On the surface, it may seem as though Donald Trump and Mayor McCheese have nothing in common. One is a former reality star with a history of alleged sexual assault who was elected president of the United States. The other is the hamburger-headed fictional leader of McDonaldland, the fantasy universe where all those trippy McDonald’s commercials took place back in the 1970s and ’80s.
But look closer and the two orange-hued figures bear a striking resemblance. Both wear ill-fitting suits, advocate for the consumption of fast food (Trump by way of tweeting photos of himself gorging on McDonald’s French fries or a bucket of KFC fried chicken; Mayor McCheese by way of his entire existence) and each could aptly be described as a meathead. The similarities don’t end there — even their leadership styles are worthy of comparison.
“You’ve got two pop-culture icons that are totally capitalizing on that for success. They pretend to represent politics, but in the end it’s totally corporate intention behind it,” says Ian Abramson, a stand-up comedian who has given this quite a bit of thought. “There’s no way to trust what’s real and what’s not, there’s a legacy of real lawsuits for both of them, and the fictional character has literally as much political experience as the real human Donald Trump.”
Abramson, an amateur scholar of all things McDonalds, is nearly as horrified by Trump’s impending presidency as he is fascinated by the ubiquitous fast-food chain and its bizarre marketing campaigns. Which is why, three days before the inauguration in D.C., he is hosting a parallel event in L.A. that he hopes will be just as sensational and far more delicious: the Inauguration of Mayor McCheese.
Like Trump, Abramson too is struggling to secure a roster of A-list entertainment to his swearing in — not least of all because it will be held at the Lyric-Hyperion, a tiny black-box theater in Silver Lake that can accommodate only several dozen attendees. But he has managed to corral a who’s who of the L.A. comedy scene to participate.
Ahamed Weinberg, a stand-up with producing credits on Comedy Bang! Bang! and The Birthday Boys, has agreed to play the sitting president (Abramson has granted him full improvisational freedom with the role) and Martha Kelly, who co-stars with Zach Galifianakis on his FX show Baskets, will embrace the role of first lady, which she is also writing herself. Abramson sees the whole thing as one indulgently chaotic, mostly unscripted piece of performance art, but in a small way, it’s also an absurdist protest against the incoming administration.
“With all of the frustration of the election, a lot of real fear, a lot of asking, ‘What is our role and our responsibility?’ this is kind of what I know how to do,” Abramson says. “This is what I’ve always done.”
For example, when he landed an agent and decided to leave Chicago more than two years ago, he staged a mock wedding in which he publicly married his career. He hired an officiant, wrote some vows and had his closest friends throw French fries instead of rice (he figured it was a more American update to the age-old wedding tradition). The permanent honeymoon, of course, was right here in Los Angeles.
Six months later, he held a more somber ceremony: a funeral for a legendary prop comic he’d invented, complete with fictional sponsorship from Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank. This time, the stakes feel higher, even if the characters performing onstage are even more cartoonish.
Abramson’s decade-plus love affair with McDonaldsland began, like most obsessions, on the internet. Wikipedia was relatively new at the time, and Abramson had been searching to find a topic that didn’t yet have an entry on the site. That’s when he came across the page detailing the backstory of Mayor McCheese. “I was just kind of fascinated by how much was there but also how inconsistent the narrative was,” he recalls.
Today, his knowledge of McDonaldsland is encyclopedic. He admits to having ruined a first date on more than one occasion by rambling on about characters like Ronald McDonald (did you know he was haphazardly compiled out of hamburger containers and other trash when he debuted in commercials from the 1950s?) and Grimace (Fun fact: His uncle visits from Ireland once a year to deliver Shamrock Shakes, which are made when shake-filled volcanoes erupt).
“That we all know who the Hamburglar is, and he was created just to sell us hamburgers, that’s insane. He’s in our heads,” Abramson says. “It’s fucked up how much these characters manipulated us.”
Now, it seems, Abramson is the one doing the manipulating. Come Tuesday night, he will act as the inauguration announcer — and like the person whom Trump hired, firing the veteran who had previously done it for 60 years, this will be Abramson’s first time assuming that role.
As for Mayor McCheese, Abramson tells me the role will involve lots of fresh-baked bread, perhaps some marinara sauce and a little sprinkle of puppetry. “I want something big and odd that is just the joy of watching how the chaos comes together,” he says. “Because you only do it once. We’re not doing this again. You don’t have a second inauguration unless he gets re-elected.”
He pauses to reconsider the logistics. Or, he adds, impeached.
Lyric-Hyperion Theatre & Cafe, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Tue., Jan. 17, 8 p.m.; $5. eventbrite.com/e/the-inauguration-of-mayor-mccheese-tickets-30932939254.