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Hollywood screenwriters compare primary to campaign comedies

"This election stopped being funny when people started paying attention to Trump," the co-writer of the 1998 political comedy "Bulworth" said.
Republican presidential candidates pose before a debate sponsored by Fox News on March 3, 2016 in Detroit, Mich. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Republican presidential candidates pose before a debate sponsored by Fox News on March 3, 2016 in Detroit, Mich.

Political leanings aside, there are few who would dispute that the current presidential election cycle is one of the most unusual and unpredictable in American history. It’s the primary that you couldn’t make up if you tried. Or could you? MSNBC put the question to two Hollywood screenwriters: Jeremy Pikser, co-writer of the 1998 political comedy “Bulworth,” and Chris Henchy, co-writer of the 2012 comedy “The Campaign.”

How is the real 2016 election stacking up against the best fictional Hollywood elections?

Pikser: There was “The Candidate.” That was good because it showed how fake and corrupt electoral politics was. The current election makes it seem like it was from the 18th century or a mythical time of enlightenment. “Bob Roberts” -- funny, but also tame compared to the lunacy of this campaign. “The Manchurian Candidate” had a guy who was [a] brainwashed zombie programmed to destroy the country -- that would be pretty close, I guess. The main one, of course, I remember is “Bulworth,” since I co-wrote it [with star Warren Beatty]. That was a fantasy of someone telling the truth because since he was dying, he knew he wouldn't win, and getting shot for it. This election is a nightmare about someone telling all lies while pretending to tell the truth so that he can win -- and to a large degree, getting away with it. 

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Henchy: Sadly, we’re right in between “The Campaign” and “Idiocracy” -- so right on schedule with election comedies. We shot “The Campaign” in 2012. We took some big swings on what the two candidates would do, and now those swings seem almost tame. In one scene, we had a debate that turned into a full-on brawl. The crowd got so riled up, started throwing things, pushing other people, screaming their beliefs. Will [Ferrell’s] character ran across the room to throw a punch at Zach [Galifianakis], missed and hit a puppy. We’re getting close to that now.  

I think it’s interesting how everyone in the media is talking about who’s going to go after Trump, who’s going to stand up and fight him. It’s not about debating. We’re all just pushing these guys to take a swing at each other.

If you had to choose one presidential candidate to base a political comedy on, who would it be and why? 

Pikser: I can't. This election stopped being funny when people started paying attention to Trump. Maybe Marco Rubio could be in a Pee-wee Herman sort of thing.

Henchy: I think it would be Ted Cruz. Trump is already an easy joke. But Cruz is a great foe, has such a sinister voice, look, hair, eyes. Perfect casting of a guy who wants to be president and has a constant smirk because he can't believe people would actually vote for him.

What’s one real thing from the 2016 campaign season that would be too unbelievable to pitch to a film studio?

Pikser: Nothing's too unbelievable to pitch a film studio. As long as they think they can make money on it. The campaign has just caught up with the stupidity Hollywood has been peddling for years. Are Cruz and Trump any stupider than a normal Adam Sandler movie? 

Henchy: The debate the other night between Cruz, Trump and Rubio -- discussing Trump’s finger-to-d*ck ratio. We would’ve gotten notes that it’s too far. I just watched the press conference between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz, MMA guys who are going to fight this weekend. Those two guys were more eloquent. But watch those side by side -- they’re not much different. Conor McGregor’s better dressed.