Tracey Ullman didn’t name names, but she drew a clear distinction between her approach to political comedy and that of late-night talent.
Speaking to her longtime friend Meryl Streep after the Tribeca TV Festival debut of the third-season premiere of HBO’s The Tracey Ullman Show, she offered something of a mission statement for Trumpian times.
“I’m not in some liberal indignation bubble,” she said, responding to an audience member’s question. “I can’t be or I’d go mad right now! I got tired of that. I don’t want to those sorts of late-night shows that just hate Trump the most and the best. D’you know what I mean? It’s like, enough with that. I’ve had as much as I can take.”
The conversation at Spring Studios followed a screening of the zesty premiere of the show’s third season, which Streep noted “has found its groove” compared with the initial seasons. Ullman aimed wide with her rapid-fire spoofs, including Star Wars, Rupert Murdoch and The Great British Bake-Off along with political figures such as Angela Merkel and Theresa May. Anthony Atamaniuk, known for his uncanny Donald Trump impersonation on Comedy Central’s The President Show, makes an amusing appearance in the premiere.
In terms her own political aim, Ullman said: “I get to do Europe as well, so that dissipates it. I always look for empathy and the humanity and the sadness.” May, who was thrust into the UK prime minister role as a result of Brexit, is an example of that approach, she said. “Theresa May is not my politics. She’s like a Margaret Thatcher Lite. … I never come at it like, ‘I’m gonna have a go at you because I’m so angry at you.’ … I just see her as an awkward vicar’s daughter who walks like this and dances like this.” (With that, she stood and did an uproarious imitation of May.)
The conversation — remarkably, given the participants — touched on Trump only in passing and didn’t veer toward any current events. Instead, it was a congenial half-hour between two talented friends who have carved out unique careers. The session literally ended with exchanged “I love yous” and a hug and included some material that even James Lipton would leave on the cutting-room floor. And yet somehow the conversation achieved a striking degree of warmth and depth, to go with regular barbs and spot-on mimicry tossed off by Ullman.
The mostly female audience thrilled to every moment, especially hearing Ullman detail her path from young British comedy enthusiast to a long career based in America.
“There was no British comedy with women,” she said. “Here you had Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner — tese amazing women. … They got to be equal to the guys. In England I’m watching Benny Hill with the girls in bikinis getting their bottoms pinched.”
The third season of her current show, which also airs in the UK, changed for this season at the suggestion of BBC executives, she said. “It had to be more immediate. … With all of the politics going on, they asked me to do more topical stuff and do more stuff two days before air” instead of longer, more character-driven portraits of regular people.
She called the shift “challenging but exciting … like a mini-Saturday Night Live.”