How do you solve a problem like The Donald? Comedians share how they tackle Trump

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Nazeem Hussain, Emily Heller and Stephen K Amos answer one pressing question: how do you make jokes about the US president?

Forget Uber rides, Tinder shenanigans and airline food; standup comedys topic du jour is Donald Trump. But has the orange ones ascent to the US presidency been a boon for comedians, or does he represent a threat too grave to be flippant about? How has the role of comedy shifted in an era in which the old rules of political engagement have been radically rewritten?

With the Melbourne International Comedy festival taking over the city throughout April, we caught up with some of its performers to ponder these questions and ask them: how are you dealing with Trump?

Emily Heller

Its hard to make [Trump] funny because it is a very real terror and its still so new. Im still figuring it out. But I feel like it colours every joke, whether [the joke] is explicitly about Trump or not. I dont know if comedy has the ability to change peoples minds but Im hearing from audiences that they need it, that it makes them feel less alone.

I used to think comedy was a medium to address any kind of person but now, sometimes, you get a pretty clear sense that audience members support Trump and, when I get that sense, I dont really care about entertaining them any more.

The day after the election, I was scheduled to perform on a show to celebrate Hillary Clintons win. It was an all-female lineup and it ended up being one of the best shows Ive ever done. It was full of people who were incredibly confused and disappointed and it ended up being hugely cathartic. It reminded me how valuable live performance is.

Emily Heller is one of the USs most acclaimed young comedians and writers. She has appeared on Conan, Chelsea Lately and Late Night with Seth Meyers

Emily Heller: Sometimes you get a pretty clear sense that audience members support Trump. Photograph: Mindy Tucker

Damien Power

I tend to avoid the really topical stuff because I find thats so well covered by people like John Oliver. I guess Im taking broad strokes; a lot of my material stems from the fact that the left/right paradigm has become very weird and confusing.

I definitely think theres a place for more escapist or surreal comedy. I embrace all of it. Ive never thought I was changing the world; my No 1 goal has always been to be funny. Weirdly, these days, with the way mainstream media and social media are with their varying biases, people are often looking to comedians to provide a voice of reason. People want a gasp of fresh air amid all the insanity.

Damien Power is a Barry-nominated comedian whose work has drawn comparisons with George Carlin. He was also a member of the satirical group True Australian Patriots

Cal Wilson

The stuff that Im doing, its not a political diatribe. I just sprinkle it through the show. I dont have a degree in political science, its fairly simple stuff. The point I make is that I never felt qualified to talk about politics before but now with Trump I feel overqualified to talk about it. I mean, half an avocado would be overqualified to talk about politics compared to him. He just says whatever he wants. I call it asshole jazz.

When you have a man that says such terrible things about women and immigrants so openly, I feel like we have to be bolder about being allies. He has given people a licence to bring out their secret racism or their secret sexism. People think, Well, if the president is saying it, it must be OK.

Cal Wilson has been a popular drawcard at the Melbourne International Comedy festival since she won its best newcomer award in 2001. Her new show is Things Ive Never Said

Nazeem Hussain

My shows tend to be political but from a very personal perspective. I dont just respond to the news of the day, it has to resonate with me personally. What is more important and interesting to me is that hes the president because a large segment of the population voted for him. Im interested in how those ideas gained currency. Trump is a symptom of the modern west; he didnt come up with these ideas or convince people to think like that, hes nothing new. Its more the underlying mood around Trump thats interesting.

Over the last six months, Ive felt the need to be on stage more. For me, its therapeutic. Its like the crazier the world gets, the more we need to be able to laugh at the obvious absurdity and to share in that experience.

Not that comedy is a social movement but I think every social movement is about joining together with like-minded people. I dont think you go to a rally thinking it will change the world you go to come together with people who feel the same and to experience it together.

Nazeem Hussain cowrote and starred in Legally Brown. His latest show, Public Frenemy, was written in a 10-day blitz after his stint on Im A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!

Nazeem Hussain: Trump is a symptom of the modern west.

DeAnne Smith

My sense is that people are sick of hearing about Trump but it also seems like, in 2017, its not enough to just tell some cute jokes. Im approaching it through broader jokes about misogyny and sexism. I dont spend too much time on Trump specifically but he seems like an abhorrent human being. I actually left America after Bush stole the election and I thought things couldnt possibly get any worse. That just seems quaint now.

But I think of it as a fun challenge. This sounds cheesy but I think its become even more important to stay true to yourself as a performer now. I played a show the night after the election and it felt like everyone in the room had really been through something traumatic. Everyone was devastated but it ended up being one of the best and most cathartic shows Ive ever done. People really wanted an excuse to come together.

DeAnne Smith is a Canadian-American comedian who was nominated for a Barry award in 2011. Her current show is Post-Joke Era

Stephen K Amos

My main thing is to be very careful about it because I dont want to be doing the same sort of joke areas as my fellow comics. As with Brexit, it has really divided society, so you have to be very sensitive in your approach. Ive been on bills where comics are just writing off all Trump supporters and I dont want to go down that path of just labelling everyone who voted for Trump or for Brexit as a bigot or a sexist.

Its a very strange time where the most powerful man in the free world is very active on social media hes having a pop at Alec Baldwin, having a pop at Meryl Streep. Its like, I wouldnt want to go into Woolworths and see the president milling around there. I would think, Hey, havent you got more pressing things to do?

Stephen K Amos is an English comedian and Melbourne International Comedy festival regular. His show World Famous focuses on casual racism and the changing notion of free speech

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