BOTTOM LINE: A politically provocative stand-up comedy show.
As anyone who has ever watched The Daily Show with John Stewart knows, comedy can often do more to educate and sway public opinion than a debate in Congress. This is exactly the point of Laughing Liberally, a new stand-up show produced by “Living Liberally,” an organization “dedicated to creating social communities around progressive politics.”
The show is in a basement comedy club in midtown and its atmosphere is laid-back and inclusive. The performers talk to the audience like old friends, beginning a conversation with “you know when you—” or “don’t you hate it when...?” They poke gentle fun at individuals’ laughs or “awww"s. Topics range from race to religion, from education to marriage equality. And for the New Yorkers in the audience, there’s plenty of fun made of gentrification and the MTA.
This show is not, however, for your grandmother. Or that cousin visiting next week who insists dinosaur bones were put on Earth by Satan to make good Christians doubt. The content is sometimes racy or crude, and the message is pretty much for liberals by liberals. The show doesn’t aim to politically convert. Rather, it seeks to share and celebrate those opinions we liberal city-folk already hold.
Short video projections serve as transitions between the six live performers. An ad for libertarian beaches (as opposed to tax-taking public beaches) is particularly funny, but the NPR public service announcement is just sad. Too soon, perhaps?
Baratunde Thurston opens. He has to warm up the crowd and does a fine job with commentary about stereotypes, Texas, and Facebook. Katie Halper, a contributor to the Huffington Post and The Nation, follows. She is the only woman in the set. (We need more women in comedy. Let’s get some feminism, ladies!). Halper, Jewish, earns her biggest laugh when she says that this show is very special because “every time a Muslim and a Jew share the stage, a terrorist loses his wings.” Dean Obeidallah, a Comedy Central contributor, closes the first half of the show on a strong note. He explains, among other things, what makes a true New Yorker and how to make it through an airport quickly (“dress white, make your flight; dress brown, never leave town.”)
After intermission, Jamie Jackson takes the stage in drag as Lady Marley Barnslow Farnsworth, an elderly British woman who is accidentally involved with the American Tea Party. His performance is wonderful and more than once becomes a musical number (“don’t tread on me and my teaaaa!”). Elon James White comes next with remarks on gentrification (hint: look for joggers) and “racism tax.” Jim David closes the sets with a bang and a reading of a hate letter he received in response to his Huffington Post article detailing a day in his homosexual life.
The entire night ends with a short speech about the tragic rarity of and the urgent need for live political comedy. Go and see Laughing Liberally and support the genre.
(Laughing Liberally plays at the Midtown Theater, 163 West 46th Street through July 28, 2011. Performances are Thursdays at 8PM. Tickets are $40 (center) and $20 (sides). Groups save 25%. To reserve tickets, or for touring details, visit laughingliberallynyc.com or call 212.967.8278. For more information on the organization Living Liberally, visit www.livingliberally.org.)