"Are we talking about the apocalypse?" Desi Lydic asks. She has just finished her portion of her Bustle Comedy IRL photoshoot and joins Michelle Wolf, her colleague, ready to talk politics. The pair work together on The Daily Show: Lydic as a field correspondent who frequently does on-location shoots and Wolf as a writer and on-screen contributor.
The Comedy Central show's office is a relatively liberal leaning one, but Lydic frequently leaves that positive environment to report on politics in many states, and things like open carry laws have made that experience in a Trump presidency all the more terrifying. But, while most of us can relate to being scared as a woman these days, some of their viewpoints might shock even the most well-informed feminists — including the fact that they think things might not have been that much better under a Hillary Clinton presidency.
Lydic and Wolf spend their days at work talking to viewers through a screen, but on their recent trip to the Bustle office they curled up on a couch, facing one another instead of a camera. What came out of that was a frank, honest conversation about their fears about turning Trump's America into comedy on The Daily Show, how hard it is to make things funny when they're angry, and why a Hillary Clinton victory wouldn't have been a win for all women.*
Michelle: How do you pitch ideas for the field pieces you do?
Desi: Sometimes it’s inspired because it’s something that I care about, but also you immediately see the comedy in it. Like there was this idea [where states] were trying to make it harder for women to go to Planned Parenthood. But they were saying, "Here’s this list of other places where you can go and get your health care services." The places they listed were like a dentist's office, the Salvation Army, the school nurse of a high school. I’m like, this would make a great field piece, because not only is this absurd and crazy, but I want to go to a Salvation Army and ask for a pap smear. Like, I want to try and get a pap smear at the dentist’s office.
Michelle: Do you get a used pap smear at a Salvation Army?
Desi: See, this is why this would have been a great field piece.
Michelle: Do you ever get scared of the places you have to go?
Desi: Yes. I get scared about everything. I’m terrified of going to protests. When we did the Republican and the Democratic conventions in Ohio there were protest areas, and it was open carry. That freaked me out. Right before I went, I remember taking Jen Flanz, our awesome showrunner, aside. I was like, "Hey, um, OK, so I’m really game for almost anything — but is it OK if I just don’t go to any protests, because this whole open carry thing is really freaking me out." And thank god she was like, "We won’t make you do that. Do what you’re comfortable with. We wouldn’t have you do that anyway."
Michelle: It was way too heated, I wouldn’t have wanted to do that either.
"I don’t think it’s any harder of a time to be a woman than it was before Trump ... It’s always been this struggle."
Desi: Yeah, and at one point I think we had a bit where I was taking a giant birthday card for President Trump and wanting to drop it off at Trump Tower. It's funny and sounded like a great idea, but when you’re trying to get past Secret Service and being threatened to be arrested multiple times you’re kind of like, oh, maybe we should wrap this up and head back to the office.
Michelle: Like, "Are you gonna bail me out if I get arrested?"
Desi: "How deep does our budget go?"
Michelle: "What does Viacom feel about bond money?" The other thing is — and this is because I struggle with this — when those subjects come up of, like, people having like go really far to get like any sort of health care, female health care — do you ever get so viscerally angry that you can’t make it funny?
Michelle: 'Cause I have a really hard time separating myself to be like, "No, no, no. You can make jokes about it," when I’m just so mad about it.
Desi: There was one field piece I did with this pastor who was very progressive politically, he had pictures of president Obama up in his church and we shared many of the same beliefs, but he believed that gay people were God’s curse. His words were, “AIDS is God’s curse on a homosexual life." It was so weird because we would have this conversation, and I felt like, oh, you’re a lovely warm human being and I can totally relate to you here. But then that came up and I wanted to strangle him in the middle of church.
Michelle: I thought red hair was God’s curse?
Michelle: You know, I don’t actually think it’s any harder of a time to be a woman than it was before Trump. It’s not like we got anything taken away. It’s not like we were getting paid equal and all of a sudden we’re not. It’s not like we like had access to health care and now we don’t. It’s always been this struggle.
Desi: I think it was like we had the carrot dangled in front of us; we potentially could have had our first female president. Then when that didn’t happen, it felt like it was being taken away from us.
Michelle: Yeah, we had the promise that there might have been progress, and then all of a sudden it went away. It was still harder the generation before us to be a woman; it’s just that like we’re not gonna see any movement forward.
"If Hillary had been elected ... I think people would have been like, 'What else do you want? You have a female president; you have everything.' No. One lady has everything."
Desi: How did you feel the day after the election?
Michelle: I was so sad. That’s when I cried on camera.
Desi: It was my favorite piece you’ve ever done.
Michelle: Everyone comments about it, and I’m still so uncomfortable.
Desi: No, it was so funny and it was so honest. You allowing yourself to be that vulnerable in that moment, it was what everyone was feeling. I can’t say everyone, but I know everyone at work and our audience. It was smart, and it was brave to do.
"My husband and I, we looked at each other and we were like, oh my god we just brought a child into this world. Maybe that’s dramatic, but it really felt like that."
