Did you know that laughter can cure cancer? (Read this.) Laughing also helps most people cope with the stress of everyday existence. Laughing is existential. And since these are extraordinarily stressful political times, the doctors I’ve consulted recommend comedy as an anti-depressant. While indeed addictive, it is not as dangerous as narcotics, and less expensive. Large doses can be consumed without injurious side effects or embarrassing behavior. With increased demand, thank heavens for the writers, artists and performers who keep us supplied with fresh stocks.
Alec Baldwin has done as much to administer belly laughs through his “SNL” characterization of Donald J. Trump as anyone else in this mixed up, crazy world. And today the long-awaited Baldwin and Kurt Andersen collaboration You Can’t Spell America Without Me is available to the public. While I ain’t no doctor, I prescribe this book for quick temporary relief of what ails the nation.
I took my first dose a few days ago and feel better than I’ve felt since Nov. 8, 2016. Thanks for my fix goes to Bonnie Siegler of 8 +1/2, who designed and art directed the book with photos by Mark Selliger. Between laughs she took a few moments to talk about the docuparody and its many health benefits.
What was the most fun for you working on this book?
I saw this project as a great gift. I was so filled with anxiety, and besides marching and calling congressmen and signing petitions, I didn’t know what to do with myself or for the cause. And then this project came along. It made me laugh out loud and I got to spend all this time thinking about fun ways to parody Trump. To me, in this climate, this was very important work (and wonderfully cathartic).
There is a lot of intensive prep for this. It’s almost like shooting a film. Do you have a story or two to share about the making of this opus?
Planning this huuuuge shoot was a blast. I’m normally a list maker but I’ve never made so many lists for one project in my life. Finding the locations (a Mar-a-Lago, a White House), securing the various props (like the right kind of spray tan sprayer), creating props (like all the framed Ivanka pictures behind the Resolute desk and what actually appears on the screens of the various TV screens around him) and casting the extras (we were actually able to use the same woman to play Ivanka and Melania because, shockingly, they are the same height and weight) each presented their own challenges and rewards.
We also shot at a third location, outside the actual Trump tower. We were all a little nervous about how the armed guards standing in front would respond to Alec appearing as Trump in front of the building. The people walking down Fifth Avenue definitely noticed and responded with cheers, but the guards didn’t even bat an eye. Alec was incredible throughout, always coming up with the most Trumpian way to play the scene we put him in. As soon as he was stationed in front of the building, he immediately raised his arms in exhaulted victory. It’s one of my favorite shots in the book.
My most favorite shot though is the last shot in the book: Alec as Trump sitting on the toilet, contemplating his fate, gold iPhone in hand.
I understand you had to build an oval office. They wouldn’t let you use the real thing?
They didn’t even return my calls! To build an Oval Office from scratch was crazy expensive, so I was desperately trying to use an Oval Office from the set of a TV show. We shot in June, so some shows didn’t have access to their sets, and the few I asked turned us down. I was looking at presidential libraries and homes around the country but the only full-size Oval Office I could find was at President Clinton’s library in Little Rock, which was far, but also, it was President Clinton’s. It would have been ironic but I doubt they would have said yes. Then I stumbled upon the website of someone who had FIVE oval offices for rent and he (the owner) told me he’d like to do anything he could to help Alec stick it to Trump. So he didn’t charge us for the rental. We just had to ship it from Atlanta and back again.
What was the collaboration like? Who contributed what?
Mark Selliger was the photographer and I worked very closely with him and his whole amazing team to bring this to life. We worked with the hair, makeup and costume people from “Saturday Night Live” to keep Alec’s Trump look consistent with what people knew and loved. Kurt and Alec were also involved in all creative decisions. They have incredible insight into Trump’s psyche, each in their own way, so it was a wonderful collaboration.
Do you think the base might buy this?
The text really channels Trump. It feels so real, like you are inside his head, hearing his inner thoughts, so who knows. Maybe his base will be happy there.
One more thing—to design the book itself, I looked at all of the books Trump “wrote,” which look like they were created in Word. I studied the “typography” and various elements that were used often, and then tried to make it feel like one of his books, but you know, designed. I also used pull quotes throughout the book, which are typical in magazine articles, less so in books. They really work to give you a sense of the book and how smart and funny it is, in your first interaction.
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