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The President Show Is an Impression of Trump's Soul

Comedy Central's late-night satire abnormalizes President Trump

Liam Mathews

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump held a press conference for reporters in the Oval Office.

Actually, that's fake news.

On Wednesday, comedian Anthony Atamanuik, host of Comedy Central's new late-night series The President Show, held a press conference for reporters at the show's Manhattan studio.

After an introduction from his sidekick Mike Pence (Peter Grosz), Atamanuik-as-Trump gave some remarks hyping his show, which premieres Thursday, April 27, and then berated the reporters in attendance ("Bustle? What is that, a bra catalog? I'm surprised I haven't heard of it") while giving rambling answers that didn't answer the questions asked -- just like Trump! -- and then led a tour of the Oval Office set.

​Anthony Atamanuik, The President Show

Anthony Atamanuik, The President Show

Gavin Bond/Comedy Central

After that, Atamanuik went backstage and cleaned off the orange makeup before coming back out as himself to explain what he hopes to accomplish with his satirical weekly talk show.

"I don't think any one thing can take a president out of office," Atamanuik said. "My show is not going to necessarily -- maybe -- get him impeached. ... I think, though, that we can contribute to re-examining his identity, and forcing cable news media and so on to stop doing this pretend game where just because he's the president, we now pretend that he's not this weird, lecherous guy."

And Atamanuik's Trump is biting, even more than Alec Baldwin's on Saturday Night Live. His voice and word choices and mannerisms are a near-perfect imitation, but the precision of the impression is just a backdoor into capturing the essence of whatever exists of Trump's soul.

"Watching him, I've learned all these psychological refrains that I found were fascinating." His Trump is a confused and childish old man, part "dowager" and part "ADD toddler."

Anthony Atamanuik

Anthony Atamanuik

Lane Savage

Since the election, there's been a lot of concern on the left about the media "normalizing" Trump, whether it be in news reports praising him as "presidential" or comedians making jokes that paint him as a hapless and therefore likable buffoon. This normalization makes people complacent with Trump and undermines the very real danger he poses to the structure of American government and society. But Atamanuik, a wonkish liberal polemicist, is no Jimmy Fallon ruffling Trump's hair. He rejects the idea that making jokes about Trump is not taking him seriously or weakening the resistance.

"I do not think I normalize him," he said. "I do not think I've ever done that in my work. I think if anything I've tried to show how abnormal he is. Was Charlie Chaplin normalizing Hitler when he played him in The Great Dictator?"

After all, he notes, comedy and satire are necessary parts of getting through tragedy.

"I have [Holocaust] survivors in my family, and they were people who laughed their way through the camps because that was how you survived," he said.

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Atamanuik also doesn't agree that reality has become so absurd that it's beyond parody, a common refrain among Trump's detractors.

"I think this whole thing of beyond satire, weirdly, is a red herring," he said in a separate interview with TVGuide.com. "It feels like disinformation," like something the CIA or KGB would do to suppress dissent.

Atamanuik sees himself as showing a more honest version of Trump that the mainstream news media is failing to present. In that way, he's another worthy successor in a line of Comedy Central late-night liberals whose fact-based fake news gets at emotional truths objective reporting cannot. The format of The President Show is essentially The Daily Show hosted by Donald Trump. It will start with desk bits and a little bit of Trump/Pence banter, then move to a field report, then an interview, and conclude with a final thought.

The Colbert Report is an obvious tonal influence, with a liberal comedian (though Atamanuik's politics are further left than Stephen Colbert's or anyone else in late night's) in character as a conservative blowhard. Atamanuik thinks of it as Trump's warped version of an FDR fireside chat in the form of a talk show.

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The first guest will be liberal pundit Keith Olbermann, who 'Trump' said will be hit with a drone strike during the show. Future guests will almost certainly include James Adomian as Bernie Sanders. The genesis of The President Show is in Trump vs. Bernie, a live debate sketch show Atamanuik and Adomian traveled around the country performing during the campaign last year before doing it on @midnight and for a Fusion special.

The President Show came together head-spinningly fast for TV: Atamanuik pitched it to Comedy Central in January, it was greenlit in the middle of February, and now it's premiering in April on Trump's 98th day in office. Making History's Adam Pally helped him get it ready, and Pally serves as an executive producer on the show. The talented writing staff includes Pally's Making History co-stars Neil Casey and John Gemberling, Inside Amy Schumer's Christine Nangle, and Jason Ross, who won seven Emmys for this work on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is also an executive producer here.

For his part, this is Atamanuik's highest-profile project by far. He's earned his comedy stripes performing improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater for many years. He's acted on shows including Broad City and Difficult People, but he's never done anything before that there's a chance the president might watch. And he hopes the president watches.

"I would love for him to watch it. Then I could get a tweet. Then I could get more viewers," he said. "Now I'm sounding like him. It would be good for ratings."

The President Show premieres Thursday, April 27 at 11:30/10:30c on Comedy Central.