Things might look bleak across the pond right now but Rob Delaney knows there's light at the end of the tunnel.
Rob Delaney isn’t wearing any trousers. Standing in a dressing room mid-outfit change, he’s talking in his pants about the need to be resilient, to fight – no matter what – against the new president of the United States. He is energised, in full stride, having just been granted permission to lay into Trump’s right-hand men and women. But otherwise his mood has been disarmingly sober, his musings reflective. We have been talking about what hope there might be for a United States being relentlessly pissed on by an incompetent golden narcissist. Delaney makes a point of saying he would like to formally take umbrage with one of the words I have chosen: optimism. “Optimism I don’t think is necessary,” he says. “I think it’s about doing what’s right. And one has to ask oneself in their private moments what they feel that is.” He is adamant: when it comes to the 45th President and his divisive ideology, there is simply no option but to fight. “It’s kamikaze,” he says. “I love that quote [from writer Chris Hedges]: ‘I don’t fight fascists ‘cause I’ll win; I fight them ‘cause they’re fascists.’”
Though I sense that something else is vying for his attention throughout our conversation (if so, he never reveals what), Delaney is passionate, articulate, and informed – an advert for the proposition that more, not fewer, comedians should meddle in politics. He never fully makes eye contact during our chat, talking principally to the wall opposite. Those that half-imagine that the big American might be a zany tower of non-sequiturs would be surprised at the sincerity with which he conducts himself. The dawn of Donald Trump has meant a makeover for the comedian’s Twitter profile. Once a stream of strange one-liners (“Wifi at my uncle’s funeral is a fucking joke”) that got him a writing gig on The IT Crowd and saw his audience rise to well over a million, lately it has served as a platform from which he communicates his ardent anti-Trump sentiments: an avalanche of Bernie Sanders retweets and Donald disses. He claims that the “sole purpose” of his account is to “lure teens and millennials into the #ripped arms of feminist socialism”. He isn’t going to give up on America. And neither should we.
THROUGH THE PERILOUS FIGHT
It would be an understatement to say that the United States is currently experiencing something of a crisis as it narrows its eyes and tries to work out what its president has just done or said. “Now is obviously an era of new, renewed civic engagement,” says the 40-year-old, who nails his colours to the mast early in the day, calling Trump “a fucking cunt” during the photoshoot and a “tumour” later on, for good measure. “We have a president who’s a bigot and a misogynist and a tax dodger” – no point doing things by halves – “…likes to take money from poor people and give it to rich people…so that’s a national emergency.”
In the aftermath of Trump’s election there was one silver lining: donations began to flood in to organisations like Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union; the Council on American-Islamic Relations enjoyed a surge in volunteer applications; and, helpfully, increased funding looks set to ensure that the belly of investigative journalism is more well-fed than ever. In order to learn how to fight “systemic, institutionalised evil”, Delaney joined the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. This pattern of behaviour – scrabbling to throw one’s change and one’s hopes into the hats of underfunded organisations – is normal during tenures like Trump’s. And yet, it is difficult to escape the feeling that this time it’s different, that there has in fact never been anything quite like the howling fart of Trump’s presidency. Perhaps, I suggest to Delaney, we can hope that the 45th President will unify the United States, pooling the country’s resources in a glorious act of defiance, fuelled by the need to oust a toxic leader? “Well, if he doesn’t,” he says, “the United States will fail.”
THE HOME OF THE BRAVE
What does the United States mean to him, someone who left America for England in 2014 and who now corrects his pronunciation of ‘aluminium’ mid-sentence so that he doesn’t say ‘aloominum’? Why is it important to him that it does not fail? He doesn’t feel able to provide a “syrupy answer” but the country is something Delaney will fight for until his death. “As a stand-up I tour all over the United States, including all or most of the states that Trump won in the last election. And I enjoy playing there. I fucking love playing Alabama. I enjoy Texas and Texans, you know? Those are good places filled with good people. You go to the American South and there’s gonna be things to like about it. Louisiana is bizarrrrrre…” (Delaney frequently unfurls a word like he is holding a carpet and rolling it down a flight of stairs.) “Louisiana is so weird and so fun and so bubbling with uniquely American history – you go to Louisiana, you’re gonna have fun and you’re gonna meet cool people.”
