Published Jul 27, 2018Anthony Atamanuik shouldn't still be doing this, and on some level I believe he'd agree with me — it should never have come this far. He's now three years into an ongoing Donald Trump impression that has included the campaign-era Trump Vs. Bernie debate tour and The President Show on Comedy Central.
He's still impersonating a president who should never have been elected, and mimicking insane behaviour that any number of adults should have stopped by now. And not only is Atamanuik still finding flesh on this rotting corpse to tear at with his teeth, he's turned the act into one of the great pieces of political performance art of our time.
His Trump is exaggerated in specific, comedic ways — hand gestures, belly wiggles, raising the pitch of his voice — but very close to the real deal in important others, like the way he uses specific language, which Atamanuik sarcastically twists. "I'm just separating children so that they can focus better. I'm sending them to camps to learn how to focus. Why doesn't anyone want me to help children's concentration? Why is everyone against my concentration camps for children?"
It's easy to get lost in just how hard it is to impersonate Trump, despite the lay assumption that he would create a golden age of comedy. Exaggeration of ideas or behaviour really doesn't work when the real thing is already an unbelievable buffoon. (See Ford, Rob.) So Atamanuik turns his impression into a bellicose confessional of horribleness, in which his Trump, for example, repeatedly tells the audience that he's an incestuous raping pig.
In the debate structure — and during a time when progressive comedy audiences assured themselves that there was no chance this inflated scrotum would be elected — Atamanuik had James Adomian's Bernie Sanders to play off of. On The President Show, sketch structure and guest stars keep Trump to short bursts. In this podium-style hour-long address, he dug more deeply into real concern for the future of democracy, and justified panic at the lack of fucks that people seem to give.
The "Make Canada America Again" theme led to some good jokes — they should call him Liedeau, he quipped of our PM — but Atamanuik had bigger targets in sight. He took absurd detours, describing a trip in Central America that just turned into the plot of Romancing the Stone, and did a little crowd work, earnestly scolding one person for bringing their child to the show and threatening to separate them. But mostly he recounted the real and present danger of power unchecked — the Trump/Cohen tapes, the media's complicity in giving him an uncritical platform — and punctuated it with bursts of frustration: "I've been doing this for three fucking years and you still think it's abstract."
Atamanuik isn't imitating a monster, he's responding to one, and the act of doing so is as close to political activism as comedy gets (which is, of course, not that close). His Trump is the sleazy, oozing manifestation of confessing to a priest, a putrid analog to the Obama anger translator played by Keegan-Michael Key, who let out what was boiling under Obama's calm exterior.
It's an incredible high-wire act of greed, narcissism and hate that must be incredibly taxing on him as a person, but is really a masterpiece of political comedy.
After the show, he posted his eloquent closer on Twitter: