Jokes Accidentally Elect Trump

Emily Nussbaum’s article from The New Yorker discuses how ‘Jokes Won the Election’, and how comedy has played a role in fuelling political change (for worse or for better). The article discusses a range of television shows, such as South Park, Black Mirror, The Apprentice, Mad Men, and Saturday Night Live. It is also references jokes from more serious contexts, such as Obama’s 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and Trump’s speeches from rally’s. Across the wide range of references Nussbaum suggests that most of the time these exhibitions of comedy failed to look far enough ahead, they ‘[…]could see far, but not all the way to the end’. [2]

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In late October 2016 Saturday Night Live presented a comedy sketch titled ‘Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton Third Debate’ [3] as their cold open. The sketch presents a recreation of a televised political event and parodies it. It presents Trump as an overly loud, un-informed man with childlike reactions. It presents Hillary as over-prepared, over-excited, yet more put together figure. The performances of the political figures are intentionally hyperbolic and create caricatures of Trump and Clinton.

In Nussbaum’s article, she discusses how after Trump was elected, he complained about SNL skits and often tweeted about his distaste for the show. [4] It is significant that the skit was created before his election and presented Trumps’ loss as an inevitability. Nussbaum discusses how South Park acted similarly in its representation of Trump and Clinton. Once the election results were in, it became clear to both shows, and their audiences, ‘[…] how dangerous it could be for voters to feel shamed and censored – and who quickly liberating joke could corkscrew into a weapon’. [5]

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Watching the SNL sketch in 2018 allows viewers to see where the creators were short-sighted, because the very things that they mocked about Trump became reasons why some people voted for him.

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[1] Emily Nussbaum, ‘How Jokes Won the Election’ The New Yorker (23/01/2017):

[2] Ibid.


[4] Nussbaum, The New Yorker.

[5] Ibid.


  1. Your understanding of Nussbaum’s article is sound here. It is interesting how the very jokes SNL created around Trump would form the majority of his political mandate. I wonder how much at poking at Clinton’s weaknesses too led to a downturn in her political reception. Was this because of the Clinton name or because she is a woman?

  2. I thought they way in which you wove SNL and South Park together worked very nicely here. In your conversation about jokes, I am curious as to wether you think the jokes were out of place for the time? And is it not a comedians job to present the freshest take on a scenario for the moment, or do you think extreme foresight is also necessary now in this political climate?

  3. I really like the connections to SNL. It’s interesting how you suggest that the caricatures end up espousing the actual political policy of the candidates themselves. I do, however, question the jump from satirical shows going from mockery to weaponry.

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