America is “insane”, Delaney says, and this time he means it as a compliment. “I lived in California for 13 years before I moved here and the number of national parks that just make your head spin with their natural beauty is so wonderful.” He sounds transported. In the shadow of the States, London must seem like a wet cardboard box. I ask what his ideal living situation would look like. “I love the crush of people in a big city and I think it’s good for tolerance,” he says. “But then I also work very hard right now so that I can save money so that I can do the career that I wanna do but totally live in the sticks and have my neighbour be a badger. Right now my ideal living situation is living in a country that has a functioning healthcare system, like the NHS.”
The reason Delaney couldn’t move back to Trump’s United States, even if he wanted to, is that if one of his family (his wife or three sons) were to have a serious medical issue, it’s not impossible that it could cost, “I’m not exaggerating,” he says, “over a million dollars”. The National Health Service is one of the many causes – another is feminism – for which he wears an invisible badge pinned to his chest at all times. On these scores his principles never feel tokenistic. They come across as the result of an application of reading and thought.
Could the US, almost alone in developed countries in not guaranteeing universal healthcare, ever develop an NHS-style method of caring for its population? Through the Affordable Care Act, Barack Obama – now a hazy memory, a holiday fling, a star all but invisible in the distance – helped make health insurance more affordable for millions of citizens. Delaney describes Obama’s most notorious legacy as “the greatest piece of American legislation in the last 75 years”. He believes that there is no reason the United States couldn’t form an NHS of its own. “Absolutely. Because it makes economic sense. Americans will spend less on healthcare if they do it through an NHS because with multiple, private, competing companies it drives the price of everything up. The NHS can tell [pharmaceutical company] Novartis, ‘We’re gonna pay X for this drug. If you don’t like it, get fucked.’ Whereas in the US, we’re like, ‘Why don’t we charge every grandmother $250 every month for the medication that, if she doesn’t have every month, she’ll die.’ So yeah, could it happen? Absolutely.” At this point he seems genuinely shaken. “Will I go to my grave working to make it happen? Fuck yes. Because I love America. And I love Americans.”
THEN CONQUER WE MUST
Another of the inevitable consequences of the 2016 election has been a liberal backlash against America’s ‘red states’, the rust-belt areas where Trump was most popular. Because he has actually been to these areas, Delaney’s message to people who frame their fellow countrymen in such hostile terms is typically concise: “Fuck you. That’s insane.” He knows that true Trump evangelists were a tiny minority and that most were simply trying to look after their families at the ballot box: “I am sympathetic,” he says. “I don’t laugh out of the room somebody who says, ‘Look, I don’t have a job because my job got shipped out of the country and the premiums of my health insurance are raising because of Obamacare.’ They’re good people in those places who love their kids; who love each other; who wanna be able to go to the doctor and afford it.”
“I love America because I love Americans because they’re human beings,” Delaney says. “Are they better than other people? No. Are they wonderful? Yes.” Another glimmer of hope on the horizon – one virtually all of us yearn for as we weep ourselves to sleep – is that Trump might face impeachment and self-combust long before his four years in office have elapsed. “He’s certainly breaking enough laws and endangering enough security,” Delaney says.
And, in the meantime, there is much comfort to take in the solidarity of those who are vocally opposed to this presidency. “The Women’s March was wonderful,” Delaney says. “Here in London, which isn’t in the United States, in response to Trump they had a Women’s March. My son came home from the Women’s March – my male son” – he laughs his endearing laugh – “and he said, ‘Mummy, when can we go to another Women’s March?’ And that’s amazing. That’s amazing.” Whisper it: it also sounds like it might – just might – be cause for optimism.
Series 3 of Catastrophe is on Channel 4, Tuesdays at 10pm