By August J. Pollak
*When I wrote and drew political cartoons, I had a rule: if it took me way too little time to think of a joke, I shouldn’t do it, because it meant every other political cartoonist in the country probably just thought of that one too. This is the opposite of improv, where your job is to think of something immediately and then say it without second-guessing. The difference is when improvisers do it, they tend to actually be funny. The distinction here is that improvisers are being talented while political cartoonists are being lazy.
Believe it or not, I wrote this nine years ago, not nine weeks. Thanks, Donald.
Despite that, I think political cartoonists and improvisers carry a shared stigma of stereotyping: people associate the former with bad black-and-white caricatures of politicians, or references with things labeled everywhere, and associate the latter with YouTube clips they saw of That One Television Show about Improv. There’s a lot more talent, and more importantly, variety, out there, and as comedians, we’re trying to show that. But man, oh man can it be hard, especially when it comes to comedy and politics.
Working at Dad’s Garage, I get to see a lot of shows—far more than the average audience member does. And that’s the catch right there—for an audience, everything they see is something new. For improvisers, I can feel their frustration every time they ask the audience for a suggestion and get yelled at “DONALD TRUMP!”
See, here’s the thing, audiences: you all think you want to hear the Trump joke. So you all offer Trump as a suggestion, because to you, it’s a new thing. For the improvisers, it’s the same thing over and over again, which is, by definition, the opposite of improv. Election season is the worst at Dad’s Garage because everyone wants to hear the funny people say something funny about politicians. “Donald Trump” is suggested so much that it now has a place of dishonor on the Dad’s Wall of Retired Suggestions We’ll Never Take, along with “gynecologist,” “dildo,” and “Harry Potter.” (Although, man, the scene that retired all three of those was legendary)
Politics is hard in comedy, because people want instant validation of their views, in chuckle format. The best political commentary is careful and clever, and you can still be funny while doing that. Our artistic director Kevin asked me to help with our staging of 44 Plays for 44 Presidents a few years back; he knew I did cartoons, and we took that, plus a popular meme at the time, to create a sketch about James A. Garfield, literally one of the least-known presidents in history, who was remembered mostly for the very unfunny act of having been killed in office.
James A. Garfield Minus Garfield, from 44 Plays for 44 Presidents
Did it work? I think so. People laughed, and more importantly, I don’t think people had seen or heard that joke a hundred times before.
We are professional funny people. Of course we can do an easy referential joke for you. But we can do so much more. The best political comedy makes you stop and think. Maybe it even challenges your own biases or notions about your opinions. If you can actually find yourself disagreeing with what a comedian is saying, politically, but still recognize that it’s funny, that’s probably the result of well-practiced craft right there. But politics is a huge, important world, and if you give comedy the time to focus on it, it can send a powerful message—certainly about something more important than Donald Trump.
Who, by the way, is a poop face fart man. Dildo.
*The views expressed in this blog post are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dad’s Garage Theatre Company.
August J. Pollak is a member of the Dad’s Garage house staff, as well as a comedy writer and performer. He drew the political cartoon “Some Guy With a Website” for eleven years. [http://www.someguywithawebsite.com/]