“IF YOU HAVE AN AGENDA, THAT’S FINE, BUT YOU BETTER HAVE A GOOD punch line—good enough to overcome any aversion to the joke,” says the New York–based Michelle Wolf, who made headlines in April with her highly controversial set at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, which roasted President Donald Trump, his inner circle, his adult children, Democrats and Republicans. The comedian’s 20 minutes provoked a nationwide taste debate, particularly for ripping into White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for, among other things, burning facts “to create a perfect smoky eye.” Wolf was accused of humiliating a woman for her looks. “They didn’t listen to the joke. Anyone who thought it was about her physical appearance is not as smart as I thought they were,” says Wolf, who was too busy launching her new late-night Netflix show, The Break With Michelle Wolf, to worry about backlash. The topical variety series takes aim at politicians and celebrities in the news, and so far, she tells Newsweek, “I haven’t made a single Trump joke.”
For your Correspondents’ set, you joked about Mitch Mcconnell’s and Chris Christie’s looks, and no one cared. Why are women off-limits? We’re so heavily judged based on our appearances. It’s fair game to make fun of a man’s physical appearance because no one is not electing someone to ofɿce or not hiring a man because they’re ugly. If that were the case, we would have, like, three presidents. I look forward to the day when women will be respected for their abilities, so we can get back to making fun of how we look.
Has Trump been good for comedy? Depends. Some jokes are very hacky— it’s all about orange skin and tiny hands. For some reason, people think that’s a joke, but it barely is. Trump has certainly been great for the business of news, for ratings. There’s no way CNN isn’t thrilled that he’s president. Seeing [CNN President] Jeff Zucker hugging Kellyanne Conway made me realize: Oh, this is all a show, and you don’t realize there’s real-world implications, and people are actually being hurt and suffering from this while you guys rake in the money.
There aren’t many female late-night host role models. Who inʀuenced you?
I’ve always looked up to Carol Burnett because [at the opening of her TV show] she would let the audience ask her questions. I thought she was fearless, and I’ve tried to emulate that.—christina Zhao
“I look forward to women being respected for their abilities, so we can get back to making fun of how we look.”