Northwestern alum talks his new satirical novel on Trump and Putin


Source: Robert Trebor

Northwestern alumnus Robert Trebor (Communication ’75) discussed his new satirical novel, “The Haircut Who Would Be King.” Trebor will host a book signing on Oct. 25 at Norris Bookstore.

Jennifer Zhan, Reporter

After being “appalled” by the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, actor and Northwestern alumnus Robert Trebor (Communication ’75) started searching for a way to respond. The solution came in the form of his new book “The Haircut Who Would Be King,” a satirical novel that follows “Donald Rump” and “Vladimir Poutine” from early childhood to their respective presidencies. Trebor will host a book signing from 11:30 to 1:45 p.m. on Oct. 25 in front of the Norris Bookstore, where a limited number of copies will be available for purchase. Ahead of the event, The Daily chatted with Trebor about writing his novel and how his acting career influenced his writing process.

The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The Daily: You’re well-known for your portrayals of serial killer David Berkowitz in “Out of the Darkness,” and fictional salesman Salmoneus in “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and “Xena: Warrior Princess.” How did those roles inform the way you wrote “The Haircut Who Would Be King”?

Trebor: An actor is kind of the investigative journalist of the inner life, of the soul. It sounds kind of pompous, but we actually do go into what makes a person tick. Berkowitz wanted fame. He apparently joined a volunteer fire brigade before he started killing people. He raced up thirty flights of stairs and there was no fire. That was a very meaningful fact: he didn’t feel quite good enough, but he wanted to be a hero. (Salmoneus) just kind of schmoozed people over and was always trying to scheme and get somebody to do something by showing them the glitter without talking about the substance of the rather shoddy product (he) was selling. And I think there’s some application to the guy in the White House as far as that’s concerned. I believe in many ways, Trump is the intersection of psychopath and salesman. And by having portrayed that as an actor apparently fairly successfully, I thought about that while I was writing.

The Daily: While there’s a degree of exaggeration and imagination, the book alludes to several real people and events. How did you decide when to draw from reality and when to incorporate imagination?

Trebor: An actor finds certain points that start to buzz and resonate and lead you in other imaginative directions, based on a point of truth. Trump’s parents being sued by the state and his friendship with Roy Cohn — that was all true. The way I have him develop his reality show is not what happened, but that was a point of tremendous freedom for him. Donald Trump played a character, much as he’s playing the part of president now. I don’t think he’s a very good actor, but he kind of puts on the clothing, says the lines and likes that kind of power. So there were little touchstones that I thought were useful, and I kind of put them through a funhouse mirror.

The Daily: What would you like readers to take away from this book?

Trebor: I think my book satirically skewers some points about the way we handle ourselves as the body politic, and certainly Trump and Putin. But my primary purpose actually is not anti-Trump — it’s pro-laughter. In these times, almost everything that comes out of the guy’s mouth, unless you’re a member of the Trump cult, makes people sick. The only way to deal with certain kinds of political or social catastrophe is to ridicule. Also, the book does end in a kind of dramatic way, but I’ve imagined something very dire. If you write it out, hopefully, it will never happen.

The Daily: How did your time at Northwestern University shape you as a creative?

Trebor: The training (at NU) was something that changed “Look at me, look at me” to “I want to share something with you. I have something I think might do you some good.” With this book, if people can say, “Hey, man, you really gave me a laugh when I needed it,” that’s something. That’s a gift that I can use hopefully to reach people, touch people, maybe move people on the fence to vote this guy out. The money and the stuff? That’s the gravy. If I can move people through my work, through my creativity, through my talent — that’s the meat and potatoes.

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