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Why Trump is smarter than many Germans think - but not (yet) a laughing matter

Donald Trump is the American answer to the global anti-establishment trend, says US comedian John Doyle, who's lived in Germany for 25 years. But the performer is still searching for the joke in the election result.

John Doyle as Donald Trump (H. Schäfer)

Comedian John Doyle impersonating Donald Trump

DW: As a comedian, you're able to find humor in many things. After the results of the US presidential election, is there anything to laugh about?

John Doyle: It's going to take a while. I need a bit of distance. It's always easier to do comedy and make serious things funny once you've got a bit of distance from your subject. Right now, everything is too new. It's hard to find the joke. Right now I'm going through the process of looking for it but haven't found it yet.

You've impersonated Donald Trump in German for audiences in Germany (picture above). How would you describe how Germans have viewed Trump and his rise to popularity?

I think that Germans have seen him as a guy who oversimplifies very complex issues and who, in a very simplistic fashion, appeals to people who are disgruntled and dissatisfied with political elites. I think they see him as a guy who's not really that smart. Actually - and unfortunately - I think that's a false perception.

For the goals that he's set for himself, he's actually a pretty good communicator. He reached out to those he needed to get elected, and he was successful - much to the chagrin of commentators, pollsters, political experts and pundits. It seems as if he's proven almost everyone wrong but himself.

How have you as an American in Germany experienced the campaign?

John Doyle (B. Breuer)

Comedian John Doyle has lived in Germany since 1991

I experienced it almost completely in terms of the insults he directed indiscriminately at almost every group and in terms of his over-simplifications. Since Hillary is politically skilled, experienced, a policy wonk and well-versed on everything from foreign policy to social and economic issues, I assumed it would be a cake walk for her. But it turned out not to be the case.

What I underestimated - I think it partially has to do with the fact that I'm living in the Germany and not in the United States - is the sheer frustration on the part of millions of Americans with the current political establishment.

If you leave the big cities and affluent areas behind and get out into the country, you'll find a lot of people who are extremely unhappy with both major parties, especially within the white working class. White Americans make up 70 percent of the electorate. That's less than it was four years ago, but it's still 70 percent. The white working class was pretty mad and disgruntled. I think they saw Donald Trump as their best opportunity to lash out and take a swing at the establishment.

During your 25 years in Germany, you've experienced various periods of anti- and pro-American sentiment. Reflecting on your past experience, how do you think the Trump presidency will impact your life as an expat in Germany?

I've never really experienced direct anti-Americanism. Occasionally you'll get people coming up to you and asking you how Americans can be so naïve or stupid to vote for this guy. But for the most part, I don't experience it directly. A certain percentage of the population in Germany will always say, "Oh, that's so typically American" or "Oh, the Americans are so stupid, now they've elected another idiot."

But I don't buy into that anymore. Germany has problems of its own. Germany has the [far-right populist party] AfD, France has Le Pen, and others have their guy, and Great Britain is in the process of leaving the EU. There's a lot of frustration and anger directed at established parties and the status quo. I think that, in a very American way, Donald Trump is kind of an extension of that frustration being experienced around the world.

When George W. Bush was running for re-election, people made the generalization that only a stupid country could elect a stupid person twice. But I think that Germans perceive Donald Trump independently of the American electorate.

Trump was able to say, "I think you're doing so poorly because you have an incompetent government that's not looking out for your interests." He's a master salesman and was able to make that pitch and sell it convincingly to millions of people.

You said that you need some distance in order to find humor in the election results. But can you predict how you might integrate President Trump into your upcoming comedy routines?

I think I would probably not go along the lines of "this guy is stupid" or "this guy is a racist." I would more likely attack the human foils aspect. But it's all a matter of to what extent Donald Trump becomes a naughty president. To what extent will he be tweeting in the middle of the night about nonsensical things? To what extent will he complain if Saturday Night Live does a sketch about him that he finds insulting?

It really depends on whether he behaves as a president like he behaved as a candidate. If he continues along those lines, there will be a lot of material for comedians. If he tries to be more presidential, there is still comedy material out there, but probably a little less of it.

 

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