LOS ANGELES — Among the numerous ways Stephen Colbert has found to poke fun at the current political world on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” — particularly the current president — has been through the use of animation. Matt Lappin, one of the producers of the late-night talk show, and Tim Luecke, lead animator on “The Late Show,” suggested there had been so many advancements in animation it was possible to animate live.
What that meant was Colbert could have animated versions of Hillary Clinton or Vladimir Putin sit on the couch and they could have a live discussion. In the past, such a mix would have required a specific set of questions to match the pre-animated answers.
The use of animation on the show proved to be the catalyst for the new 10-episode parody, “Our Cartoon President,” airing Sundays on Showtime. Colbert is one of the executive producers of the series, which offers a comical look at the misadventures of the president and those around him. The premise is a documentary crew has been given full access to the White House and their footage will be used to bring hell to the chief.
“The show is the interpersonal relationships of the people that you don’t get to see, all people you know, but the relationships you imagine they have, animated, which I think at this point is the only way to truly accurately capture what it must be like to be inside the White House,” Colbert said. “The great thing about the Trump administration is whatever you imagine, you’re right. Everything else is a lie.”
Overall, it takes two or three months to write, record and animate an episode. Most of the show will be set, but things in the Trump White House tend to change rather quickly, so the challenge for the team will be keeping the episodes as current as possible. To do that, the opening scene of each episode will be written and animated the week the show airs to be able to hit on the most current hot topic.
This is nothing new for “The Late Show” team, as there have been many nights Colbert would be ready to hit the stage and some major event would happen. He’s seen huge chunks of the opening monologue have to be ditched and the taping of the talk show delayed while new material was written.
Most of the comedy slings and arrows Colbert has tossed at the outrageous fortunes of the current administration have been delivered with great intensity. Although “Our Cartoon President” depicts Trump as a lovable-looking character, Colbert doesn’t see the show as pulling any punches.
“I don’t think we’re complimenting him by making a cartoon out of him. And I don’t think there’s anything normal about his behavior as a cartoon. I think that the subjects we’re picking are dark enough that they reflect the stakes of truly cartoonish behavior in the actual 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” Colbert said. “That’s one of the reasons why we want to include the topical things, because to keep reminding the audience that, while we’re doing a comedy and it’s always going to be comedy, and it’s a cartoon, so it’s always funny to look at to remind them that this behavior is really not what you want in the White House.
“The stakes are reminded by the topical pieces we’ll be putting in.”
Colbert will continue to take his shots in his talk show monologues to go along with the animated offering. It’s a lot of time to spend on the president, but Colbert’s not worried the audience will grow tired of the comic barrages. He expects just the opposite to happen. Colbert loves that in a democracy, parodies can be done, and getting to take jabs has kept him from being fatigued by all the real madness happening in Washington, D.C.
There’s also a part of Colbert that sees it as his responsibility to be a watchdog.
“I think the purpose of the show, or rather what we take as our purpose, is to listen to what people have been talking about today and go out there and give our opinion on it. Basically, that’s what jokes are, just opinion. So we give our opinion on the things that they’ve heard today,” Colbert said. “I have to go out there and explain to the audience before I ever do the show what has happened so they can have a thought and opinion about it.
“We can share that moment, that moment of community of ‘God, can you believe this thing that just happened? Here is what we think about it.’”
The voice talent for the show includes: Jeff Bergman as Donald Trump; Cody Lindquist as Melania Trump; William Sadler as John F. Kelly; Zach Cherry as Ben Carson; James Adomian as Ted Cruz; and Griffin Newman as Jared Kushner.
R.J. Fried, an executive producer on “Our Cartoon President,” explains hundreds of actors auditioned to be the voice of Trump. They settled on Bergman, who has worked on a long list of animated shows, including “Family Guy” and “The Looney Tunes Show.”
“Basically, we needed a voice that you could live with long term,” Fried said. “There’s some really wonderful ones out there, many of them who are already on the air, but we felt like his was the most real and had the most humanity within it.”