Daisey’s ‘Trump Card’ at Woolly Mammoth

Talking with monologist Mike Daisey on the phone in the middle of this bizarre presidential campaign is an unreal experience, because we’re talking about his current work, “The Trump Card,” which he’s performing at Woolly Mammoth through Aug. 7.

Of course, in some ways, it’s always a little surreal talking with Daisey. We’ve done this before, when he took “The Last Cargo Cult” and the controversial “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” to Woolly Mammoth several years ago. With Daisey, you get overlays over overlays, side excursions that connect like electrically charged but frayed strands of wire. And if you should happen to hear things that sound familiar later on, don’t be surprised.

Seeing, listening to and watching Daisey do “The Trump Card” this Tuesday — when Trump and his campaign just about fried the internet, with wild headlines about Trump spinning out of control, and the spinning of his spinning, with talk of interventions and one damn thing after another of Trump overload — was stranger still.

“Yeah, I know,” Daisey said in the interview. “It’s hard to get a hold of and control. This is what he does best. Every day, every time he opens his mouth, says or does something, anything can happen. He is totally unpredictable, but he’s also a great performer.

“You have to be cognizant of that when you’re doing this,” he said. “You can’t ignore things that are happening right now. But the core of this to me is biographical — his and mine — and I think that’s the way the audience should be looking at things too. His stuff changes on a dime. Every day is Trump Day.”

Over the phone, on stage, you like to listen to Daisey — because he’s smart, because, like Trump, he’s blunt and digs at you a little. And because it’s the stage, it’s Woolly, where he’s even more profane than Trump at a Trump rally. He’s also spot on. There are times on stage when he sounds a little like the late standup comedian Sam Kinison, who was known for his profane (and very loud) yelling.

We posit that he should invite Trump to the show. “Yeah, that would be cool, but I don’t know,” he said. “You never know what he might do.”

Is Trump scary, or the prospect of a Trump scary? “Sure it is,” he tells me. “But you know what? He is very, very effective. He’s a performer, a showman.”

“I know a little about that,” he tells the audience. “That’s what we’re doing here. The difference is I’m an artist. That means I’m a professional liar.”

“This is as much about theater as anything else, performing, the essential audience, the connection. Here’s a word that gets used a lot about Trump, that he’s authentic. Is that the real Trump? Maybe, maybe that’s what he’s like exactly. But maybe not. Is this the real me, this kind of loud guy? And maybe afterwards, I’m having a drink, and people might come up to me and they get disappointed, that I might not be so emphatic, so urgent, so whatever.”

I expect, though, that he probably would be. On the phone, he’s more conversational, less profane, but just as focused and funny and, yes, urgent.

“Here we are,” he said to the audience, “everybody’s going on and on, how did this happen, how did we get here. And yet, for the last decade or so, beyond that going back to the Southern strategy, the Republican party has become more and more racist, until you get this guy, and it’s like a bolt out the blue. But they are racist, they’ve become racist, and that’s a fact. I know, this is Washington, and we’re all pleasantly liberal, so you would prefer if I said allegedly racist and then that would be okay, it would be more fair.”

The audience laughs loudly — this is one of Daisey’s home parks. He’s right at home here and they don’t mind getting slapped around a little bit. Often it seems like an evening with co-conspirators. There’s something seer-like and witchy going on, especially when he nears rant level. Here’s this guy, he’s overweight, dressed in black, sitting in a chair, his elbows on a table, going through pages of script. He sweats a lot and he casts a kind of spell.

“I’m amazed at how good he [Trump] is,” he says. “Try to remember how he worked the debates. He sort of stayed in the background, and then all of a sudden he’d be talking, debating, with Jeb, poor Jeb Bush, and he’d say, ‘Jeb here, I think he’s kind of low-energy,’ and poof, Jeb’s gone. And even Jeb’s going, ‘Come to think of it, I am kind of a little tired.’”

But his most telling — and even touching, and often hilarious — moments seem more like personal stories, about Trump’s beginning and his tutelage at the hands of his father Fred, a real-estate maven and developer who built what were essentially whites-only low-income developments in Queens and Brooklyn, his practice of having workers pull nails from finished or cast-aside wood and reuse them, of not paying workers and so on.

He talked about Roy Cohn, one of Joe McCarthy’s attorneys who became a New York celebrity lawyer and died of AIDS, a man known for his combative, ruthless nature, who became a character in playwright Tony Kushner’s epic “Angels in America.”

“Trump took on a new persona when he started getting advice, being mentored, really, by Cohn,” Daisey says in his monologue. “What evolved was what we have today, what we’ve had since he announced for the presidency, and long before that.”

Daisey described the racism in his family as represented by his grandfather, who spouted racial epithets, including the n-word when he was with his grandson. “I was just a kid, and that kind of thing was very confusing to me.”

“You know everybody says, why do people even listen to him, he says crazy things, he lies and so on,” he said. “We keep repeating this like some mantra. And the thing is, the people that listen to him don’t care. It’s not about that. It’s about saying things they want to say and hear.

“It’s about being noticed.”

He talked about his mother, who was a janitor at a mall in Bangor, Maine, and lived in a trailer. “She’s one of those people. She doesn’t have much at all. She’s angry that nobody paid attention to her and people like her. Now, I don’t think she’s going to vote for Trump. Not this time, anyway. But you know, she just might be part of another sort of vote, the just-for-the-hell-of-it vote. She might just want to say ‘F— you’ to the whole thing.”

This is all going on on a Wednesday night. Out in the unreal real word, the Trump camp and the GOP, in addition to being in constant turmoil, announce that Trump has almost caught up with Hillary Clinton on the donation front, most of the millions coming from small donations.

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