Some comedians break through with a particular shtick. Michelle Wolf has made her name by throwing tornadoes of precise punch-lines at everything from Wonder Woman’s lame lasso of truth to dating, rape, zits, periods, farts, Bill Cosby’s lazy eye, and her own resemblance to both of Hollywood’s Annies – the white and the black versions.
“My main objective is to be funny, to be making jokes about everyone and everything,” she says from the New York production office where she’s developing her own weekly late-night show for Netflix (premiering May 27th) as well as honing material for her upcoming hosting gig at the White House Correspondents Dinner on April 28th. “The more confident I am, the more daring I am.”
As a correspondent on The Daily Show, she perfectly described Ivanka Trump’s politics as “the Lululemon model: It’s for rich white women and you can see right through it.” A problem-solver, she has radically simplified both both sexual harassment (“Pull out your dick, get replaced by a chick”) and sexual consent (“From now on your penis is Beetlejuice — it’s only allowed to appear after we say it three times”). Out of a million jokes about the Donald’s “grabbed her by the pussy” comment, hers was perhaps the most devastating to every aspect of Trump’s bloated boasting: “That’s not how you handle a pussy! How are you gonna handle a country if you can’t handle a pussy?”
Trevor Noah has called her “pure comedy perfection” and Seth Meyers has deemed her “deliciously cruel,” while Chris Rock has called her “one of the funniest people I know.” Wolf, who wrote Oscars jokes for Rock in 2016 and opened for him on tour, says she aspires to his long and varied career.
“People can be successful for a short period of time but only a handful of people are successful for decades,” she says. “Writing and telling jokes is my favorite thing to do and I want to be able to do that forever.”
Wolf calls herself a “to-the-bone” comedian, who’s less driven by an agenda than by how the pursuit of the perfectly crafted joke can make her more honest about everything, including her own contradictions. As on her HBO special Nice Lady, when she untangled her, and our culture’s, complex feelings about powerful women like Hillary Clinton.
“You throw every joke out the window,” she says, “and you ask: What has not been said about her and how do I genuinely feel about her?“
Fans may remember that Wolf got teary on-camera after a clip of Clinton’s concession speech played on The Daily Show, but in her special, she admits she would rather hide in the bathroom than have to talk to Clinton at a party. The riff evolves into an x-ray of our complex feelings about ambitious women like Clinton, and Wolf herself. The conclusion? “Nice ladies aren’t in charge of things.”
And Wolf makes it very clear that she is not a nice lady. Now that she’ll be in charge of her own weekly late-night show, premiering later this year, she says she is not about to start playing nice.
“I’ve worked for people who are a lot nicer than I am, who might say, We can’t say this about this person,” she explains. “And I will.”
Over the last few years, other former Daily Show correspondents — Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore, John Oliver, Samantha Bee — have created a wave of politicized humor shows. Not Wolf.
“There’s eight shows doing that and a lot of them are doing it very, very well so I don’t think there needed to be another,” says Wolf, who promises bizarre sketches and plenty of stand-up material. “My main objective is to do a real comedy-first, funny late night show.”
Wolf says she’s not interested in “teaching political policy” or throwing red meat to outraged liberals. So expect her to roast everyone when she hosts the White House Correspondents Dinner — and with a press corps riddled by the #MeToo scandal, from Bill O’Reilly to Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer, there are plenty of targets to choose from. “Some comedy has turned into Donald Trump’s bad, isn’t he?” Wolf says. “That’s a true statement. But where is your joke?”
Meanwhile, she’s leaving extra time to rewrite her set in the case of more Cabinet firings, war, or impeachment. “There’s a point where I could have done like 15 Hope Hicks jokes,” she says. “I’m definitely not writing a lot of John Kelly jokes in advance.”
Only one possibility gives her pause.
“If Trump would be removed from office, that would change things significantly,” she says with bone-dry understatement. Then again, she adds, “I’ve got a lot of Pence jokes too.”