Sara Benincasa was supposed to be at the Democratic National Convention. She’d bought a cross-country plane ticket—from her home in Los Angeles to Philadelphia—and everything. But then she got sick. So there she was, stuck in bed, watching the political speeches on her screen.
Soon, the junior senator from Virginia took the floor. Benincasa didn’t know much about Hillary Clinton’s new running mate Tim Kaine, but he struck her as a sweet, corny dad—the kind who always offers waffles and obsesses over NPR Tiny Desk concerts. A comedian, she couldn’t resist tweeting a string of Tim Kaine dad jokes. “Tim Kaine will not swear in front of his kids unless the lawnmower breaks AGAIN and he’s mad at it but not you,” one read. “Tim Kaine will pick you up any time of day or night if you’re in trouble, no questions asked, you just have to promise to call him first,” said another. She kept tweeting what she dubbed “Tim Kaine TrueFacts” that night and the next day.
Eventually, she realized she had a book.
“It was fun to write those jokes, and then after Hillary [Clinton] spoke, I was just really amped up, because that’s the point of a political pep rally,” Benincasa said. “So I decided to write a little book overnight that was based on my tweets about Tim Kaine.”
Tim Kaine Is Your Nice Dad is now an Amazon bestseller. It’s also one of the growing number of self-published humor books concerning the 2016 presidential election.
The race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton has produced a lot of sobering writing, but it’s also inspired a ton of comedy. A cursory search on Amazon Books reveals titles like Kim Kardashian Saves the World (After President Trump Nearly Ends It), The Day of the Donald: Trump Trumps America, and Recipes for Disaster: How to Keep Eating During the Trump Presidency. Although some of those writers published their election satire with a traditional publishing house, self-publishing has become the perfect avenue for others who want their Trump (or Kaine) hot takes out as soon as possible.
“I was always going to self-publish,” said Greg Sisco, the author of Donald Trump and the Hairpiece of Evil. “It’s so time-sensitive to write a book like this. Once November rolls around, or when January rolls around and the new president takes office, the whole book is kind of done with. I don’t think that it’s going to retain much value once this election is over. So I didn’t think there was time to pursue other publishers. I just wanted to get it out there and see what I could do with it myself.”
Trump is, unsurprisingly, the target of most of these parodies. In Sisco’s novel, he’s a formerly well-adjusted philanthropist compromised by the titular “hairpiece of evil.” But in Jason Pinter’s Donald Trump, PI: The Case of the Missing Wall, he’s the world’s worst gumshoe.
“I think Donald Trump is one of the most ignorant people alive, so why not write a story where he is the most ignorant detective alive?” Pinter said. “That was the genesis of Donald Trump, PI. Just the idea of Donald Trump investigating anything made me laugh, so the idea was that it would hopefully make other people laugh, too.”
These authors all have their reasons for penning election humor, but talk to any of them and you’ll hear some variations on a theme. The presidential race is inescapable, it was the right moment to write this, I just thought it was funny. These books also seem to be (at least in part) a coping mechanism for dealing with horror or disgust at the current state of affairs.
“I just wanted to satirize a culture which had turned rulership into reality TV,” Sisco explained. “I thought I had something to say about our current political climate and entertainment culture and how they’re increasingly one and the same as the years go on.”
Benincasa admits she was too “Trump fatigued” to even consider writing a book about him, and actually turned to Kaine as a counterbalance.
“I wanted to, in as goofy a manner as possible, provide a contrast to the hateful white supremacist rage and rhetoric in and around the Donald Trump campaign,” Benincasa said. “It was a break for me. When you do political satire, sometimes you’re angry, and humor should come from anger sometimes. In this case, it came from a lot of joy. A lot of stuff I said and claimed in Tim Kaine Is Your Nice Dad is just shit my dad would do. So it’s actually a very loving book for that reason.”
Her book is loving for another reason: half the proceeds support Great Expectations, a charity which helps Virginia kids aging out of foster care go to college. Benincasa wanted to donate some of her earnings to a charity in Kaine’s state and once she found out that his wife, Anne Bright Holton, had run Great Expectations for several years, she was sold. As a former educator herself, Benincasa says she found a lot to admire in Holton, to whom the book is dedicated.
Pinter is also donating a portion of his sales to Reading Is Fundamental, a nonprofit aimed at “getting good books in the hands of children.” He’s organized fundraising campaigns for the group in the past, and was eager to get them some additional money through irony.
“I think Trump has basically admitted he doesn’t read books, he doesn’t read anything that doesn’t have his face on it,” Pinter said. “So [why not] use Trump to actually promote reading to some other people?”
Neither the authors nor those two charities are likely to get rich off these self-published parodies. Even though she has a bestseller, Benincasa says she’s pocketed less than $2,000 since the book was published on July 28th. With the cheap pricing on ebooks and the 30-65% cut Amazon retains on royalties, this niche market remains understandably low-yield.
“It’s my fifth book, it’s my first Amazon bestseller, and of course that’s the one that I priced super low,” Benincasa joked.
But none of the authors got into this for the money. They all started with a wacky idea born out of an election unlike any other, and wanted to see where it took them.
Now, they’re simply hoping to make a few people laugh, think, or maybe just breathe.
“At this point, the campaigns have been going on for well over a year. And I think one thing that helps people get through the never-ending slog is to laugh at it a little bit,” Pinter said. “I was a big fan of The Daily Show for a long time and my favorite episodes were always the ones leading up to an election. I think there’s always room for political satire because the whole political process is sort of ludicrous. The more levity people can bring to it, the better. Because there are some potentially scary outcomes if the wrong person gets elected.”