The former UCB comedians channel real estate magnate Donald Trump (Atamanuik) and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (Adomian) in a mock debate the New York Times' columnist Jason Zinoman called "the best comedy sketch about the current political campaign that I’ve seen this year."
Their tour — aptly named “Trump vs. Bernie: The Debate!” — hits the road this month, after an initial round of performances in New York and a stop at the New York Comedy Festival. We caught up with Atamanuik and Adomian over the phone a couple of days after the tour’s first stop in Los Angeles.
So. Who won the first debate?
James Adomian: The American people.
Fair enough. Where did you guys get the idea to start doing a mock debate in the first place?
JA: It just came about that I was like, [to Tony], "I know you’re doing Trump, and I’m doing Bernie, we should do a debate." Tony was smart enough to have a friend of his film it and put it on YouTube, and after that, we did a show at The Bell House [in Brooklyn, New York] and now shows are selling out.
Nice. Why do you think the show is so popular?
JA: I think that Trump and Sanders are the two most interesting personalities running for president, and I also think they’re the two most ideologically opposed. A contest between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders would be an amazing clash of ideas.
Anthony Atamanuik: Also, I think agitating elements of both parties get their wish of having people who are — well, I think Trump more so projects himself as this — but Bernie, I think, is truly outside of the status quo of the Democratic Party, and would both would make for a very interesting debate for a number of reasons. Kind of an intellectual versus an anti-intellectual.
How you prepare your impressions?
AA: I was doing an improv show and just found I could do [Trump’s] voice, so I worked it backwards. One thing I’ve noticed is that Trump has three different ways of behaving: He has Quiet Trump, which comes out in one-on-one interviews, and phone calls; there’s Rally Trump, which is much more bellicose, shrill and raspy; and Pleading Trump, with the press. He’s evolved as I’ve developed the character -- I think he became better at being extemporaneous on-stage, and he’s redefined the ways he sort of pretends to be spontaneous.
JA: I’ve known about Bernie Sanders for a long time and loved him. He’s been my favorite senator; for a long time, he was the only senator in the country who I thought was a good person. I had an impression that I would do privately, or with a friend who knew who he was, but I didn’t think enough people would know who he was to pull it off in a show. When he announced he was running for president, it was suddenly a chance for me to do this in front of people because they’d know who he was.
As far as how I do the impression: There’s two settings to Bernie. There’s one that’s just quiet [in character], "Let’s look at the numbers, that’s just the way it should be," and then there’s the barnstorming, populist rage side of Bernie. So I sort of alternate between those two sides.