Michelle: Thank you. The day after, I was just so sad. Because, like, of all the things Trump has said, the one thing I know about him to be true is that what he values in women are age and beauty. That’s the one thing he’s been consistent on this whole time. I’ve always fought against that in my own head. It doesn’t matter if you’re pretty or fat or ugly or your shape or size or anything like that, it’s like how well you perform. And then he is this example leading the country of being like, no, no no, that’s not what it is. It’s how young and pretty you are.
Desi: It's the one thing he had a track record of. Like politically he has no track record.
Michelle: He has flip-flopped on everything.
Michelle: It’s not like at one point he had an older wife who wasn’t a model.
Desi: It’s the one thing you can count on with him.
Michelle: How did you feel — especially as a mother, too? Were you worried?
Desi: Yeah, I wasn’t like a passionate fan of Hillary’s necessarily, but it was clear to me who the choice was. I remember waking up after the election, and it was when I watched her concession speech that I didn’t realize how much this mattered to me. We thought this could really be a possibility, and then when it didn’t happen it did feel like it was being ripped away. I had the realization that getting a woman president might not happen in my lifetime. Then I immediately got scared for my son. My husband and I, we looked at each other and we were like, oh my god we just brought a child into this world. Maybe that’s dramatic, but it really felt like that.
"It lights a fire underneath all our asses to say something and say it now, because there’s a reason to."
Michelle: When Hillary was speaking the next day, I imagined all like the girls that were watching it, and that they could be like, "Oh, maybe it’s not possible." That's the saddest to me. But, I also feel like we say, "Now things are worse for women," and I’m not going to say it's better... but when Obama was president you really didn’t have as much of a platform. You didn’t have someone in charge that was seen as like a misogynist or anything like that. Now that we do, it’s like, "Oh, now we can finally say these feminist things we’ve thought all along." People don’t look at you as being an angry feminist, they look at you as being like a rational person.
Desi: It lights a fire underneath all our asses to say something and say it now, because there’s a reason to.
Michelle: If Hillary had been elected, I think a lot of people would have done the same thing as when Obama was elected and they were like, “Racism is over." And it’s like, no. It’s not. If Hillary had been elected, they would have been like, "Women are equal." No. Just one woman is equal. People would have been like, "What else do you want? You have a female president; you have everything." No. One lady has everything.
Desi: Yeah, like, "Everything you’ve ever wanted has happened. Shut up already."
Michelle: I think comedy is interesting, because politics are boring at the core of it. I used to watch The Daily Show as a high school and college student because it made politics interesting. Um, sorry Jon [Stewart] if that makes you feel old.
Desi: (laughs) "When I was just a young baby."
Michelle: I was just little, and I mean little.
Desi: Comedy is universal. A certain joke might not be for everybody, but comedy is a universal thing so it makes politics a little easier to follow.
Michelle: We’re clearly a liberal leaning show, but I would argue we are the most factually accurate news source. Like we have a fact checker, and he won’t let anything slide by that’s not accurate.
Desi: We should actually ask him to fact check that we are the most accurate. He’s probably doing it right now. He can sense us.
Michelle: I just mean, in any left or right media, they’re all so skewed right now and so opinionated. The Daily Show is comedy but it’s also... it’s not incorrect.
Desi: We have opposing views in our writer’s room, too. We have like other people who will take the other stance and challenge us and I think that’s really healthy.
"There’s no reason to perpetuate this idea of 'it’s either me or her.' There’s plenty of room."
Michelle: Yeah. And, we're really big fans of one another. One of my favorite things you did was the Halloween Apocalypse Show, where you were like eating a rat.
Desi: It’s my go-to comedy move. It’s kind of my schtick.
Michelle: It was very well done. You're an excellent actress and you can sell anything. It’s great.
Desi: I have great admiration for what you do on this show and outside of this show. You work a full day as a writer, you're on the show as a contributor, and then you go out and do comedy at night. And you work so f*cking hard and it totally pays off.
Michelle: I just think we’re lucky that the show has really bright and funny women that also have different points of view. It’s not that we just have women who all agree. They're coming in with their own point of view and their own perspective, so I think that every piece becomes layered.
Desi: People are also always thinking about like how to handle certain topics sensitively. I could come up with an idea for something and you could be like, "That’s great, but think about it from this perspective." Lauren Sarver, one of our writers, does that too. She is really good at being like, "OK, but we should be sensitive to this issue, so let’s focus on this part." It just feels like everyone has each other’s backs.
Michelle: Yeah we don’t want anyone to look bad. We want to make sure that if you’re presenting an argument, you’re covering all your bases so that it’s harder for someone to come back at you.
Desi: Yeah, we look out for each other.
Michelle: I think that there’s like this wrong idea of "women are competitive," when really there’s enough room. You and I have completely different strengths, and even if we were the same — even if we had the exact same strengths — we are two totally different people with two totally different opinions. It’s the same thing as being like, "Why don’t Trevor [Noah] and Jordan [Klepper] fight all the time?" Because they don’t. There’s just no reason for the comparison. There’s no reason to perpetuate this idea of "it’s either me or her." There’s plenty of room.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.