President Donald Trump may be an easy target for the late-night shows, but many of the writers behind them find POTUS’ continued unpredictability to be exhausting.
For one, Trump’s penchant for tweeting a mix of insults and policy each morning actually makes their jobs harder. “The tweets usually come in right as we finish our morning meeting and just planned our entire show for the day,” The Daily Show writer Hallie Haglund said at the Television Critics Association’s press tour on Saturday in Pasadena, California. “And then they come in and it’s like, ‘Well, f— that, we shouldn’t even have had a meeting, because now we have to do all this stuff.”
“My first thought is always we’re going to die,” Christine Nangle, head writer for Comedy Central’s The President Show, added of Trump’s tweets. “You have to process as a person first, and then remember, ‘Is there anything there for us to pull from?’” It’s very much a sentiment shared by fellow panelists Jason Reich, head writer for Comedy Central’s The Jim Jefferies Show, and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee writer and correspondent Ashley Nicole Black. “That’s the routine now: Wake up, look at the phone, get depressed,” Reich said.
One of the key challenges, the writers said, is finding the actual joke when so much of the news about the current administration that comes out these days seems almost unbelievable. “How do I heighten this?” Haglund said. “How do I not just show it, step back and be like, ‘Well, there’s nothing left to do with this that it’s so ridiculous?’ That’s always the challenge.”
Another challenge “is to try to avoid the low hanging fruit like this person talks funny or has funny hair,” Nangle added. “We try to look at what goes deeper than all that insanity? What made this man? We made him, we allowed this to happen, so as much as you can go deeper without being heavy handed, that’s what we aim for.”
The other key is the balance of appealing to both sides without alienating anyone just because of their political beliefs. “It’s hard because you don’t want to say to a Trump voter, ‘You’re so stupid, you got conned,’ people will retreat into, ‘No, I’m right, I’m right,’” Nangle said, noting that it’s more about letting viewers “see for yourself as opposed to portraying people as dumb idiots.”
“The only positive,” Nangle added, “is it’s unearthing part of our culture and part of our country that I think a lot of people didn’t know existed.”
Haglund also noted that covering the same man over and over again “can be really boring,” she said. “I think about during the Obama administration where we’d have a week where we wouldn’t be using a clip from the president. A couple weeks ago, I worked on something that after it aired, I remembered it was an act we didn’t say Trump’s name once and I couldn’t remember [the last time that happened.]”
While Trump has led to a new golden era for late-night — the panel title asked, “Has Politics Made Late Night Great Again?” a play on Trump’s campaign slogan — the consensus seemed to be that each writer would easily give that up for the alternative.
“I just find it exhausting,” Reich said. “It’s hard to find it fun a lot.” Nangle added: “I don’t want this job.”
“If Hillary Clinton was president, we’d just get in there on pantsuits and policies,” Black said. “I would give anything.”
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