President Donald Trump is no stranger to the wisecracks of Steve Colbert and John Oliver. But now he has also become the butt of jokes on Ukraine’s popular Sunday night satire show with Michael Schchur.
On November 17 the show ran a skit on impeachment hearings, taking on both Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky. The skit recapped the controversial telephone call between the president that kicked off the impeachment procedure.
“He often calls this conversation ‘perfect’. In fact, he does it so often that, by Trump’s own logic, it should really make the conversation perfect,” Michael Shchur and his co-host quipped.
In that phone call Trump allegedly tried to get his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate his political rival Joe Biden in exchange for military aid that would help Ukraine resist Russian aggression. Trump has always denied any quid-pro-quo.
But in Ukraine impeachment has made few ripples. Original reporting in local outlets has been scarce and commentary often uninformed.
Despite swarms of foreign journalists parachuted to Kyiv, local politicians have shunned cameras, fearing there is no upside in being dragged through the mud of American politics. Zelensky has gone to great lengths to repeat the same mantra one press conference after another: “There was no pressure.”
Michael Shchur, whose real name off screen is Roman Vintoniv, says it’s this shortage of interest in Ukraine that prompted his team to talk about impeachment.
“We have our own understanding what themes should be on air, including international ones. If they aren’t there – we have a take on them,” Vintoniv says.
Trump has appeared in Michael Shchur’s skits four times since the end of September.
On November 3 the comedian laughed at how the US president used underwear of the hunted-down Iraqi terrorist Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi “to divert public attention from his own dirty linen.”
Aal Baghdadi’s underwear was used to identify him ahead a U.S. military raid on his compound in Syria.
Shchur jested that while talking about the death of Al Baghdadi on American TV, Trump very accurately described his own political career during impeachment proceedings in this quote: “He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way.”
The one Ukrainian comedy troupe that has completely ignored the Trump impeachment scandal is Kvartal 95, where President Zelensky made his career before turning to politics and winning a presidential election this spring.
Kvartal 95 runs multiple shows on Ukraine’s TV, and typically spares no politicians. But the last time they laughed at Trump’s expense was in 2016, when they ran a mockup of pre-election debates in the US.
The skit itself was racist, with an actor appearing in black face to impersonate Oprah Winfrey. In it Trump is portrayed as a racist, misogynistic and loathsome character. At some point the actor who plays Trump slaps the actor who (rather poorly) impersonates Oprah Winfrey on the bum, and says: “This way I want to demonstrate that I have no racial biases.”
Kvartal 95 has not responded to a request for comment on why they shun Trump, but it may be something to do with a change in attitude of their co-founder President Zelensky.
In a partial transcript of the second phone call between Trump and Zelensky released by the White House, Zelensky flatters Trump tirelessly, and even goes as far as suggesting that Trump’s plane “is bigger” than his – a line that reads like comedy script rather than a formal exchange between presidents.
In that conversation Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to dig dirt on his opponent, and Shchur had a comment on that request in his October 6 show: “In the past few weeks Trump managed to look like a degraded version of himself. And I didn’t even know there can be a degraded version of Trump.”
Jokes aside, Ukrainians remain relatively positive on Trump, despite his ordeal: 30% have a good view of him, according to a survey released by the Ukrainian pollster Rating Group on November 11. This is only a 4% drop on last year.
At the same time, 42% have a negative attitude to him, a few percentage points up on last year.
But, to quote one of Michael Shchur’s lines: “The scandal continues. And it’s unclear how it ends for Ukraine, this shit tornado.”
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