Many Australians would recognise Michelle Wolf as the comedian who skewered Donald Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2018, when Wolf told Sanders to her face that she burns facts and uses the ash to create a “perfect smokey eye”.
Though the set sparked outcry – mainly from Trump supporters and hand-wringing, civility-first journalists – about whether Wolf’s remarks were sexist, it made her a much bigger star and a lightning rod for the MAGA crowd.
And it’s probably behind the enthusiastic response to her five-night run at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (they’ve since added extra shows due to “insane demand”). At Max Watt’s on Thursday night, a line that stretched around the block seemed to be comprised mostly of youngish, left-wing professionals who would no doubt pride themselves on their intimate understanding of the US Electoral College.
But political junkies looking for John Oliver-style breakdowns of the American government might be disappointed. Wolf (a former writer for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah) only makes a few direct references to the president and his hangers-on, though she does comment on her sudden fame, saying: “I learned this year that not everyone likes me.”
Instead, Wolf makes sharp, even harsh observations about larger political and social trends of the day, from body positivity to online ‘woke’ culture. On white feminism, Wolf jokes that white women have been so complicit in oppression because it’s hard to start a revolution from underneath a duvet inside a beautifully decorated house in the suburbs. On the women’s movement, she notes John F. Kennedy would have been #Me-Too’d if he were still alive.
Her best jokes came from the darkest places (and seemed to get the most hesitant laughs).
Some of the biggest laughs come from the usual comedic fodder – how it’s outrageous that men think all women like big dicks, for example – as well as a totally absurdist, but hilarious, bit about how otters rape baby seals. But her best jokes came from the darkest places (and seemed to get the most hesitant laughs) – including one about her own abortion.
There are a few lines made especially for Australians, like when she pre-empts her discussion of American racism by urging the audience to “loosen their buttholes”. After all, she jokes, it should be easy to smugly laugh about America’s problems while you ignore your own. Wolf only makes a few missteps here, like when she seems to think Australia still doesn’t have marriage equality, a comment met with silence.
Overall it’s Wolf’s tart, occasionally caustic commentary on social and moral questions of the day, delivered in an unexpectedly enthusiastic tone (compared to say, the current trend for wry, observational delivery), that makes this show really fun and edge-of-your-seat interesting to watch. Where will she take us next? It’s almost like she can’t wait to tell us.
She has said she has no political agenda, that she’s just there to make jokes. But she does leave the audience with one sly dig at the man you might have expected her to criticise most.
“I’m vulgar,” she says. “I learned it from the president.
“I hope that your daughters turn out vulgar too.”
Michelle Wolf is at Max Watt’s and Melbourne Town Hall until March 31.