How Anthony Atamanuik Created the Most Damning Trump Impression Ever
The creator and star of “The President Show” joins “The Last Laugh” podcast for a very special Election Day episode to break down his uniquely dark comedic take on Donald Trump.
When I raise the possibility of a Joe Biden blowout during this week’s special Election Day episode of The Last Laugh podcast, my guest Anthony Atamanuik lets out a dark cackle and says, “I wouldn't go that far! I wouldn’t be imagining that yet!”
Atamanuik first impersonated Donald Trump in the fall of 2015 during an improv show at the Upright Citizens Brigade and has since gone on to develop, in my mind at least, the most scathing and hilarious impression of the 45th president in a very crowded field.
On Comedy Central’s The President Show and a series of increasingly apocalyptic specials, Atamanuik did far more than just jokingly mimic Trump. Rather, he tried to take viewers inside the demented mind of the most dangerous president in modern American history.
“Of course, to me, it will probably remain the greatest sleight of my life that I did not get to continue doing that show, because I felt like we did a public service,” Atamanuik says of The President Show’s premature cancelation. “Obviously I enjoyed the money and I enjoyed employing people and all that. I’m not going to pretend like it’s virtuous. But there was a virtuous part of it.”
This rare insight into the president’s psyche is most perfectly encapsulated by a field piece that appeared in the show’s premiere episode in April of 2017 in which Atamanuik’s Trump reacts in real-time to a giant truck driving down the street in Manhattan.
Incredibly, the scene wasn’t planned but rather just happened in the spur of the moment at the end of a long day shooting in New York City. “When the truck honked, my face, when I look up, is me being like, ‘Ooh, this is perfect,’” Atamanuik recalls. “I just prayed that they would keep rolling and then I improvised that monologue thinking, well, fuck it, we probably won’t use it.”
Ultimately, he stands by his belief that his show was the only one that ever got Trump “right” comedically. “And all the people who’ve come before us and all the people who’ve come after us have only either built on what we did or they’ve taken what we did and done it in a different way,” he boasts in an almost Trumpian fashion. “Or they’ve done nothing and people just fall in love with it because that’s the new thing that they fall in love with.”
Atamanuik considered pitching an election special but then he thought to himself, “Comedy Central clearly said they don’t want to take me to the dance anymore, so do I really want to do that again?”
Time may be running out on the comedic value of Trump impressions and yet Atamanuik swears he isn’t worried about how his career might be affected if the president loses. Of course, no matter what happens in the aftermath of this election, he is not ready to let himself imagine a world without Donald Trump.
Highlights from our conversation are below and you can listen to the whole thing right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
What he’s learned about Trump from impersonating him
“The attitude came first. There’s a lot of sort of Trumpy qualities to me in the sense of broad-stroke statements and ad hominem attacks on people. So I think as Trump, those things are close to my personality already. But what I learned about him is that he tells the truth. He actually tells the truth all the time. He tells the truth in two different ways. He either directly tells you, like, ‘I want to be president for 12 years.’ He’s telling the truth. He’s not lying. He says, I’m kidding, but it’s amazing that ‘I’m kidding’ has become an excuse for the leader of the free world. And then the second thing I would say is that he tells the truth in projection. So what he assigns to other people is the truth about him. So he’s a totally open book. I would say also I learned that when he’s not trying to be, he’s funny. He has a wise-ass take that sometimes is legitimately funny.”
On his bizarre feud with Alec Baldwin and SNL’s effect on politics
“I think that I think that we have different impressions. He’s done it for a long time. And I don’t care, it doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t put any more food on my table and it doesn’t change my life at all. If my life was predicated on a Trump impression—and I’m sure he’d say the same thing—his career isn’t predicated on the Trump impression, his career is predicated on all the great movies he’s done and the great work he’s done on 30 Rock. So I feel like that whole thing came from some naive Twitter behavior on a lot of people’s parts that I wish had not happened because it’s created this thing that doesn’t exist. SNL is a total echo chamber. It reaches max 10 million people? Those people aren’t making their decisions based on what Jim Carrey does. The truth of the matter is that most of the vote is boiled down to word of mouth and what someone sees on a Facebook post. That’s the sad truth.”
Does he worry about getting ‘stuck’ impersonating Trump?
“I’m always happy to work. And I feel like you sort of let things have their natural course and it’s really your choice whether you get stuck in something or not. So if Tracey Ullman calls you and says, ‘Hey, do you want to come over to the U.K. and do Trump with me?’ You go, ‘Yeah, of course, because you’re incredible. Then when Tina Fey, your former boss, says, ‘Hey, do you want to be in my great show [Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as Trump]?’ you go, ‘Sure, yeah, of course, I’ll do it.’ And when a former SNL writer like Al Franken says, ‘Hey, come on my podcast and read a Trump story’— Al fucking Franken, a senator and one of the great political writers of the 20th century and 21st century—you say, yeah, of course. So I’ve said yes to things that have been incredibly high-pedigree moments in my life to get to do, to get to work with people. And they are smart enough that I know they’re not having me on as a dancing monkey. They’re having me on for the insight of what I did, I would hope.”
On his incredibly bleak outlook for the future
“I wanted to walk this character out the door the way I walked him in, predicting things and telling people what I think is true. The 2020s are going to be the darkest decade in American history, that we’re in 1933 in Germany and that there is no hope, that we don’t have hope. There is only darkness to come. And that’s just the truth. There will be hope in moments, but we have made a bed that we have to lie in now. And we are all in denial of our participation in how we made that bed. It’s going to be awful for everybody, but especially people of color, it will be really terrible. And I think if you’re white, your responsibility is to figure out how to get your agenda and get your bullshit out of the way and particularly to support obviously people of color in general, but particularly the Black community, which has an individual unique American trauma that we should all be responsible towards. And that includes listening to all voices, including voices that you disagree with. And I think that especially in the next coming months, they’re going to really need folks to step up and put our bodies on the line.”
Next time on The Last Laugh podcast: The creators and stars of Showtime’s ‘Moonbase 8’—John C. Reilly, Fred Armisen and Tim Heidecker.