In this uncertain political climate, comic relief by way of LA Comedy Live’s Goodbye Obama, Hello Trump show is needed more than ever. Here are its highs and lows
It isn't news that political comedy doesn't particularly sit well with the Singapore audience. At least, nobody has ever really dared to ruffle those feathers. For fear of being banned, sued for defamation, the works — Singaporean comics tend to err on the side of caution, opting for sardonic observations involving a foul-mouthed taxi driver or pointing out tried-and-tested clichés that make up this well-oiled, racially inclusive society. When local comedian Fakkah Fuzz made a snide comment on Malaysia PM Najib Razak, Malaysian officials reportedly intended to ban the funnyman from entering the country. Now that's just from a harmful one-liner in the name of comedy.
Enter Goodbye Obama, Hello Trump, a two-part show that poked fun at the country we've all come to love and hate (or have an unhealthy obsession about): The United States of America. Staged by local production company LA Comedy Live (the sister company that's also bringing Guns N' Roses to Singapore on 25 February), the 75-minute act brought together Americans Reggie Brown and Anthony Atamanuik. Brown and Atamanuik are impersonators of Barack Obama and Donald Trump respectively who brought the pop culture and political icons even closer to our shores. You've been on Facebook and seen the memes, the passive-aggressive posts by friends taking sides and the 15-second clips showing off the horrors of Trump's government. But within the intimate compounds of the Kallang Theatre, the reality of what's to come out of America hit the 500-strong crowd like a freight train. Even if the most convenient thing to do right now is to laugh it off.
HIGH Scottish comedian Scott Mitchell opened the show like any seasoned Singapore-based foreigner could, by patronising the state of Singapore's politics and her "benevolent dictatorship", and how Singaporeans pretend to do sports. His high-energy set also involved references back home, making sure that the expat members of the crowd didn't get off scot-free.
LOW Mitchell didn't quite steer clear of cheap shots. When a member of the audience shared that he's from Mongolia, the Scottish comedian painted the country in a light that was unfavourable, mentioning yaks and blissfully ignoring the fact that the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar is indeed a sprawling, modern city.
HIGH Reggie Brown's entrance made the audience do a double take at his sheer likeness for Obama. Brown himself was born from a mixed race parentage, with a white mother and a black father. The first gestures that recalled the affable president were Brown's pursed lips, his mega-watt smile and the way he cocked his head to the side. And yes, he danced like Obama too.
HIGH Brown did well to mention Black History Month, praising the efforts of civil rights icon Rosa Parks, and inserting a dad joke (a trademark of Obama's) on David Palmer, a fictional black president played by Dennis Haysbert on the television series 24.
HIGH Staying true to his character, Atamanuik worked Trump's T-Rex hands, his walk, his squint and iconic facial expressions and speech patterns. But what had the audience really laughing was at the start of his set. When the comedian went off stage to shake hands with the front row, he refused to greet a hijab-wearing member of the audience — a comedic nod to the president's recent Muslim ban.
LOW Foreign comics should expect that some references or jokes might be lost on an un-American crowd, and it appeared that Atamanuik's set drew some blank stares. At one point, he even insinuated that a joke would only hit home 20 minutes after he said it. He also singled out an audience member (who we noticed laughed at everything the comedian said, punchline or not) as "that one person who watches the news". Sorry the rest of us weren't so plugged in, Mr. Trump.
HIGH Kudos to Atamanuik for inserting an Orchard Towers reference during his bit on Melania Trump, which united the entire audience into a roaring beast of laughs.
LOW "Can you imagine that I am the president of the United States?" exclaimed Atamanuik. While it was certainly an amusing delivery, it did leave audiences on a pensive note, sealing in the fact that amid the jokes, caricatures and impersonations, Donald Trump is still the 45th president of the United States.
Goodbye Obama, Hello Trump was staged by LA Comedy Live at Kallang Theatre on 4 February. For more reviews, click here.