‘Modern Family’s’ Danny Zuker on fighting The Donald in the Twitterverse
By Christina Campodonico
In the real world, Emmy-winning executive producer Danny Zuker is probably best known for his work on the ABC comedy “Modern Family.” But online, he’s also known as the guy who went toe-to-toe with Donald J. Trump in an epic Twitter battle, back in 2013.
During that comparatively less contentious time, Zuker decided to call out Trump, then host of NBC’s “All-Star Celebrity Apprentice,” on one of his boldfaced brags. (Trump had tweeted that his show had claimed the top ratings spot in the 10 p.m. hour; Zuker promptly tweeted back that the show had actually placed fourth.)
“And we were off to the races for months,” says Zuker, until the president to-be blocked him on the social media platform.
“I knew that meant I won,” says Zuker, who (spoiler alert) teased Trump about his ties made in China, his hair and ill-use of punctuation. “I kind of feel like it’s a badge of honor.”
After the 2016 presidential election and a public reading of his exchange with Trump to benefit Hurricane Maria relief, Zuker decided to turn his tweets into a book with writer, editor and political satirist Paul Slanksy. The two discussed their collaboration, titled “He Started It: My Twitter War with Trump,” at West L.A.’s The Riveter co-working space on Tuesday, as part of a Rock the Vote campaign. But before that, we caught up with Zuker to talk about his tweets and what he learned from his Twitter war with a future president.
What did you learn about Trump’s personality from your exchange?
There’s a couple things I gleaned — one is I do really think he’s a profoundly stupid man. He’s aggressively ill-informed. He’s the least intellectually curious person we’ve had in the public eye in this kind of position.
Also, he’s easily manipulated. After he blocked me, I wrote to him, “I miss us,” on April Fool’s Day. But he still checked in and writes back, “I miss you, too,” with, like, exclamation points! And it was almost sad. And so, I know about him, like what Putin knows about him — that all you have to do is tell him you like him, and you can get pretty much anything you want out of him. Like, I joke in the book that I could be Secretary of State if I did a 180 publicly.
Which tweets really got under Trump’s skin?
There were a couple things — anytime I would challenge his ratings or talk about his inheritance, that he is a trust fund person.
Correcting his grammar was always great fun. He was really on a China run about how China’s screwing us.
In the middle of this, [Jimmy Kimmel] sends me an email. The email was, “Do with these what you will.” And then it was just a beautiful list of 20 pictures that he had taken with his then fiancé, Molly, at the Trump SoHo [of Trump products made in China.] That was an endless source of ammunition.
I still have a folder on my computer, no joke, of about 100 photos.
Trump has mocked people who’ve challenged him. Did you ever get your feelings hurt?
At no point did I ever get my feelings hurt. … Honestly, could a dog hurt my feelings? I don’t think so.
I talk about this also in the book, but I was very much lauded for how I took him down, and I always felt very guilty about that, because I honestly don’t have a single friend, comedian or otherwise, who couldn’t have destroyed him.
I describe it like dunking on a toddler, but that’s really what it felt like. I mean, if you were gonna tell me, “Oh God,
I’m gonna have to get into a Twitter war with Patton Oswalt,” I’m gonna be scared as shit, because he’s f**king smart. And good, you know? … But I was like in a Twitter war with a third grader. So, yeah, at no point did he hurt my feelings.
Michele Obama says “when they go low, we go high.” But did you feel like you had to play dirty with Trump?
I adore Michelle Obama, and I think she’s terrific, but I think that “they go low, we go high strategy,” it automatically ties the good guy’s hands. We don’t get any points from the far right for being civil. Saying, “Please and thank you,” isn’t gonna move the needle anywhere.
I’m glad that there are people like Michelle Obama, and I’m glad that there are other people in the party who are peacemakers, but I’m not built that way. I don’t think that’s what’s gonna get like-minded people — which is to say most of America — to the polls. Things that get us to the polls are outrage and anger.
Is getting people to vote the reason why you decided to publish this book?
I kind of want this book to be a little bit like a gift. It’s a short book, 95 pages — even a diehard Trump supporter could read it. But if you took this book and just read through, “Really, this is who you support? This is the guy you’re willing to have this religious fervor over? Can’t you do better?” You can.
I think all of us sort of have a moral responsibility not only to vote, but to get as many people as we are physically able to vote.
Would you still be in a Twitter war with Trump if he hadn’t blocked you?
I would knock him down as much as I could.
Who’s done the best job tweeting at Trump since you’ve been blocked?
Weirdly, the person I think who’s done one of the best jobs against him is Stormy Daniels. Her tweets are fantastic, and they cut right to the heart of the things that he’s most sensitive about, which is masculinity, his wealth, and his appearance. He’s just a ball of insecurity.
Proceeds from “He Started It!: My Twitter War with Trump” benefit the World Wildlife Fund, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) and Planned Parenthood. Visit hestartedit.com.