Tim Robbins on satirizing Trump, and the time he turned him away from a party
New podcast Bobbo Supreme follows a fictional U.S. leader in frantic re-election bid
Award-winning actor and director Tim Robbins knew he was "on to something" when the plot of a podcast he wrote a year ago was mirrored in this month's news of a foiled kidnapping attempt on Michigan's governor.
"Doing satire, you try to project what the future behaviour will be of the character you're looking at," said Robbins, whose podcast, Bobbo Supreme, takes a satirical swipe at U.S. President Donald Trump.
"It was pretty clear that that's where it was headed," he told The Current's Matt Galloway.
"From the start, Trump has been throwing out at first what they called dog whistles, and then full-on barks to his supporters."
Robbins plays the titular President Bobbo Supreme in the podcast, a tyrannical leader in the throes of a frantic re-election bid.
Many people are saying that I have a God-like ability to predict the future. This scene from our new show predicted the attempted <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/militia?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#militia</a> takeover of the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Michigan?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Michigan</a> statehouse. I'm sure the FAKE NEWS media will try make it my fault! Get the new show here: <a href="https://t.co/RKDpGih6Gq">https://t.co/RKDpGih6Gq</a> <a href="https://t.co/DHrm8PpnB0">pic.twitter.com/DHrm8PpnB0</a>—@BobboSupreme
In one episode, an armed militia seizes control of the Michigan statehouse, hogtying liberal politicians on the legislature floor. President Supreme is disinclined to act against the militia — who support his policies — telling officials: "They're patriots; leave them alone."
The podcast was released Oct. 8, the same day the FBI revealed it had stopped a plot against Michigan's Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Thirteen men face charges related to the conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer, in reaction to what the suspects viewed as her "uncontrolled power."
In April, U.S. President Donald Trump had singled out Whitmer over lockdown measures she enacted to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, tweeting she was in "way over her head," as well as calls to "LIBERATE MICHIGAN" as well as two other Democrat-led states.
"When you tweet 'LIBERATE MICHIGAN' and two days later, there's a hundred people outside the statehouse with AR-14s because they don't want to wear masks, you've got a volatile situation," Robbins said.
"And yeah, it came true."
Bobbo Supreme was originally written for the screen, but reimagined it as a piece of "aural cinema" when the pandemic shut down film units the world over. Released on subscription service Patreon, its list of stars includes Jack Black, Isla Fisher, and Haley Joel Osment.
Trump 'a thug,' but he didn't kill satire: Robbins
President Supreme is an extension of Bob Roberts, the eponymous character of Robbins' 1992 movie about a Republican folk singer who runs for senate. The new podcast takes that narcissistic character further — President Supreme is described as an infantile, racist lounge singer, who runs his media empire out of the Oval Office. He hosts a talk show in the morning and a gameshow in the afternoon, and has installed a recording studio and a strip club in the White House.
Trump's own penchant for outlandish behaviour and breaking norms has left some cartoonists and humorists wondering what's left to poke fun of; but Robbins said Trump may have killed parody, but he hasn't killed satire.
"I don't think it's enough to just do an imitation of him, I think you have to look deeper," he told Galloway.
"That's why we didn't want to try to imitate his voice," he said, adding that satire must get to "a deeper truth by illuminating something that might be rude or offensive to some people."
"I went to what I believe him to be, which is a gangster, a thug."
Robbins said he's known people all his life who have "that sense of entitlement that goes way beyond what is right and wrong — it's basically about who is the toughest and who is the most intimidating."
He was that kind of guy, always in the nightlife, always trying to ingratiate himself with people.- Tim Robbins
"That's what I tapped into with this character."
The actor said he met Trump once many years ago, when the future president tried to join a private birthday party Robbins was throwing for a friend.
"His guys said 'Mr. Trump wants to come party,' and I said 'No, he's not invited,'" Robbins remembered.
Robbins said he already knew who Trump was from his New York real estate business, and had no interest in hanging out with him.
"He seemed to be corrupt, he was thuggish, and he made ugly buildings, and they seemed to be popping up everywhere," he said.
"He was that kind of guy, always in the nightlife, always trying to ingratiate himself with people."
Robbins hopes podcast makes Trump supporters laugh
Trump has tapped into the "fears and anxieties of millions of people" in the U.S., Robbins said.
"There's a lot of people that have rightful indignation about being underrepresented in the government over the past 20, 30 years," he told Galloway.
"They have been left behind; I do have sympathy for that," Robbins said. "I understand that there are people that are very angry."
While Trump's promises of restoring flagging economies are often cited as key to his base, a 2018 study from the University of Pennsylvania suggested that anxiety over their status in a changing America fuelled Trump's support among uneducated white voters in 2016.
But Robbins argued that Trump had rallied that discontent into "a movement based in fallacy."
"He's not representing them. He's representing the moneyed elite, the billionaires," he said.
Warning: Clip contains strong language
I, your Great President, toiled for MONTHS & stayed up ALL NIGHT to put the finishing touches on my new podcast—here's a clip from <a href="https://twitter.com/BobboSupreme?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BobboSupreme</a>!<br><br>Order the full show on <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Patreon?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Patreon</a> if you're a God-loving patriot & not an America-hating communist antifa thug! <a href="https://t.co/FAqe0tTRxT">https://t.co/FAqe0tTRxT</a> <a href="https://t.co/GcgRS1q4Nx">pic.twitter.com/GcgRS1q4Nx</a>—@BobboSupreme
When asked whether a Trump supporter might reject Bobbo Supreme as another depiction from the Hollywood elite, Robbins said he was under no illusion that it would change anyone's vote, but that he hopes it might make them laugh.
"This is what has been missing for all of us, the idea that we can get together and laugh at something," he said.
Pre-pandemic, he said people could gather and share emotions at theatres and cinemas and concert halls, where "no one is checking your politics at the door, no one is saying you can't come in."
"I think it's important that we create forums of communities where you can listen to something, you can laugh and you can understand you're not alone," he said.
"That's what laughter does. It unifies; it gives strength."
Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Julie Crysler.