Alec Baldwin likes to say that President Donald Trump has become “the head writer” at Saturday Night Live. He even wrote a whole book based on that premise. John Oliver thinks that’s not good enough.
“Trump himself is responsible for nearly all of the content,” Baldwin said earlier this year, before winning an Emmy for his portrayal of the president. “Nearly everything, every consonant and every vowel is something that Trump himself has rendered in some way. So I think Trump is even more frustrated because he has only himself to blame for that.”
Oliver did not mention Baldwin or Saturday Night Live by name when he sat down with former writer and “Weekend Update” anchor Seth Meyers on Wednesday night’s episode of Late Night. But he did seem to allude to the show—and others that simply imitate Trump—when he talked about how hard it is to do effective satire about such an absurd figure.
It began when Meyers asked the Last Week Tonight host if he is sick of hearing the question, “Does Trump make your job easier?”
“It’s very hard for people to understand just how viscerally upsetting that question is,” Oliver replied. “Because it doesn’t. It makes it harder. My wife, in the past, has had to pull me away from entirely well-meaning people in the streets, saying ‘Wow, I guess it just writes itself, doesn’t it?’ and I’m like, ‘I’ll tell you whether it fucking writes itself!’”
“It’s easy to do bad comedy, because you just need to repeat what he says,” he continued. “And that’s not a joke, that’s repetition. Whereas comedy, especially if you want to try to do something that’s not just happening online all the time, is an effort.”
“I’m not telling you something that you don’t already feel with every fiber of your exhausted being,” Oliver added to Meyers, who nodded along with a knowing smile.
While SNL’s cold opens, and especially the ones featuring Baldwin as Trump, have become more and more nearly exact reflections of our already skewed reality, what both Oliver and Meyers are doing on their shows requires far more work and comic dexterity.
More than any other late-night hosts, these two men are known for their deep dives into complex issues that still somehow manage to be funny. There is an enormous difference between segments that illuminate something new about Trump and those merely reflecting him back at himself.
From Oliver’s “Stupid Watergate” coverage that exposes the president’s fundamental incompetence to Meyers’ epic “A Closer Look” pieces that meticulously debunk his many lies, these two are consistently delivering comedy that succeeds on a higher level than most. Sadly, it’s hard to say the same for SNL.