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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  What if Donald Trump has been laughing at us all?
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What if Donald Trump has been laughing at us all?

In a world of instantly streamed international entertainment, we all hold the same remote control. Here's what to point it at

David Cross in a still from ‘Making America Great Again’Premium
David Cross in a still from ‘Making America Great Again’

A week ago, I watched a Cracked video called ‘What if Donald Trump is just an elaborate prank?’ Look it up. Cracked are great at skewering pop-culture, and this video is a wicked exploration of, coincidentally, the same theory that Michael Moore espoused a couple of days ago: that Trump never meant for things to go as far as they did, and, now uncertain about actually becoming president—or losing at it, one-on-one—is trying to blow up his own electoral campaign.

Ah, politicians. Where would our punchlines be without ‘em? American satirists have much to play with because of the clowns on parade, and these savage jabs that make for some of the most striking American television. We try to laugh at our equally unhinged leading men, but the potency deployed by American humorists is on another scale. This week, I take a look at rather colourful political commentary—of all shapes and sizes.

What you deserve to watch:

Comedian David Cross—best known as Tobias, from Arrested Development—released his latest special this month on Netflix, and, pointedly-named Making America Great Again, it is devastating. With the kind of beard pigeons could roost in, Cross tickles and rattles a crowd in Austin, Texas. He starts off genially, with gags about family fights at thanksgiving and how he has a tattoo on his stomach that says ‘Do not see Memento.’

Soon enough, however, he starts outpacing the audience. Frequently there is a pause between punchlines and applause, and that’s because the jokes slice too quickly and sharply; they draw blood only a beat or two later, when the cut is felt.

People go to Trump rallies, according to Cross, because it “allows them the opportunity to finally go to a white power rally without all the guilt." He speaks of masturbatory fantasies involving the Statue of Liberty, and gives the Republicans an idea to fix the clearly inaccurate “give us your poor, your huddled masses" lines in the poem etched on the statue is simple: they’ll just add a ‘non-brown’ before every adjective, as a disclaimer.

“What makes America weak is empathy," he states, frequently slipping into a Southern voice and coaxing his audience into booing. “Just ask Ayn Rand." The savagery on display is masterful as Cross—rationally and incisively—talks about the death of the American intellect and the absurdity of gun-deaths, advocating something as simple as a fingerprint lock on guns. As much of a safeguard as we have on our phones, at least. He hypothetically draws up an example of “a 12-year-old boy who accidentally shot his 8-year-old son," and then brings the house down by winking at the audience: “Come on, Texas. You know exactly what I’m talking about."

Brilliant.

What life’s too short to watch:

Tim Robbins and Jack Black stand at diametrically opposite ends of the comic spectrum, and the gulf might be too wide for a poor script. The Brink, an HBO comedy streaming on Hotstar, is about US politicians and the arms crisis, but tragically chooses to fire blanks when it needs to go nuclear. Playing Secretary of State, Robbins does his best to build intrigue, but despite the lofty conceit of setting a comedy around a geopolitical crisis in Pakistan, the show fizzles like wet dynamite.

What everyone’s watching:

Even in this age of peak TV, few characters are unanimously acclaimed as special. Where the blend of acting and writing combine to alchemically create a fictional character we begin to start empathising with—or laughing at—more than we would any real person. Selina Meyer is so immortal, and so screwed up, that we do both.

Veep, created by British genius Armando Iannucci as an American adaptation of his phenomenal The Thick Of It, started off brilliant but somewhat handicapped by the lack of Iannucci’s star character, the poetically profane Malcolm Tucker. Yet this show (streaming on Hotstar) soldiered on with creative fearlessness and an extraordinary cast, led from the front by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her unforgivable, unforgettable Selina.

Louis-Dreyfus is a gobsmacking comedienne, an actress with absolute awareness of pitch, and she plays Selina—a ridiculously believable and vain opportunist—with equal parts extravagance and weariness. Here is a woman keeping up with men by turning herself into the ugliest man she can, and the character—chauvinistic, sexist, racist—acts as critique not just to narcissism and spinelessness, but to manhood itself. With no political identity, Meyer is never identified as Republican or Democrat, and flip-flops in a way that would make Hillary Clinton proud. If the National Rifle Association is unexpectedly on her side when nobody else is, then, that week, she likes the NRA.

Iannucci left Veep last year after a perfect Season 4 which saw Selina becoming President, but, remarkably enough, the show actually improved in the fifth season. These two seasons, by changing her life in unexpected ways, have left behind even the vice-presidency promised by the title. We now see Meyer floundering for power, desperately lunging in its direction and finding her fist continually empty. Weeping about election results at her mother’s funeral, Selina makes for the most ungainly of protagonists—and, via her nakedness, the most beautiful.

Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley in ‘Best Of Enemies’
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Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley in ‘Best Of Enemies’

Documentary to watch this week:

The first thing I watched when Netflix came to India was the marvellous Best Of Enemies, a documentary by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville. In 1968, in a last-ditch attempt to catch up with the bigger networks, ABC News decided to let two witty, aware men tear into each other and debate on television, thus revolutionising news channels forever.

With Gore Vidal on the left and William F. Buckley on the right, it isn’t surprising that the gloves came off—the documentary uses the ringing-bell of a boxing-match to punctuate the proceedings—but the joy here lies in the words, the words. There is much to revel in as both men egg themselves on to more articulate peaks, and it is admittedly tragic that in India right now we don’t have a single voice half as strident. On either the left or the right.

Stream of Stories is a weekly column on what watch to online.

Raja Sen tweets at @RajaSen. Write to lounge@livemint.com

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Published: 18 Aug 2016, 04:09 PM IST
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