One of the texts found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, unsealed in 1923 for the first time since the 14th century B.C., was the Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld, a funerary text that described how Ra, god of the sun, was thought to have reunited with Osiris, god of the afterlife. One of the text’s illustrations features an early version of an ancient symbol: the ouroboros, the snake that devours its own tail. The serpents that coiled in that text in Tut’s tomb were meant, it would seem, to illustrate the union between past and present, between life and death—the hopeful and also the tragic truth that beginnings are also, quite often, the endings.
I mention that because Donald J. Trump just got his own late-night TV show on Comedy Central, and because, at the same tail-eating time, not-Donald Trump just got his own late-night show on Comedy Central. The president and “the president,” fiction and non-fiction, the serpent’s tail and also its mouth: This extremely 2017 take on the Enigmatic Book will be called The President Show. It will star, The Hollywood Reporter reports, Anthony Atamanuik, the Trump impersonator, as the man himself. (You may recognize Atamanuik from such other shows as the “Trump vs. Bernie” tour, the Bitch Sesh podcast, and the TV show The View.) The President Show will feature the typical stuff of late-night television: desk segments, field pieces, and guest interviews. It will even feature a sidekick—in this case, Peter Grosz as “Mike Pence.” It will air Thursdays at 11:30 p.m., right after The Daily Show, and offer 22 minutes of Atamanuik impersonating and imitating and otherwise ouroboros-ing the 45th president of the United States.
“Just like a certain chief executive in Washington,” a Comedy Central press release puts it, “The President Show gleefully tosses out the rulebook of its predecessors.” But it also comes firmly in the tradition of other recent efforts at satire-via-impersonation: The Colbert Report, with its take on O’Reilly and Hannity and their ilk, and Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey, with her finger-gunnin’ Sarah Palin, and Sean “Spicey” Spicer, played to perfection by Melissa McCarthy, and Larry David’s crotchety Bernie Sanders, and, of course, the show’s preening, Alec Baldwinized version of Trump himself. The President Show, it seems, will be turning a truism of all those parodies—the notion that comedy, when it taps into some deeper truth about a politician, can shape that figure’s public image—into its own, dedicated TV show. And it will be taking the Trump presidency, with all its reality-show underpinnings and breezy deceptions, to its logical, and also deeply illogical, conclusion: Trump as a post-modern hall of mirrors, as his own alternative fact.
Will this work, as satire—and, indeed, as comedy? Will The President Show be any good? We’ll find out on April 27, when the show is set to premiere.
In the meantime, it’s a fitting idea: Here’s a TV show about a TV star wrapped in the presidency wrapped in reality wrapped in “reality” wrapped in something I don’t know but my head really hurts. Here’s a late-night show that offers, in its layers of hyperreality, elegant evidence of the Escher painting we’re living in—and evidence, too, of how deeply Donald Trump has permeated not just American politics, but American pop culture. “He is no longer just the message,” the New York Times’s Farhad Manjoo argued recently. “In many cases, he has become the medium, the ether through which all other stories flow.”
And it’s not just that he constantly is in the news; it’s also that the president has become a regular character in pop culture. Slate has a podcast dedicated to coverage of Trump (one that features John Di Domenico, Atamanuik’s fellow Trump impersonator). The Millennial-focused news site Mic recently reconfigured its politics channel under the banner “Navigating Trump’s America.” The CBS drama The Good Fight has offered multiple story lines about the Trump presidency and its aftermath. His person and his policies have run in the background of ad campaigns from Apple to Amazon to Starbucks.
And now there will be a show dedicated entirely to Trump, or more specifically to “Trump,” and even more specifically to the notion that it is exceedingly difficult to tell where the one ends and the other begins. One of the common complaints about Trump, from the comedy perspective, is that he is difficult to caricature because, larger-than-life as he is, he is his own caricature. The President Show suggests one way of dealing with that challenge: to lean in, sail into the wind, go into the crevasse, etc. Don’t try to satirize Trump; become Trump. It’s an old idea given a new spin for a reality TV presidency: imitation as the sincerest form of mockery.