Laura Benanti on Embracing Comedy and Getting Inside Melania Trump’s Head

Laura Benanti has been nominated for five Tony Awards (with one win) and appeared in dozens of TV shows and movies since making her Broadway debut at 19 years old as Maria in The Sound of Music. But as the title of her new solo stage show attests, she still reminds herself on a daily

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Laura Benanti has been nominated for five Tony Awards (with one win) and appeared in dozens of TV shows and movies since making her Broadway debut at 19 years old as Maria in The Sound of Music. But as the title of her new solo stage show attests, she still reminds herself on a daily basis that “nobody cares” about her many accomplishments.

In this episode of The Last Laugh podcast, Benanti talks about mining her most embarrassing life stories for musical comedy in her new show, which returns to the New York stage and premieres on Audible next month. She also reveals how playing Melania Trump on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert finally made people take her “seriously” as a comedic actress and what she thinks is going through the former first lady’s head as her husband stands trial for paying hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels.

When I ask Benanti about the bold decision to call her new show Nobody Cares, she admits it stems from a fear of indifference from the industry that has provided her livelihood for more than 25 years. “I know other actors who sort of feel similarly where you’re like, what else do I need to do before I am anointed? When do I get my fucking crown?” she says. “And it always feels like it’s just one rung up the ladder, and then I’m going to be there. And you get there, and you’re like, ‘What? The ladder got taller?!’”

Benanti says that while she’s consumed with “self doubt” about not being successful enough,” I know there’s someone else who’s looking at me going, oh my God, that’s so amazing! Just like I look at Kathryn Hahn or whatever.” It’s that feeling that fuels the self-deprecating comedy in Nobody Cares.

“There are not a lot of people who at 44 have been married three times, which is its own cross to bear,” she says, stressing that those wounds were “self-inflicted.” Benanti says she finds the reaction she gets when she shares that fact, among other personal humiliations, on stage both “deeply upsetting” and at the same time “extremely funny.”

“So for me, a lot of the painful things that I’ve gone through in life are funny,” she adds. “And my hope is that it makes people laugh, and also, maybe at some level, enables them to look at a hard thing in their life through the lens of a sense of humor and go, like, OK, it is a little funny.”

If there’s one role that has helped Benanti achieve that next level of fame she desires at this stage of her career, it was probably the 12 appearances she made as Melania Trump alongside Stephen Colbert over the past eight years. “For lack of a better term, it made people take me seriously as a comedian,” she says, noting that the gig helped open the door to comedic roles on TV shows like Amy Schumer’s Life & Beth and movies like the Jennifer Lawrence vehicle No Hard Feelings.

It began with a bit in which Benanti’s Melania defended herself against accusations of plagiarism during the 2src16 Republican National Convention and culminated with an epic musical send-off from Times Square on the eve of President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Since then, she did come back once more to weigh in on the first of many Trump indictments, but has otherwise left her spot-on political impression behind—for now.

“We sort of stopped doing her as much as we had been on purpose,” Benanti explains. “We don’t want to give them quite as much air time. It never stopped being as funny. We were just like, he’s not going to be the president anymore, so, bye!”

Benanti manages to look so much like the former first lady when she’s in full hair and makeup, she says, that she has been heckled by Trump haters while filming on the streets of New York and has even seen her photograph used online for stories about the real Melania.

Now, as she watches Donald Trump’s hush money trial unfold in real time, Benanti says she can sense that Melania might be staying away from the courtroom because she has “empathy” for Stormy Daniels.

“Look, I think she has absolutely contributed to some horrendous things,” she says. “I don’t want to make her seem innocent, or like ‘poor Rapunzel,’ at all. She has perpetuated multiple lies and done horrible, horrible things. And also, I think she fucking hates that guy. And I think she only does what she has to do. And she’s not about to go sit in a courtroom and watch this go down. She’s like, ‘I will stand by my man as much as my contract obligates me to. And this was not in our contract.’”

With yet another Trump election on the horizon, Benanti says people have been asking her if she wants him to win so that her impression will stay relevant. “And I’m like, no, I will gladly give up this character,” she says bluntly. “My hope is that I’ll never have to play her again. But also, I really do love playing her.”

Listen to the episode now and follow The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, or wherever you get your podcasts to be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Wednesday.

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