Midtown comedy clubs weigh in on Trump bump



Comedian Jim Gaffigan makes a surprise appearance at Gotham Comedy Club’s “New Talent Showcase” in Chelsea. Photo: Siraphob Thanthong-Knight.

President Donald Trump can add another group to the list of those who have been polarized by his Presidency – comics, particularly local ones, who can’t decide if enough is enough.

Imitating Trump has been a gift for comedians and late-night hosts on the national level. Now in its 42nd season, “Saturday Night Live” has seen one of its highest-rated seasons, with Alec Baldwin’s Emmy-winning impersonation of President Trump, one of nine Emmys the show won in 2017. Late night television talk shows that have been critical of Trump, including “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” and “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” have also seen an increase in viewership, according to Adweek magazine.

But on the local level, some audience members are experiencing Trump fatigue. “The Trump impressions are getting overdone,” said one audience member at the Gotham Comedy Club’s “New Talent Showcase.”  She believes that “people come to comedy shows because they want to forget. They don’t want to be reminded of what’s going on.”

Another audience member agreed, dismissing Trump jokes as “low hanging fruit.”

Megan Gray, artistic director of Chelsea’s Magnet Theater, said that she discourages performers from doing Trump impressions. The Magnet Theater – an improv and sketch comedy club – also has a training center, where Gray has taught for more than six years, and her students avoid making Trump jokes because there are already so many good ones. Brad Anderson, the artistic director at the Peoples Improv Theater, a couple of blocks from the Magnet Theater, agreed: the bar for impressions is high. “Performers must now bring some different angles to the act,” he said. Their impressions “need to have teeth.”

Some comics at both clubs have turned to political sub-topics. “Performers shy away from Trump impressions, but they talk about issues,” according to Gray, who said that one group of performers did a sketch on education and worked Secretary of education Betsy DeVos into the act. Gray said that performers don’t want to give President Trump any more attention, but they do care about particular issues and want to talk about them.

Still, “imitating Trump on ‘how great Trump is,’ or ‘how he’s going to make America great again’ will always get a bipartisan laugh,” said comedian Russell Cohen, 23, who did his entire set at the Gotham Comedy Club in Chelsea about a hypothetical reality show, in which President Trump asks various celebrities to be in his Cabinet.

“His quotes and quips are something everyone can relate to,” said Cohen, who has been doing stand-up on-and-off for about four years, and did impressions of Trump, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Adam Sandler and Bernie Sanders that night.

Cohen isn’t the only one. On a Wednesday night at the Gotham Comedy Club, in a dimly-lit 300-seat theater, comedian after comedian walked up three narrow steps onto the main stage and performed a set. Eight out of the 13 performers that night made jokes with direct references to President Trump.

“The theater is a safe space for the community to come together to cope,” said Anderson.