Donald Trump’s comedic chops were on full display at Saturday’s annual Gridiron Club dinner, which brings together members of the media and the President for a night of laughs. Even as an outspoken critic of Trump, I have to admit that he is good at one thing: Delivering jokes. In fact, based on what was reported about the event (cameras were not permitted), I wish Trump would give up his “day job” and pursue comedy full time.
However, if Saturday night is any indication, were Trump to swap his role as commander-in-chief for comedian-in-chief, he would likely be a cruel, heartless comedian who would “punch down,” mocking those already struggling. After all, this is the same Trump who during the campaign publicly mocked disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski by mimicking Kovaleski’s movements simply because the reporter refused to support Trump’s lie that Muslims in New Jersey cheered on 9/11.
To be fair, Trump did tell at least one self-deprecating joke last night: “My staff was concerned that I couldn’t do self-deprecating humor.” He then quipped, “And I told them not to worry — nobody does self-deprecating humor better than I do.”
But much of Trump’s comedy routine was going after people who are down on their luck. There’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who Trump slammed on Twitter (again) this week and reportedly has now nicknamed, “Mr. Magoo,” after a nearsighted cartoon character. Trump used the dinner to take another shot at Sessions, joking, “I offered him a ride over, and he recused himself. What are you gonna do?”
Trump also mocked his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was recently stripped of his top secret national security clearance, leaving him below the White House calligrapher in terms of access to sensitive information. Trump joked: “We were late tonight because Jared could not get through security.”
And despite what Trump’s wife, Melania, must be feeling after learning of two alleged affairs that Trump may have had early in their marriage, there was Trump joking about his wife: “So many people have been leaving the White House. It’s actually been really exciting and invigorating ’cause you want new thought … Now the question everyone keeps asking is, ‘Who is going to be the next to leave? Steve Miller or Melania?'”
Trump using his wife as a punchline is nothing new. At the Al Smith dinner in October 2016, Trump joked about allegations that Melania had plagiarized parts of her speech at the Republican National Convention from an earlier speech delivered by Michelle Obama. Trump told the audience “I really have to say, the media is even more biased this year than ever before – ever. You want the proof? Michelle Obama gives a speech, and everyone loves it – it’s fantastic.” Trump then joked, “My wife, Melania, gives the exact same speech, and people get on her case.”
Now, I’m sure some Trump supporters will defend Trump with a typical “what aboutism,” arguing that President Barack Obama comically fileted Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondent’s Dinner. And that’s true. Obama used comedy to crush Trump for his birtherism claims and also his “credentials and breadth of experience,” ridiculing Trump for having to make a tough decision on “The Apprentice” of whether to fire Meat Loaf, rapper Lil Jon or actor Gary Busey.
But in that case, Obama was “punching up” by mocking a person with power, namely a billionaire television star who had been going after him for years. In contrast, Trump punches down, ridiculing people who are truly struggling to find their footing.
That said, if Trump were ever to leave the White House for the comedy club circuit, it truly would be a win-win situation for all involved. Given that recent polls show Trump with a 35% approval rating, I bet a good chunk of America would applaud that move.
And speaking of applause, we all know Trump thrives on adulation. As a former president, he would no longer be subject to the harsh spotlight of what he likes to refer to as the “fake news.” Instead, he would be cheered nightly by adoring audiences across the nation.
Here’s hoping that instead of Trump entering a room to the sounds of “Hail to the chief,” he’s introduced as your headlining comedian for the evening. I’d gladly pay a cover charge and spring for a two-drink minimum to see that.