“You are a terrorist!” “You’re white, why didn’t you vote for Trump?!” “No one wants to convert to your Islam!”
Are those headlines from a Breitbart.com article? Parts of a Trump speech? Obviously they could be both, but actually these are lines hecklers have recently yelled at stand up comedians. What prompted such outrage? Simple. The comedians were mocking Trump, and Trump supporters in the audience wanted to silence the comics.
In my nearly 20 years of stand up comedy, I've never seen such anger from people over jokes mocking a President. It truly seems that some Trump supporters would have no problem limiting freedom of expression if it meant protecting their beloved Trump from criticism.
Even when George W. Bush was President and comedians like me crushed him comically on a nightly basis, the criticism was never like this. In fact, I was part of a Comedy Central special in 2007 titled “Axis of Evil,” where I and three other Middle Eastern-Americans comics mocked Bush and we even toured under that name for a few years, yet no one yelled out in the hopes of stopping us from joking about Bush.
But there’s a yuge difference between Trump and Bush in terms of comedians: While Bush laughed it off, Trump has lashed out at comedians. Look what he has done with Saturday Night Live in an effort to silence them. In October, Trump demanded that SNL be cancelled, tweeting: “Watched ‘Saturday Night Live’ hit job on me. Time to retire the boring and unfunny show.” And just last week he again went after the show. tweeting that it’s, “Not funny, cast is terrible, always a complete hit job.”
Trump’s attacks on comedians has apparently inspired his fans to do the very same thing. They seem to be channeling Trump’s anger at any who dare make fun of him.
Amy Hawthrone, the talent booker for the New York Comedy Club, summed it up well: “Trump supporters will just yell out during a joke’s set-up if they disagree with the perspective of the joke. They seem to have a sense of entitlement that they shouldn't have to hear things they don’t agree with.” She even noted receiving email complaints after shows from Trump supporters saying thinks like, “I didn’t enjoy the liberal perspective of some of the comics.”
I haven’t been personally heckled while telling Trump jokes. But I’ve seen a great deal of anger in the face of some audience members and also heard a lot of audible groans, which is a polite way of heckling. In response I have commented on stage, “In America, we have along tradition of mocking our President.” I then add in a tone of faux sincere caring, “And if you really are upset by my jokes about Trump, then move to Russia where you can’t mock the leader.” They tend to stop after that.
Online, the Trump supporters have really lashed out at comedy mocking Trump. CNN.com made a video about a stand-up show I produced Sunday titled “Last show before Trump deports us,” featuring Arab, Muslim, Sikh, Indian and other “Brown” comedians. The comment section is filled with self-professed Trump supporters freaking out with comments ranging from these comedians are “encouraging hate” by mocking Trump to “their Sharia infiltration plans with HRC got delayed.”
But other comedians have been subject to in-their-face hate from Trump lovers. One of the most disturbing incidents occurred recently in a New York City comedy club when comedian Eman El-Husseini told some Trump jokes. Instantly a man yelled out, “Yeah Trump!” in an effort to disrupt her. A few minutes later when El-Husseini mentioned she was Muslim, a person sitting with the original heckler yelled, “You are all terrorists!” And then added, “No one wants to convert to your Islam!” The two hecklers were escorted out of the club when they refused to stop interrupting the comedian but only after they threatened the club manager.
Washington D.C.-based comedian Elizabeth Croydon explained the first time she was heckled by a Trump supporter was after she told this joke, "I want to see the executive Dic Pic. I'm filing under the Freedom of Information Act to see if we can call him Dinky Donald." A Trump supporter then angrily called her a “nasty woman,” the very same phrase Trump used when attacking Hillary Clinton at a debate. Croyden noted at another show, a pissed off Trump fan yelled, “Show me your titties,” to which she replied, “Show me your balls first.”
Sometimes though the criticism is more one on one with comedians after a show. Los Angles based comedian Paul Elia noted that after recent a gig in Detroit where he had mocked Trump, a husband and wife approached him. They then made calm but pointed comments to him about the Trump jokes, such as “you should go easy on Trump” and “you don't need to make fun of a man trying to help.”
One of the more humorous heckles I heard happened recently in New York City when a white looking comedian began to ridicule Trump. A Trump supporter yelled out words to the effect: “You are white, why didn’t you vote for Trump?!” The comedian responded, “because I’m Hispanic and gay.” (The heckler stopped after that.)
The real concern with all of this is that Trump or his supporter’s attacks will cause SNL or comedians to self-censor. That’s truly Trump’s goal. He wants comedians to stop mocking him just like third word dictators demand.
Now In the case of SNL, Trump can forget it. As former SNL cast member Ana Gasteyer made clear on my SiriusXM show last week, Trump will never be able to bully the show’s creator Lorne Michaels, who is a “subversive” at heart.
But up-and-coming comedians may think it's better to back off for fear of getting into screaming matches or even losing bookings. My hope, though, is that no comedian ever self censors his or her criticism of Trump or any President for that matter.
Comedy is an important part of resistance to Trump. Comedy can expose issues in a way that might be more accessible than a serious speech. It’s also a cathartic release and empowering for those opposed to Trump.
If there was a time that we need to laugh at Trump, it’s now. So comedians: Let’s help Trump make America laugh again!