He’s been shouted at on the street by Rep Lauren Boebert in her stronghold of Rifle, Colorado. He’s got the personal email of a high-level staffer for the Texas governor because a woman answering the office phones mistook him for an employee. His websites are being shared across the political aisle.
All of this from a 51-year-old comedian who’d barely even used his Twitter account until 2019.
That’s when Toby Morton, who’s written for shows like South Park and MadTV, began turning his satirical eye to the political turmoil spiralling in the US.
“There was so much going on with Trump and everything,” Mr Morton, who splits his time between Los Angeles, California, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, tells The Independent. “I just kind of wanted to get involved, just mess around. At the time, I had, you know, 30 followers [on Twitter], but I just wanted to have some fun.”
He adds: “Around that time, I saw that there was a politician, some guy in … some small town, where he had purchased a domain of his opponent and had that domain redirected to his own – and I thought that was super clever.
“And at the same time, I thought, man, he could’ve had a lot more fun with that. But he’s in politics, so he probably couldn’t … I decided, oh, what kind of idiot would not grab their domain?”
More than a few politicians, he quickly found out.
The first in his sights was California Republican and former House representative Devin Nunes, who was already being mercilessly parodied on Twitter by a now-infamous account called “Devin Nunes’ Cow” – an account he has (so far) unsuccessfully sued and inadvertently made even more popular. @DevinCow had about 1,200 followers at the time the suit was filed in 2019; the account now has more than 760,000.
The congressman was about to have an even bigger headache when Mr Morton realised the site “DevinNunes2020.com” was available.
“That was the very first one I got, and I took that domain and I just started building a website – just some animation on there and blog stories and just fake stories, kind of The Onion-type stories, and just ran with it from there. And then @DevinCow tweeted that out, and then people loved it – and more started following me and more started following me, and then I started getting these requests [like] ‘Oh, you should do this person.’
“So I just started grabbing domains left and right and just started building websites.”
Since then, other politicians Mr Morton’s created parody sites for include Republicans Gov. Abbott; Elise Stefanik; Lauren Boebert; Kevin McCarthy; Jim Jordan; Matt Gaetz; and Marco Rubio.
Mr Morton’s content is irreverent and shrewd: In the introductory bio for the Colorado congresswoman on The LaurenBoebert.com –- accompanied by her makeup-free mugshot — she’s described as “Professional failure, Illegal stalker of Nancy Pelosi, Wife of guy who exposed himself to a minor, QAnon believer, Owner of restaurant that gives you diarrhea because we don’t believe in health codes, and Daughter of woman who was definitely at the capitol riots but in no way was she a part of the actual riot because that would be wrong and she’s completely sane so stop mentioning it.”
The sites were a marked departure for the comedian, given that he’d previously “done everything possible to stay away from politics. “I was always in fear of trying to be politically humourous, because I still don’t know much about politics – even though I’m kind of knee-deep in it now,” Mr Morton tells The Independent.
“I think some things are funny, but I can’t sit down with someone and, you know, debate policy, from one policy to another, but I can tell you what I think is funny about them.”
As he did a deep dive into each of the politicians he created sites for, however – gleefully picking out the quotes and actions of each one that he found most outrageous – the rhetoric and events around the country were escalating. The comedic slant on real life certainly still remained, but it was the type that might elicit a rueful smirk with the shake of a head – not a knee-slapping belly laugh.
“The Republican party is now just a farce,” Mr Morton says. “It’s not what it used to be, and even though I said I’d never been involved in politics – never wanted to be – I was around it enough growing up to where I knew what Republicans were. But that’s now who the are [now] … I don’t even know how to explain what they are anmore.
“It’s a dark comedy, and it’s just ridiculous. It’s almost like I’m not really writing as much as I used to, because it’s basically just me pointing [things] out … I mean, I can try and be funny, but it’s hard to top what they’re actualy doing.”
With that comes a growing sense of duty and responsibility on his part, Mr Morton says. When an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, on 24 May, the comedian already had an existing domain for Gov. Abbott — but the atrocity spurred him on to expand the site.
“Something like Uvalde happens, and then I actually get pretty angry,” he says. “I think the Gregg Abbott one coming out and even the Elise Stefanik one, they’re not as funny as what I’ve been doing before. And I actually noticed this the other day” while building up GovernorGregAbbott.com.
