Flash back to just before the presidential election in 2016, when comedians were wringing their hands about then-candidate Donald Trump’s toxic effect on people whose jobs it was to make fun of the news for a living. In an interview with Slate’s Jacob Weisberg, Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! host Peter Sagal memorably put the conundrum like this: “Well, what does Jonathan Swift do if they actually start eating the babies?”
Two years later and in the thick of some predictably heinous shit, I think comics by and large have a lot to be proud of and that their worst fears about their industry did not, in fact, come to fruition. Rather, after some staff turnover and soul-searching, television, podcast, sketch, stand-up and social media satirists became a powerful point of contrast to the both-sides-ism that has plagued mainstream political media. From explicit education and advocacy to cathartic tomfoolery to direct eye poking, comics have risen to meet the unique challenges of the muck they have to comment upon.
And yet, when it comes to full-on comedic plays, I’ve yet to see that evolution really reach the stage. In Sid Feldman’s two-hour-long, self-serious meme-based allegory, the first-class passengers on the Titanic elect sinking denialist D.J. Drumpf (Brian Rohde) to command the ship. Smeared in ghastly ghostly makeup and underlit vaudeville style with accompanying snare drum hits to punctuate most of his lines, Drumpf throws paper towels, gropes under skirts, and holds batshit press conferences. Director Wm. Bullion’s production for the Conspirators hits most of the Twitter lowlights from the last few years without adding much to them.
Like jokes on red MAGA hats, no amount of subversion here makes up for the bummer that is spending extra hours with Donald Trump. You can only shoot spitballs at someone for so long before you realize how long you’ve spent staring at their face.