Donald Trump as president is a fading insult comic, Andrew Dice Clay without the subtlety and class. He likes to workshop material on Twitter before touring the nation with his arenas of sold-out, throbbing humanity, like Steve Martin in his prime. The Washington Post on Sunday revealed a glimpse into his process.

From his White House residence Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted that [former campaign chairman Paul] Manafort may be treated worse by the criminal justice system than Al "Scarface" Capone, whom he identified as "legendary mob boss, killer and 'Public Enemy Number One.' " He later called around to some advisers asking what they thought of the tweet, proud that he had come up with the Capone comparison.


What's weird about Trump's "Capone comparison" is that Manafort's charges are far more serious. The federal government was only able to nail Capone on tax evasion, because "Scarface" wasn't an idiot who wore ostrich after Labor Day or who hid incriminating evidence like a parent who doesn't care anymore hides Easter eggs ("Why am I still doing this? You're 13 and we're Jewish").

Oh, also, Al Capone was sent to Alcatraz.


If Johnny Carson were still alive and the host of "The Tonight Show," I don't think the Capone bit would get Trump invited to sit on the couch with Joan Embery and Tom Selleck. What else has he got? Oh, right, there's the demonization of his perceived enemies in the media. Ninety percent of their coverage on him is negative, according to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, which if she's saying it is probably a lie. Can we get a non-lying source for this, please?

Trump appears to be cherry-picking figures when he claims 90-plus percent of his media coverage is negative. Studies by Pew and Shorenstein have found negativity rates in that range — but only among news reports with clear tones. Both organizations have found that about one-third of reports are neutral, meaning the true frequency of negative reporting is considerably lower.

But relying on facts is easy, comedy is hard. Trump gets reliable laughs at his rallies when he goes after the "fake news media," so he'd either be a fool or a decent human being to stop now. Besides, just look at these crowds. Stand-ups have felt safer playing in biker bars with two-keg minimums. Trump considers the "fake media" as nothing more than obnoxious hecklers of his fake presidency, and effectively turning the crowd against hecklers is an important skill for a comic.

Trump's no different from other famous comedians who get prickly when their acts are criticized. Trump works blue and doesn't have time for your namby-pampby political correctness, which many believe is ruining comedy (remember the glory days of Dennis Miller!). It's true though that he's not that interested in exploring new material. In fact, you're more likely to find him reviewing old routines while wearing a fake arrow through his head and exclaiming, "Well, excuse me!"

Behind the scenes: Trump commentates as he watches, according to sources who've sat with him and viewed replays on his TiVo, which is pre-loaded with his favorites on the large TV in the private dining room adjoining the Oval Office. When watching replays, Trump will interject commentary, reveling in his most controversial lines. "Wait for it. ... See what I did there?" he'll say.

Sorry to interrupt this pathetic scene, but if this is someone's job, I don't think it's a transferable skill.

In the early weeks of the administration, Trump loved to relive his debate performances against Hillary Clinton. His favorite, according to sources with direct knowledge, was the St. Louis debate after the Access Hollywood tape leaked, when the Trump team invited Bill Clinton's sexual misconduct accusers as their guests in the live audience.

media.giphy.com

Trump used to enjoy rewatching the moment in that debate when Clinton observed, "It's just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country."
"Because," Trump replied, "you'd be in jail."

A source who's discussed the moment with Trump told me, "He thinks it's the greatest thing that ever happened in the history of presidential debates."

The source wouldn't confirm where Trump's hands were while he obsessively rewatched his debates with Clinton to their explosive and strangely satisfying climax. Sure, I guess when a gross presidential candidate threatens to imprison a former first lady and current senior citizen whose email-related crimes probably pale compared to just Manafort's fashion-related ones, it's hard to argue that it's not the "greatest thing that ever happened in the history of presidential debates."

Oh, wait, I forgot about this.

And this.

Even this is still gold.

Plus the editrix semiregularly pours herself a glass of chilled Lillet and watches this in its entirety:



If Trump simply rests on past glories and doesn't challenge himself to adapt in a changing world, he'll end up singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" to a rapidly dwindling audience. If there's any luck, he'll take his final curtain at the same federal prison Manafort will keep warm for him.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."

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