It’s often said that comedy is rooted in truth, and for cabaret performer Ryan Raftery, his satire is one where truth is turned on its heels — literally. The satirist’s newest one-man show turns Ivanka Trump’s life into a spectacular musical parody.
Over the last decade, Raftery’s established himself as New York’s cabaret king of bio-musical parodies, with his past satires taking aim at powerful New Yorkers like Anna Wintour, Andy Cohen, Martha Stewart, and Calvin Klein.
Raftery’s newest show, Ivanka 2020, debuted February 23 at the Public Theater’s cabaret venue Joe’s Pub in New York and plays in limited run until March 13 before going on the road.
“There’s a lot of truth in the show,” Raftery tells me. “The skeleton is always real but what I flesh it out with is comedic conjecture.”
Raftery’s heightened depiction of Ivanka Trump is like something out of an acid trip. Ivanka is personified as having two identities: one as a vapid but innocent shopaholic, the other being a Russian alter-ego who’s possessed her mind via a Rasputin-cursed whistle that controls her destiny.
“I wanted this show to open at the start of primary season ‘cause I want people to have a respite and laugh at what’s going on in our country.”
The show starts with a narrator telling the audience to “chill the fuck out and enjoy the show” because apparently, people are a bit uptight about the implications of this performance.
“This is the first time I’ve ever done a show where there are people backing away from it,” Raftery told me. “I’m a comedian — I’m not a political comedian. At all.”
But in today’s polarized climate, artists like Raftery are now hyper-aware of their art being taken too literally.
“I am very careful to not force my opinions on other people. I’m not interested in that at all. I’m not supporting or condemning any political ideology whatsoever.”
For Raftery, presenting Ivanka in an exaggerated send-up cuts through much of the noise and can appeal to anyone regardless of their views. “It’s such an obvious joke,” he says. One Trump supporter even attended his show and told him he loved it in a private Instagram message.
Ivanka 2020 is a mesmerizing spectacle of theater from start to finish that blends politics, music, and drag in a solo performance that’s both bonkers and vulnerable in channelling the chaos of our time. For the show’s roughly 75-minute runtime, Raftery makes the stage his playground, changing wardrobes and hairstyles numerous times and belting out parodies of popular songs from Evita, The Little Mermaid, Shania Twain, and many others.
One song parody tells the story of Ivanka’s conversion to Judaism to the tune of Beyonce’s “Partition.” His version changes the lyrics to, “Rabbi speed up this conversion fast/ I’ve memorized the holidays from first to last/ Sukkot in October, Shavuot in May/ and Hanukkah when we light lights for eight days.”
The second half of the show features a surprise cameo from Jared Kushner — portrayed by a life-size cardboard cut-out. Raftery — as Ivanka — performs a sequence of exotic dance moves for cardboard Jared, and wow, who knew how far an inanimate serenade could escalate.
Raftery’s extensive detail of Ivanka comes through from months of research. “I owe it to these people regardless of what I feel about them personally. I cannot go on stage and not know what Ivanka’s Hebrew name is.” (It’s Yael.)
So much of art today is viewed as an expression of personal identity, but Raftery says his creativity is all about truth through entertainment first and foremost.
“I really don’t think about what I’m writing, but obviously my life and experience bleeds into my work.” The Brooklyn native has made all of his shows about New York icons, with two of them being gay Jewish men, like himself. (Fun fact: Raferty attended the same high school as Ruth Bader Ginsburg.)
“One of the best things about this country is that we’re allowed to have different points of view,” he stresses. The point of view you get from Raftery’s new show is one unlike any other.
If the state of politics today has given you a need for levity, Ivanka 2020 may be the show for you. Catch it at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater now until March 13, in San Francisco May 1-2, and San Diego on May 4.
Images by Brendan Burke