We are in the age of political satire’s prime. We’re still sobbing about saying our farewells to Jon Stewart as our “Daily Show” host, but other supreme talents like John Oliver or Samantha Bee have filled the gap. That’s television, though.
Being met with that comedy in person is 1,000 times more satisfying. That’s where Funny Or Die comes in.
Working with NextGen Climate, online comedy staple Funny Or Die put together “Jokes for Votes,” the first voter registration comedy tour devoted to getting California college students registered to vote, primarily via text. Featuring some of the biggest names in comedy such as Sarah Silverman, Demetri Martin, Kumail Nanjiani and Reggie Watts, the tour ended its two-week run at UC Berkeley, deliberately chosen as the final stop for its historical role in politics.
Funny Or Die Managing Director and Executive Producer Brad Jenkins says that comedy is the key to getting young people to listen. Jenkins says comedy is this generation’s political art form, stand-up the folk music and rock ‘n’ roll of 50 years ago. “With humorists like Stephen Colbert and Sarah Silverman, there’s an opportunity to use comedy to speak truth to power,” Jenkins said. “It’s a way of empowering and exciting young people to give a fuck.”
Now, when you bring Sarah Silverman and Reggie Watts to UC Berkeley for free, we’re definitely going to give a fuck.
Each comic brought decidedly political material to their respective sets Oct. 23. After opener Kate Berlant, James Adomian flaunted his “homo-American” pride. (Hey, “George W. Bush said it accidentally like he said everything else.”)
Baron Vaughn, a classy, informed comic with the classiest name around, brought a frenetic energy to the stage. He’s allergic to everything (“No one knows what dairy is!”) and constantly thinks he has something in his eyes. Of Vaughn’s political material, some of which received groans of too-real discomfort, the best was a subtle reference to WASPs. Vaughn lamented that bees die after stinging enemies on the job, but WASPs are much more privileged.“WASPs can go to hell (because they’re) unemployed with a weapon,” he said. It’s one big, socially aware metaphor.
In her distinctly casual comic voice, headliner Sarah Silverman described an incident during which she was supporting women’s rights to abortion and birth control and was confronted by a child toting a sign that spread anti-abortion rhetoric. She then told the little girl a “doody” joke and watched as the girl stifled a laugh. Silverman nodded smugly, and said she was thankful that doody could be “the great unifier” — an appropriate sentiment during an election season that’s been such a shitshow.
While the aggression that has plagued the 2016 election season thus far has turned off young voters, anecdotes like Silverman’s represent what comedy can do in the face of divisiveness and conflict. With such a great response, Jokes for Votes registered more than 750,000 Californians to vote by the time Silverman reached Berkeley.
After her expectedly brilliant set, Silverman introduced closer Reggie Watts (of “Comedy Bang! Bang!” and “The Late Late Show with James Corden” fame) as “made of magic.” That really isn’t far from the truth.
Watts presents a confident, surreal rambling that is bewildering, but not at all off-putting. It’s not always laugh-out-loud humor, but calling Donald Trump “Krump” without a second thought and performing an African folk song that evolved into a beatbox medley are the oddities that somehow fit right into his repertoire.
Seeing these comics live really is magic.
It’s a welcome escape from our generation’s beloved Twitter rants and Snapchat stories. Although we’re used to being constantly in touch with social media and new technology, the cyber world is not all we care about — despite what some older folks may think.
During the Bernie Sanders campaign, we saw millennials engaging hands-on with politics and social issues in a way that proved all of the naysayers wrong. “Young people want to touch and feel and be a part of things in real life,” said Jenkins. “There is a hunger for feeling like they’re part of a community. This is the most well-informed, Google-Reddit (using) generation in history, so they’re going to know which candidate speaks to them.”
Funny Or Die and NextGen didn’t travel around California to get us to vote for certain candidates or measures. There was no hostile, red versus blue divide. With Jokes for Votes, the comics proved that comedy is the true, ahem, great unifier.