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Political impressions have been part of comedian James Adomian’s act for years, but he acknowledges that his latest hit has been received in a different way.
“Sebastian Gorka is weird, because a lot of people don’t know who he is, but the people who do know who he is are obsessed with him,” Adomian told Business Insider. “People who follow the news closely all know who he is, and they love the impression.”
In an era before niche political media channels, an impression of a newly-ousted White House adviser with questionable political relevance probably would have gone relatively unnoticed.
The 37-year-old comedian debuted the impression on Chapo Trap House, the leftist political comedy podcast that has attracted a group of dedicated paying subscribers and seemingly endless scrutiny and criticism for the manner in which it skewers neo-liberalism.
I honest to god can't stop watching this https://t.co/hvpdau7TCa
— Asawin Suebsaeng (@swin24) September 1, 2017
these are honestly the funniest five minutes ever put on film or tape https://t.co/FNXUpY4cC2
— Dylan Scott (@dylanlscott) August 29, 2017
— Jim Prosser ???? (@jimprosser) August 26, 2017
Gorka may have had an obscure job with few responsibilities, but he was a White House figure waiting for a send-up.
A onetime Breitbart News writer with a dubious pedigree who became a pariah in the White House, Gorka was a ubiquitous presence on cable television during the initial months of the Trump administration, contemptuously sparring with hosts on CNN and MSNBC over coverage of the administration, in a thick accent, making declarations like “the era of the pajama boy is over.”
A respected stand-up comedian with credits on Funny or Die and Comedy Central, Adomian has repeatedly performed viral impressions, including one of former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, and played Sen. Bernie Sanders during the “Trump vs. Bernie” tour and hourlong Comedy Central special on “@midnight.”
But Adomian said he pitched appearing on Chapo after he first saw Gorka during an interview on television in February. He found the then-deputy assistant’s political beliefs to be “really, really, really crazy and far out there,” but thought he had a “hilarious” personality as he seemed to embrace his image as a villain during television interviews, smirking and taunting various anchors, hosts, and fellow panelists.
“He has an accent that’s not real. He has this accent that’s like ‘I grew up in London but I’ve been here for 25 years,'” Adomian said. “So it sounds like this James Bond super villain, which is immediately what I thought of.”
He continued: “You don’t see that kind of goatee and menacing sneer in public figures who want to be taken as a good guy. Most people are like, ‘Hey I might not be attractive but at least I’m going to look positive.’ And Sebastian Gorka is like, ‘I’m here as a snarling elitist.'”
Like many comedians, Adomian has both enjoyed satirizing a Trump acolyte, yet been troubled by the ascension of the administration’s political values.
Gorka’s ties to a far-right anti-Semitic group in Hungary, estrangement from even the hawkish Republican foreign policy circles, and gleeful, counter-intuitive defense of President Donald Trump’s decisions have disturbed Adomian, who has embraced left-wing politics in his comedy.
“He’s outside in a direction which is very disturbing, which is he’s to the right of the foreign policy establishment,” he said. “Which is insane, because they’re already right-wing psychos who fetishize about overthrowing governments and stuff like that. He’s to the right of them to the point where they don’t like him.”
“I think it’s important to make fun of people like him.”
Other podcasters and media personalities have given Gorka a try to lesser success.
Jon Lovett, a co-host of popular Obama-alumni podcast Pod Save America, has tried his Gorka impression occasionally, but admitted Adomian’s impression was better. So did MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, a former thespian who briefly tried out his impression last week when reporting on how the Secret Service banned Gorka from using his pass to enter the White House.
Though Trump’s ascension to the presidency has presented “golden opportunities” for comedians to capitalize on the folly of the Trump administration, some critics have remained unimpressed with television comedy, which liberals remember fondly as a place of cultural refuge during President George W. Bush’s administration.
The political comedy of “Saturday Night Live” has boosted the show’s ratings, undermined some administration members’ credibility in the White House, and seemed to get under the president’s skin, but some critics have reportedly found the actual writing material hollow.
Late-night comedy hosts like Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers have experienced cable ratings bumps and created a glut of instantly viral material, but other hosts have opted for liberal catharsis and cheap jokes, and some of the most powerful moments of late-night comedy in the Trump era have been when hosts dropped comedic pretense altogether.
Adomian argued that alternate media forms like political comedy podcasts have helped amplify more transgressive and interesting comedy that wouldn’t be allowed on cable and network television because of standards and practices offices and political timidity.
“You can make easy jokes, you can make stupid jokes, you can be very silly, and they do that, and it’s very fun,” Adomian said. “But I think you should have the true skill as a comedian and satirist to draw blood while appearing to be silly. That is a power that comedy has that is not being allowed on television, it’s happening on the internet and it’s happening in live comedy.”
Though he acknowledged that fans have been disappointed by Gorka’s resignation from a comedic perspective, Adomian argued that he’ll probably keep doing the impression as long as Gorka continues to appear on cable television.
“People think he’s going away, he’s not going away,” Adomian said.
Gorka did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on whether he’d seen the impression.