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Come(d)y

How do you write a column about comedy on the morning in which the nation’s eyes are glued to the former head of the FBI testifying before Congress about obstruction of justice by the sitting president? How did we get to this point? When do we get to smash and burn things? Moreover, how are we even still alive?

(As a fully vested comedy columnist I could always point out that both the Trump camp and the concurrent Bill Cosby legal defense put the same power dynamics into play: foisting all blame and agency on the victim in order to absolve the obvious aggressor despite the undeniable fact of their wrongdoing. But let’s stick with Trump/Russia for now.)

The political establishment has simultaneously infantilized and weaponized the most belligerent and ignorant among us. Look at the talking points distributed by the RNC in advance of the blockbuster Comey testimony: a malignant hodgepodge of deflection and character assassination better suited for a middle school “burn book” than the PR strategy of a major political party forcing a constitutional crisis. Watching the GOP lie without a trace of shame today makes me wish my staunchly Republican dad would’ve admitted that truth and morality are subjective illusions back when he was busting me for smoking pot as a teen.

At this point we should no longer bother teaching constitutional checks and balances in public schools. Instead, we should just make kids slapfight each other for a cookie. Which might seem savage but would better prepare them for contemporary American political life than our current curriculum. There are no abiding democratic principles anymore, only Will to Power.  

But comedy finds a way. At the pulsing heart of this national betrayal is actually a very funny scenario: James Comey desperately trying to avoid being alone in the same room with Trump. It’s like a Pepé Le Pew cartoon mixed with the b-plot from an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the ultimate cringe humor. After reading about Comey pleading with Attorney General Sessions to protect him from being buttonholed by 45, it’s clear the alt-right picked the wrong Pepe. Their true avatar is a rape-skunk.

By the way, if you’re a fan of Curb it’s a proven fact that you can make almost any awkward Trump footage 90% funnier by dubbing in the show’s distinctive outro music. Here’s a classic from his embarrassing trip to the Vatican:

And here’s one from the campaign trail after Chris Christie completed his metamorphosis into Presidential Piss Pig:

Speaking of chief-executive entertainment, I’m currently watching the new seasons of House of Cards and Veep, and it’s been instructive to witness how both shows have angled to stay entertaining and relevant in the face of an administration that ran over satire with a dump truck. House of Cards is doing its level best to embellish pertinently upon current themes like terrorist fear mongering and protracted electoral intrigue. It’s watchable, but it feels hack because our reality is officially hack. Veep emerges the clear victor because it’s funny—perhaps the funniest show currently running. It presents a coffee-stained vision of a Beltway driven by hapless foibles and petty vendettas. Insiders have confirmed that it’s the most realistic portrayal of American politics on television.  

The brilliant writers of Veep wisely chose to focus on Selina Meyer’s post-presidential career following her fluke stint as commander-in-chief, thereby sidestepping political realities that could be upended entirely by an errant 3 a.m. tweet. In light of current horrors, it’s nothing short of miraculous that they’ve managed to continue the show’s run as both hilarious escape and timeless meditation on human pettiness. By all rights a TV show about the presidency should be the last thing I’d want to watch these days, yet I eagerly await each weekly episode. This is because the show is character-driven. Unlike House of Cards, which leans heavily on pomp and atavism, the schemers and sad sacks of Veep are plausible, familiar and fucking awful. Just like us.

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