“You can’t satirize politics anymore. It’s gotten too crazy. Reality has outrun satire.”
We’ve been hearing this for decades. How do you poke fun at — or even make sense of — the Vietnam War or the invasion of Iraq or Sarah Palin or Donald J. Trump?
And yet political comedy is thriving, especially in this election year and especially on television. Think of Bill Maher, Larry Wilmore, Trevor Noah, John Oliver, Samantha Bee and, in rare moments, “Saturday Night Live.” People go to these sources for laughs but also, we’re told, for news, which is a little scary.
It’s less common in the comedy clubs, where the vogue is for personal, relatively safe humor of the “Has this ever happened to you?” variety. Bill Hicks and George Carlin are gone, and Mort Sahl, at 88, is seldom heard from. The champion in the political realm these days is Will Durst, who is appearing at Acme Comedy Company through Saturday and shouldn’t be missed.
A writer with three books to his credit, a columnist, a radio and TV commentator, a five-time Emmy nominee, the 63-year-old Durst, a native of Milwaukee who lives in San Francisco, brings a refreshing, occasionally surreal sense of amused bafflement and outrage to the crazy world around him, framing his observations in rich, literate language that borders on the Shakespearean. (The people of Iowa and New Hampshire “are so white the blue veins running down their outer thighs could be interstate roads on the map of prejudice.”)
And it’s not just politics that stymies him. Computers drive him nuts, as do the water faucets in public restrooms (“Where do they hide the electric eye?”) and the toilets that never stop flushing.
But, as expected, Durst was best Tuesday night on the current White House hopefuls, especially the Republicans in the “clown car.” Ted Cruz “is crazier than Norman Bates,” whereas Jeb Bush’s problem was that “He couldn’t convince enough people that he was adopted.” The sleepy Ben Carson acts “like he’s been dipping into his own prescription bag.”
Then, of course, there’s Trump and his recent fight with the Pope. “Here’s one guy who thinks he’s infallible, and the other’s the head of the Catholic Church.”
“Trump thinks the country should be run like a business because he’s the kind of guy who would burn it down to collect the insurance.”
When Durst says near the end of his 60-minute set that he doesn’t care who wins the White House, it’s hard to believe him. He does mention the Democrats. President Obama, he reports, was born in a manger in Honolulu. He likes Hillary Clinton, he said. “She’s just not cuddly.” It just happens that this time around the Republicans are the zanies — and possibly dangerous.
Early in the set Durst complimented the responsive audience. “You are obviously people who read,” he said, “or at least you know someone who does.”
Two engaging and promising young Minneapolis comics opened the show: Brandi Brown and Trevor Anderson.
Michael Anthony is a longtime Minneapolis critic.