Last year, Sacha Baron Cohen used various disguises to pull off the most startling political humor of the Trump era on the Showtime series “Who Is America?”; and on Comedy Central’s “Nathan for You,” Nathan Fielder turned elaborate real-world stunts into unexpectedly emotional and intricate narratives. These artists expanded the ambition of the prank show while still clinging to its queasy-making juvenile roots.
The latest sneaky star of this new wave, the comedian Jena Friedman, introduces a gonzo feminist perspective in her Adult Swim show, “Soft Focus With Jena Friedman” that doesn’t just crack jokes about misogynist violence. It offers the giddy pleasure of payback.
Last year, Friedman, in character as an unflappable news reporter, did a biting segment on campus rape in which she persuaded three college frat brothers to drag around life-size female dolls called Cannot Consent Carrie. And in a bracing episode last month she built a more elaborate mousetrap involving sexual harassment in online gaming. The bit’s conceit was, If men knew what being victims of sexual harassment and abuse felt like, would that change anything?
Morally questionable humiliation has always been a part of the prank show, and the newer versions often make explicit a meanness that was always a part of “Candid Camera” and “Punk’d.” No one parodied this more brilliantly than Dave Chappelle when he imagined a show called “Zapped” in which, adults prank their kids by, for instance, having a doctor soberly tell them their parents are dead. Stop crying, toddlers, you’ve been zapped!
Prank comedy has been dominated by men tapping into their inner Jerky Boy, and Fielder and Cohen have been criticized for making women the butt of their jokes. Friedman not only flips this script, she also represents a departure for Adult Swim. In a 2016 investigation about gender disparity at the channel, Splitsider’s Megh Wright reported that it had never run a series solely created by a women. Responding to a thread on Reddit on the resulting controversy, Mike Lazzo, an executive at Adult Swim, wrote, “Women don’t tend to like conflict, comedy often comes from conflict, so that’s probably why we (or others) have so few female projects.”
Friedman makes a mockery of this sentiment. She has always gravitated toward conflict, whether arguing politics on Twitter or turning deadly serious subjects like Ebola and rape into stand-up fodder. Like Fielder, she maintains a flat equanimity, but also employs a slippery charm to ingratiate herself with subjects and her audience, sometimes glancing at the camera, Ferris Bueller-style, as if to say, “See what I just did?’
The president of the United States, one of the most protected people on the planet and among the least accessible to the public, would seem to be a long-shot target for a prank caller looking to have some fun.
.. The result was an impromptu six-minute conversation on immigration and the Supreme Court between the president and the radio host and comedian John Melendez, known to his listeners as “Stuttering John.”
.. As far as Mr. Trump knew, he was taking a call from Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, who seemed to have an urgent legislative matter he wanted to raise.
.. “Congratulations on everything — we’re proud of you,” Mr. Trump said by way of a greeting, apparently alluding to the real Mr. Menendez’s recent acquittal on corruption charges
.. “You went through a tough, tough situation, and I don’t think a very fair situation.”
.. affected a British accent and identified himself as Sean Moore (“S-E-A-N, as in Sean Connery, and Moore, as in Roger Moore”), an aide to Mr. Menendez who, he claimed, badly needed to speak to Mr. Trump.
.. she would contact Mr. Trump’s assistant, but then decided to try to transmit the call “through signal,” a reference to the White House Communications Agency, originally known as the White House Signal Corps, which provides emergency mobile communications for the president wherever he goes.
.. When he was a private citizen, Mr. Trump frequently called in to the shock jock Howard Stern’s bawdy radio program — the same one that made Stuttering John, Mr. Stern’s sidekick on the show for more than 15 years, famous
.. he received a call from Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, arranging a callback time for him and the president and asking what topic he would like to raise with Mr. Trump.
.. a discussion about what he should say to his constituents in New Jersey about the Trump administration’s immigration policies that have led to migrant families being separated at the southwestern border.
.. “Tune into my new Podcast where I prank call the President & he calls me from Air Force One!” Mr. Melendez wrote. A short time later he tweeted out the audio. Neither tweet got much traction at first, which frustrated Mr. Melendez.