As he often does, he wrote a script, left it for a few days and then came back to reassess his work with fresh eyes.
This time, he thought: “Well, s**t, this isn’t even funny – but I’m proud of it,” he says.
“So I’m realising that I’m actually, without thinking too much about it, I’m like, ‘Wow, I really am trying to put focus on this guy and what he’s doing and how wrong it is, and I’m hoping I can still be funny,” Mr Morton tells The Independent.
“But Jesus Christ, there’s really not much to be funny about.”
He cites himself as a prime example of how comedy and online content can play a crucial role in political discourse today, particularly when it comes to grabbing apolitical or young people of voting age.
“I wanted nothing to do with politics before, and because there’s so much humour and so muc ridiculousness in it, I’m now drawn in,” he says. “I want to know more about who’s running aginst who, because I couldn’t care less about it before – but now, even people I’m not working on [for] the websites, I’m paying more attention to other people in the spectrum that I’m not even touching but I want to know what’s going on. It’s insane.”
He’s heard firsthand stories of how people are, in fact, becoming similarly interested after reading his sites.
“It’s to the point where people are taking my websites and putting up the domains in restaurants and other places – like, in Ohio, GymJordan2022.com, there are people in Ohio that are taking my webswites and putting them in places like restaurants just kind of incognito. People are printing them out.
“People are actually paying enough attention to these where — I’m not going to say I’m making a difference — but I do know for a fact that there are people who didn’t pay attention before who are now saying, literally, like, ‘Dude, this is great. I’m actually gonna go out and vote against this person.’”
His Republican targets, clearly, aren’t thrilled; Mr Morton had a particular feud with outspoken Colorado Republican Ms Boebert, whose staffer sent him a cease and desist letter he subsequently posted online. Mr Morton and a friend had a personal run-in with her in her constituency of Rifle when they were filming content with the permission of a business across the street from Shooters, her gun-themed restaurant, he says.
“This lady starts yelling from across the street, and she is just like on fire,” Mr Morton tells The Independent. “And we’re looking around, like, is she yelling at us? And sure enough, she is just going off, like, ‘What are you doing? Who are you?’ … my friend goes, ‘That’s Lauren Boebert.’
“I was like, there’s no way that’s Lauren Boebert – and it was. I was like, ‘OK, let’s just go. Let’s just back up and go, we don’t need to interact.’
“I went back to the hotel; he went to the parking lot to put everything in his car – and that’s when she followed him to the parking lot and she started filming him. And that’s when he picked up his phone and started filming.
“The crazy thing is, later her phone footage was uploaded to this burner account … and they were totally denying it was Lauren Boebert even though it was footage from her phone like two hours earlier.
“And I was like, ‘This can’t be happening. She is not this dumb.’”
Earlier this month, Mr Morton tweeted an email threatening legal action sent by a representative of New York Congresswoman Stefanik.
“I’m giving you this weekend to take the website down or face further action,” the email reads. “We have drawn up a petition to shut down your website.”
The comedian has been in touch with Gov. Abbott’s people, in addition to having a handy email a staffer gave him when he said ran GovernorGregAbbott.com and needed to get a list of questions to the Republican leader. Funnily enough, at least two of the governor’s employees have subscribed to the parody site, according to Mr Morton – and three from Marco Rubio’s camp.
Mr Morton has definitely received angry messages from conservative voters who were unhappy with his satire, though he’s not overly concerned about threats to his safety. Though, he does acknowedge that the volatile political climate has made comedy much more risky.
“I never would’ve thought, in a million years … and it’s so cliche to say, but I really would not have thought this: That it’s dangerous to be funny,” he tells The Independent. “Because people don’t have a sense of humour, and those people are dangerous.”
And he hopes his efforts grab the attention of the masses and urge people to push for change that will make the country safer for everyone, particularly young people. Notably, Mr Morton’s son just celebrated his first birthday.
“Even before my son was born, I still would’ve had the kind of gut reaction, like, ‘Oh man, something has to be done,’” about tragedies such as Uvalde, he says. “Anybody who’s human has to have that gut reaction … but having a one-year-old, I immediately thought, ‘Well, I guess it’s homeschooling for this one.’”
Even if just in a small way, he hopes his humour and observations on the parody sites ”continue to be entertaining for people.
“If it brings a few people to the polls, then fantastic,” Mr Morton says. “I would love it if more people would come out because of them.”
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