Many Americans would sleep a lot easier if Donald Trump were host of a late night show instead of leader of the free world. The former reality star could do considerable less damage if he had stuck to entertainment and stayed out of politics. But what if Trump the president had his own late night show?
That’s the premise of “The President Show,” a new weekly late night series on Comedy Central that puts our commander-in-chief — as played by Trump impersonator Anthony Atamanuik — behind the lectern.
The 42-year-old comedian, a veteran improviser at New York Upright Citizen’s Brigade (UCB) who’s also known for his work on “Broad City” and “30 Rock,” debuted his take on the Donald in a one-man show at UCB called the Trump Dump, back in June 2015, shortly after Trump had announced his candidacy.
In 2016, Atamanuik followed it with “Trump vs. Bernie,"a sketch series of mock debates alongside Bernie impersonator and comedian James Adomian, which the two took on a 40-city tour and released as a comedy special “Trump vs. Bernie: Live from Brooklyn,” ranked no. 1 on iTunes. That garnered attention from fans like Judd Apatow and Howard Stern, and cemented Atamanuik’s reputation as the guy whose Trump impression rivaled Alec Baldwin’s.
In January, Atamanuik pitched the show to Comedy Central, and by February, it was greenlit. Adam Pally (“Making History,” “The Mindy Project”) executive produces; writers include Emmy Blotnik (“@Midnight with Chris Hardwick”) Neil Casey (“Inside Amy Schumer”) and John Gemberling (Bevers on “Broad City”!).
Before the Thursday night premiere, we visited the “President Show” set in Midtown, where Atamanuik (in character as Trump) held a (mock) press conference, followed by a (real) Q& A with Atamanuik (as himself). Here’s what we heard from both men about what to expect from the show.
How his Trump take is different
“I like to say that I do an impression of his psyche, an impression of his soul. [That’s] the thing that’s missing in how people portray Trump,” said Atamanuik. “It’s easy to do the, ‘I’m Donald Trump, this is how I do my body’ that’s just conditioning and training, but in watching him, I found all these psychological refrains that were really fascinating.” (Is he throwing shade at Alec Baldwin?)
The show’s format
The 30-minute show, which will air Thursdays at 11:30 Eastern, following The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, adheres to a pretty typical late night format — despite its surreal premise. “Trump” will perform the monologue from the “Oval Office” alongside sidekick “Mike Pence” (played by Peter Grosz, who also executive produces). Atamanuik says to expect Trump-Pence banter, and also to see the two “out in the field,” interacting with real people. There will be an interview portion, followed by closing remarks. Atamanuik teased that James Adomian is likely to show up at some point, but wouldn’t spill whether the real Bernie would be making an appearance. He did reveal that Keith Olbermann will guest on Thursday’s premiere.
With the show, Atamanuik wants to remind America that Trump’s a “weird, lecherous guy”
“I don’t think any one thing can take a president out of office. My show is not going to necessarily get him impeached — that’s a left fantasy anyway, because the process would take so long,” he explained. “I think that we can contribute to reexamining his identity, and forcing cable news media and so on to stop doing this pretend game where just because he’s the president, we pretend that he’s not a weird lecherous guy. This is the great irresponsible action of the Fourth Estate: they are pretending that everything is the same.”
His response to claims that he’s normalizing Trump
“I do not think I normalize him. If anything, I’ve tried to show how abnormal he is. Was Charlie Chaplin normalizing Adolf Hitler when he played him in ‘The Great Dictator’? I studied that and went, this is a path. Comedy and satire are the lifeblood of the most tragic periods in human history. I have survivors in my family, and they laughed their way through the camps because that’s how you survive.”
We hear from “Trump” on how he’ll make late night better
“First off, we’re not going to have animals on the show. No animals. I don’t need them getting in my hair. Jack Hannah send him back to play with Barbera. Wasn’t Jack Hannah better when he made cartoons with Barbera then when he started handling animals? I think that answers your question.”
Who his dream guests are
“Can I say this publicly? All the stars of ‘Bring it On,’" says "Trump". "All the girls, so wonderful. I’d wander into the dressing room before the show, like I used to with so many pageants with underage teenagers. Did you know I really did that? Isn’t that wonderful.”
On what he’d do if he had to choose between being president or hosting his late night show
“I would definitely choose for me to be on the show and for me not to be president.”