joyce Napier on Sunday to talk about political comedy in an era where Trump is the president of the United States, and whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a talent for getting laughs.
In the interview, Napier acknowledged that the pair have exchanged a number of laughs off-camera, as Macdonald is Napier’s brother-in-law.
Here are some highlights from their conversation:
Napier: Do you think Justin Trudeau is funny?
Macdonald: I don't follow it that closely, but no, I don’t think he's funny. Not like his father was funny. You know, I don’t think, just from my cursory knowledge and watching of Justin --or my prime minister, I shouldn’t call him Justin -- on YouTube that he seems to not to have inherited his father’s flinty intellect.
If you had a talk show in the United States, would you have Trudeau on?
Yeah I would have him on. It’s hard for politicians, as you know, to interview them, because they have talking points that they will not get off of… They twist the questions and answer different ones.
Where is the funny in U.S. President Donald Trump?
He's enormously funny and entertaining. Normally with politicians, you need to be humble, to be really funny, and I think that’s why Ronald Reagan was the funniest president that I ever saw, because he always had this humility to him. And then there was George W. Bush who I also considered very funny, both with calculation, and without. You could laugh at him, but with him too.
I was kind of lost with President [Barack] Obama because people told me he was funny, but to me he was too self-aware of himself and his position in history and all that… And of course Hillary [Clinton] couldn't have been more strident. People don’t vote on issues as much as they just vote on who they’d rather have a beer with. And nobody wanted to have a beer with Hillary Clinton.
Would you want to have a beer with Trump? You say to be funny you have to be humble, but I don’t think Donald Trump is very humble, is he?
No. There's no humility to Donald Trump. Donald Trump is more funny in a way that a WWE wrestler is… I’ve had people that I know that went on Celebrity Apprentice and they said that the first thing that he says is that he’s a bigger celebrity than all of the contestants.
He is a different kind of funny, which is a sort of, self-deluded -- well I don’t know that it's self-delusion… I think it’s just all an act. I don’t think really that Trump ever wanted to be president.
I've seen this happen with comedians too, you start thinking that you’re good because the people that come to see you all like you. But, the reason that they came to see you is because they like you. Politicians and comedians both make that mistake of thinking that they’re much better than they are, because they’re never criticized by the people that don’t like them. That's why social media is so good, because you can see the people that don’t like you at all.
Would you do a Trump impression?
I try to not do comedy about Donald Trump… I try to stay away from it because it's low-hanging fruit and also Trump often times is doing self-parody and nothing looks dumber than if you parody self-parody.
Do you think Trump wanted to be president?
Personally I feel that he didn’t think he was going to become president, and interestingly the thing that people don’t remember was… that during the debates there was all this talk of Donald Trump saying that if he loses, it means the election is rigged, and all the media were saying, 'No, no, that’s impossible, take that back, you cannot say that about the American republic, no election here could ever be rigged, that’s impossible,' and of course now they’re saying the exact opposite.
I think it was Trump's idea at that point, that he would say it was going to be rigged… he thought Hillary [Clinton] was going to win, I think, and then he would start a network, or something like that, where he could speak and be the loyal opposition of his own, something different than Fox [News].
Comedy in the time of Trump: Is it more difficult than it was when you were on Saturday Night Live?
It's more difficult in the time of Trump for good comedians, and it’s way easier for bad comedians. You don’t have a world view by just saying that you don't like Trump, you know what I mean? That doesn’t count. You can’t just say 'I hate Trump' and that makes you a good person. The democrats can’t just say ‘I hate Trump’ and that means that I have a position. That’s no position.
For idiots it's an easier time because you go 'well that guy's the idiot, not me.' But if you try to do smart comedy it’s better to stay away from Trump.
This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.