You know who’s been funny these last few months? Robert De Niro. Before the election, the serious two-time Oscar-winner went viral with a deeply cathartic video in which he angrily railed against Trump, calling him “stupid,” “a bulls— artist,” “a mutt” and many more. The night before the inauguration, he participated in a Central Park protest, where he read fake Trump tweets. He should do stand-up. We atleast get to see him do that in “The Comedian.” In the new dramedy, he plays Jackie, a former sitcom star who’s fallen on hard times. While doing community service at a soup kitchen (long story), he befriends Leslie Mann’s Harmony, a volatile woman in her own bad patch.
De Niro and Mann spoke to us about the importance of comedy right now, fearing stand-up and dealing with PC culture.
Speaking of comedy, Mr. De Niro, you got a lot of laughs speaking at the anti-Trump protest the other week.
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Leslie Mann: I didn’t see that.
Robert De Niro: It was me saying, very simply, “F— you.” [Laughs]
I didn’t check to see if Trump actually sent retaliatory tweets, like he does to people like Meryl Streep who criticize him.
Mann: Such a douchebag.
Comedy is really important now, because it’s therapeutic and a good way of combating Trump’s actions, keeping them in the conversation.
Mann: It’s good to find a funny angle on things, even though things are so awful. You need to find a way to laugh at it. Judd [Apatow, her husband] does that. He does stand-up, and he talks about Trump in a way that says exactly how he feels, but is also really funny. I guess it’s an easier pill to swallow.
De Niro: I agree. What Alec Baldwin does is great. I read a story by this guy Eliot Cohen in the Atlantic. He was an advisor to Condoleeza Rice. He pretty much sums up how outrageous this whole thing is, what this guy has done, how he lies, every offense.
If you’ve ever seen a comic completely bomb before, it’s one of the most painful things you can witness.It seems terrifying to go on stage.
De Niro: It’s hard. You have to have the right material. I worked on this material, but it wasn’t like I worked on it for years and had it all there. I don’t know how to deal with a heckler. That takes a lot of experience. I did OK [laughs], but you just have to get through it.
Jackie’s jokes are at least funnier than Rupert Pupkin’s, the aspiring stand-up comic you play in Martin Scorsese's “The King of Comedy.”
De Niro: I like the jokes that Rupert Pupkin had. I worked on that for a while. We were supposed to shoot that early, but I realized I wasn’t ready to do it. I found it hard, that it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I asked Marty to put it towards the end of the schedule.
Did you actually have to do Pupkin’s set in front of an actual audience? The shots in the movie are just you on a stage.
De Niro: No, I wasn’t playing to an audience. It was just one long monologue. We didn’t wait for laughs or any interaction with the audience. [“The Comedian”] is a whole different thing.
De Niro's character is an insult comic, and his jokes are very un-PC. As a progressive liberal, I feel that we as a society can be a bit too touchy.
Mann: At Crossroads, where my kids go to school, they teach them about “micro-aggressions.” They can’t say anything. Everything offends someone. They feel trapped. They’re not able to express their thoughts because they’re afraid of offending someone.
How do they deal with it?
Mann: They just get mad about it [laughs] — but at home.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge