Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri talks satire, politics at The Berkeley Forum event

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Satirical columnist Alexandra Petri spoke about maintaining a humorous perspective in the current political climate at the Free Speech Movement Café on Wednesday night.

Petri, who was recently named in Forbes 30 Under 30 list for young people driving the media, writes a blog for the Washington Post called ComPost. She titled her event “Rational Optimism In A Time When Everything Seems To Be On Fire,” in which she discussed how she attempts to make light of what she sees in the news, at a time when “everything is absurd and nothing is funny.”

“Forget picturing the 22nd century; I have a hard time picturing the end of the week,” Petri said. “I stare intensely at the news and try to keep it from boiling.”

Hosted by The Berkeley Forum, the free event had a student moderator, and it opened up the discussion to audience members afterward to ask questions.

Petri, a Harvard University graduate who wrote for the school newspaper, became the youngest-ever columnist for the Washington Post. Her blog states on its site that it “offers a lighter take on the news and political in(s)anity of the day.”

“(Petri is) extremely intelligent and knowledgeable about politics, journalism and humor — a fun intersection of fields,”said Michael Chien, moderator of the event and vice president of programming at The Berkeley Forum. “We can learn from and enjoy her talk a lot.”

Petri talked about how looking at something considered normal in a new way can make it become strange and absurd.

“Another way of finding the humor in things is not knowing the people involved,” Petri said, referencing Romeo and Juliet. “Any of the greatest tragedies in literature become funny. … (Romeo) went to a party and he met a Capulet and they didn’t message each other correctly and they died.”

Berkeley resident Diana Fajardo, who attended the event, said she thought Petri is “too optimistic” but added that sometimes optimism can be helpful.

Campus junior Kyla Whitmore said she often struggles in finding optimism in today’s world, noting that she found Petri’s talk “really meaningful.”

When Chien asked Petri what she found to be the most difficult thing to satirize, she answered, “Donald Trump.”

“He’s been playing himself for so many years, he has the jump on you,” Petri said during the event. “The news has retained its capacity to surprise people. … It’s like the election never stopped.”

Petri’s talk drew connections between the past and the present, pointing to both current political figures and historical figures. In this comparison, Petri said she believes that society is progressing as a whole, despite similarities to the past that is “not clean or pristine.”

“We live in a better world than we did in the past,” Petri said. “There’s so much worth fighting for, I say.”

Contact Elise Ulwelling at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @EMarieulwelling.