Comedian Dean Obeidallah says Trump has been launching verbal attacks on comedians lately
He won't win, Obeidallah says, but the question is: Will Trump go "Nixonian"
Editor’s Note: Comedian Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
Donald Trump loves wars.
There’s his trade wars with everyone from Canada to China.
Then we have Trump’s twitter wars: You name the person, place or thing and Trump has probably slammed it via a tweet. (Although despite my best efforts, Trump has still not come after me.)
And now we have Trump ratcheting up another war. No, it’s not against Robert Mueller or “fake news.” It’s on comedy.
But I can assure you that this is one war Trump will lose – not only badly, but hilariously.
Trump took his war on comedy to DEFCON 1 at a rally a few weeks ago in South Carolina where he went after not one, not two, but three late night comedy hosts: Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon. It was like a coordinated missile strike as he slammed Colbert as a “low life,” called Kimmel “terrible” and mocked Fallon as “a lost soul.”
Add to that, just a few days before, Trump had launched an assault on Fallon via twitter claiming that the comic was “whimpering” and urged him to “be a man.” What prompted Trump’s twitter salvo? Fallon, while not truly criticizing Trump, had recently revealed he had suffered a backlash for playfully messing up Trump’s hair during an appearance on The Tonight show in the heat of the 2016 campaign. But to Trump, even the slightest slight demands an inappropriately over the top Twitter response and hence the attack on Fallon.
So how did the late night comedians respond to Trump’s latest round of strikes? Did they cower in fear? Offer an apology? Of course not. They responded with a counterstrike of even more punchlines at Trump’s expense. Maybe Trump doesn’t get this, but when you go after comedians, that’s how they fight back. (Or perhaps that’s Trump’s goal since he desperately loves attention.)
For example, after Trump’s tweet about Fallon “whimpering,” the late night comic took to his nightly NBC show and responded to the delight of the audience: “When I saw that Trump insulted me on Twitter I was going to tweet back immediately, but I thought, ‘I have more important things to do.’” Fallon then added, “Then I thought, ‘Wait, shouldn’t he have more important things to do?’ He’s the president of the – what are you doing? You’re the president. And you’re tweeting at me.”
And just look at what Colbert did last year after Trump attacked the late night comic for the very first time, calling Colbert a “no-talent guy,” adding, “There’s nothing funny about what he says.”
Colbert’s reaction was a joyful victory lap on his CBS show where he exclaimed: “Don’t you know I’ve been trying for a year to get you to say my name? And you were very restrained – admirably restrained – but now you did it.” Colbert then added gleefully: “I won!”
But Trump’s war on comedy began long before he was sworn in as the 45th President. He battled with countless comedians dating back to the 2011 when Seth Meyers comedically destroyed Trump at the White House Correspondents Dinner. In response, the humorless Trump slammed Meyers’ performance as “not good” and then oddly called the comedian a “stutterer.”
In 2013, after Jon Stewart’s jokes got under his skin, Trump took to Twitter to call Stewart “overrated.” And Trump even sued Bill Maher in 2013 for $5 million in connection with his joke that Trump was the “spawn of his mother having sex with orangutan.” (Trump later dropped the lawsuit.)
Yet none of Trump’s attacks on these comedians caused them to self-censor their comedic criticism of Trump. For example, Jimmy Kimmel has not only continued to hilariously ridicule Trump, he has used his ABC show to effectively push back against Trump’s efforts to roll back health insurance coverage for pre-existing medical conditions and championed funding the Children’s Health Insurance program when Republicans refused to act.
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Trump is clearly losing his war on comedy. But the question is will Trump go nuclear–or at least Nixonian. What I mean is that Richard Nixon along with conservatives were not fans of the CBS comedy show “The Smothers Brothers” which begin airing in 1967 and comically fileted the political right. After Nixon won the presidency in 1968, the Smothers Brothers ended up on his enemy’s list and Nixon reportedly had a hand in pressuring network executives to cancel the show in 1969.
Will Trump also try to crackdown on TV networks in the hopes of silencing comedians who mock him? Keep in mind, Trump has attempted to silence The Washington Post’s criticism of him by exploring raising US postage costs to hurt Amazon, since Trump views these two companies (incorrectly) as being one and the same.
But in reality, it’s not the 1960s where there are only a few media outlets. Between cable, online platforms like Netflix and social media, there are just too many places for comedians to crush Trump for him to effectively tweet them into submission.
There’s no doubt Trump will continue his war against comedians – he has redefined the concept of being thin-skinned. But from what we’ve seen so far, comedians are winning this war – bigly. And as opposed to other wars, this one is not only fun to watch, it’s hilarious.