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How YouTube comments are the best way to understand Donald Trump

Updated 8:09 AM ET, Mon May 27, 2019

(CNN) - On Memorial Day -- or really Memorial Night -- CNN will air an hour-long special featuring comedian Colin Quinn. I reached out to Colin to talk about how he developed the special, how comedy fits into this current political moment and his views on President Donald Trump.

Our conversation -- conducted via email and lightly edited for flow -- is below.

"Red State, Blue State" airs at 9 p.m. on Monday.

Cillizza: You've been doing this show off-Broadway. Why did you turn to this overtly political material? And how did the crowd respond?

Quinn: Politics is everything. It's all anyone talks about for the past 15 years. I started doing political comedy in a more structured way with my show "Long Story Short," about the history of the world. And at the time, I was trying to make sense of history for myself. To see the patterns, or the shape, of history. To see if comedically I could come to some bigger realization. But the only realization is that history repeats itself. And human nature never changes even as technology advances. There are always thieves, energy suckers, power-mad people and the rest of humanity still falls victim to greed, anger, lust, jealousy, hate. But you still have to look at it or else we are just giving up.

Cillizza: How does comedy fit into the current political environment? People say, "This isn't a game" all the time. How do you convince them it's OK to laugh?

Quinn: You can never convince people to laugh. That's what's great about comedy. Laughter is involuntary. It's an honest response. Applause, smiles, cheers can be manufactured, but not real laughter.

As far as it not being a game, that's irrelevant to whether we should laugh at it. The implication here is that laughter trivializes or softens things that need to be confronted and sometimes that's the case. And sometimes they should. You have to ask who are the people that will dictate what's the appropriate climate in which to laugh. Humor is subjective. I could say that during the mass starvations and wars that have occurred just in the last 10 years there shouldn't have been comedy. For the people involved there, that certainly "wasn't a game."

But because it's closer to home, then it's time to say what? It's not funny when it's me! So you can see the pitfalls of that philosophy. Plus even in a worst-case scenario where people are making light of what is a serious tragedy, that's probably better than ignoring it -- because at least it's exposing it to the light. And that lets people hear the truth, even if it's coming from a warped source.

Cillizza: What have you learned about politics (and people) since you started doing the show?

Quinn: I've learned that this country really doesn't want to break up, but most of the people that are here seem to believe that there's a bad feeling in the country and if we don't address it in an honest way and treat it like the national emergency it's becoming, we will be just like all the other places that exploded and then wondered how to fix it after the fact.

I realize this is not a very funny statement, but what can I say? These are serious questions. In my show I try to turn them into humor. My director Bobby Moresco and I spent a lot of time trying to make sense of it because we both know a lot of people who are on board with Trump and to dismiss them as racist or supremacist or dumb is as bad of a generalization as anything Trump says. But we all have a hard time seeing the flaws in ourselves and that's always a big part of the problem with any society. Hasn't been solved yet, to my knowledge.

Cillizza: You make some serious proposals -- break up the United States, end the two-party system etc. -- in the special. Do you really believe that's the right way forward or is this just in service of the routine?

Quinn: If we want to avoid a civil war in some form, we need to start setting up constitutional conventions for the next 10 years. Great thinkers in a room with no social media. Because even great thinkers are afraid to make mistakes or say the wrong thing these days because social media has created a tyranny of the mob in many aspects. And brainstorming has to leave room for people to be wrong without demands for their immediate resignation from people that are just in a bad mood and want to punish somebody. Which is most of us, sometimes.

Cillizza: Finish this sentence: "The best way to understand Donald Trump is _____________." Now, explain.

Quinn: "The best way to understand Donald Trump to look at him as the comments section of any YouTube video."

A lot of the things said are cruel, ignorant and wrong but some of them have a truth underneath that nobody else would say in public. And even though the person that says it is a moron who you don't even like ... the enemy of my enemy is my friend.


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