Michelle Wolf on Breaking Away From Political Comedy in Her New Netflix Special 'Joke Show'

Comedian Michelle Wolf may have received notoriety from her White House Correspondents' Dinner performance where she roasted President Donald Trump and then-Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But her new Netflix special Joke Show almost entirely shies away from political humor. First and foremost, "I'm here to make you laugh," she told Newsweek. While the Correspondents' Dinner may have skyrocketed her to a new level of fame, she prefers to write about topics she finds funny, which usually don't include the president.

Joke Show is streaming on Netflix now. Wolf spoke to Newsweek about not doing political comedy, the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and being accessible to everyone.

Michelle Wolf
Michelle Wolf performs onstage at The Kicker during the 2018 Life Is Beautiful Festival on September 22, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Wolf's new special Joke Show is streaming on Netflix now. FilmMagic/Getty

How is Joke Show different from your 2017 HBO special Nice Lady?

I think it's an evolution of my point of view and my comedic persona. You get to see me growing as a comic and getting better at jokes and having more fun with pacing and going after topics that I might've been too scared to touch before.

You address issues such as racism and sexism in your comedy. But is there any topic or issue you think is off limits?

I don't think there's anything that's off limits. I just think that obviously the harder the subject is the better the punchline has to be. As long as you can back it up with a really good punchline, there's really nothing you can't go after. You just have to know there's an inherent risk, and it may take you a very long time to get there.

Is there a joke or topic that's received a lot of pushback from audiences?

Not really, but the joke I tell about white women being the most privileged victims—that one took me a really long time to figure out from a joke writing standpoint. I wanted to make sure it didn't sound preachy and there was a solid punchline at the end. That one took a lot of massaging to get exactly what I wanted out of it. Those are also some of my favorite jokes to do, where you're like, "How do I figure this out exactly?"

A lot of your jokes are based on differences between men and women. What drew you to that subject? Do you remember when you first noticed the divide?

I think I come at it from a slightly different angle. I know a lot of the people coming to my shows are women, and I greatly appreciate that, but a lot of them bring their husbands or boyfriends. I want those guys to leave as a fan of my comedy. So I try to write jokes where I talk about the differences between men and women that's very accessible to men. They're hearing my point of view, but in a way that they're like, "I am so on board with that." Particularly, the joke where I say "Men are idiots," and then I basically make sure everyone knows we're all idiots. I'm framing this in a way where hopefully it's a woman telling a joke, but it's very accessible to men.

Have you noticed a change in your audience since performing at the White House Correspondents' Dinner last year?

Of course, I got a much bigger audience. I think a lot of people go to see me because they think I might talk about politics, but I don't talk about politics in my set at all. My main goal for those shows is to convert the people that are fans of mine from the Correspondents' Dinner to just become fans of my comedy in general. Hopefully, that's what happens.

I love jokes. You can hire me to write jokes about any topic. If you want me to write political jokes, I can do it. It's not my favorite thing to write about, and that's why I don't do it in my stand-up. I just try to be funny.

Do you see a lot of audiences waiting for you to talk about Trump?

I think some of them do, but I'm not sure if those people are actually comedy fans. There seems to be this weird divide now where people want to hear about Trump the way you want to hear about an ex-boyfriend. "Tell me more about how bad he is." To me, all of those jokes have been done. I've done those jokes. Let's talk about something else. You spent all day hearing stories and seeing tweets. Let's just not do that for a second. Let's talk about d***s or otter rape. I don't know—something more fun. [Laughs]

For people who only know you from the Correspondents' Dinner, what should they expect from your special?

I'll definitely dig into social commentary and a lot of the things that affect us on a daily basis. But first of all, these are all jokes. That's why I named it Joke Show. I'm here to make you laugh. Have a good time. Maybe adjust the volume so my voice isn't as terrible.

"The Dope Show" by rocker Marilyn Manson plays over the credits. Is the title of Joke Show a reference to the song or did you come up with that after?

I knew I wanted to name it Joke Show, and after that, I really wished I could get "Dope Show." I didn't know if it was going to be in the cards or not. Luckily they let us use it. I love that song. I think even the lyrics in it, kind of lend itself to a good ending to the special. My brother listened to Marilyn Manson all the time when I was a kid. He's my older brother, so that means I listened Marilyn Manson a lot as a kid. I'd be playing and singing "Personal Jesus." I'm a huge Manson fan. It's cool to have someone that you've listened to for so many years as part of the special, too.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.