Friday, May 19, 2006

My name is in the NYT

The New York Times
May 19, 2006

'Laughing Liberally': Punch Lines With a Political Agenda


Another bruising battle in the take-no-prisoners war for America's ideological soul will be fought tonight at Town Hall in Midtown Manhattan. It should be pretty funny.

The event, "Laughing Liberally," will feature an assortment of stand-up comics doing what stand-up comics do, only, well, more liberally. It is one of a series of shows organized by Justin Krebs, Katie Halper and David Alpert as a counter to the talk-radio right, the idea being to use humor to advance a liberal perspective.

Will Durst, whose résumé includes PBS and NPR, is the biggest name on the bill; the lineup also includes Jim David, Julie Goldman, Negin Farsad, Benari Poulten and Dean Obeidallah. Yes, there are likely to be George W. Bush jokes, but Mr. Krebs said the intent was to define liberalism much more broadly, encompassing social issues like the growing gap between rich and poor.

"We are trying not to just bash away," he said. And, he noted, when there is bashing, it is likely to be not just of Republicans. "Some of the biggest laughs our first show got in February was when people made fun of the Democrats," he said.

For Mr. Obeidallah, an Arab-American comic who will lead off the evening, the beauty of the "Laughing Liberally" banner is that he does not have to stick to lowest-common-denominator jokes about relationships and sex. "I can do my smartest material," he said. "I can do jokes about the Patriot Act. I can do jokes about domestic spying."

In a club, he said, he may slip in a little material of that type, but at tonight's show "we can do the top of the comedy pyramid" for the full set.

Of course, a few well-known names are already doing such stuff: Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo. Mr. Krebs said that part of the intent of "Laughing Liberally" was to broaden the ranks beyond that top tier.

"We think that there needs to be more of a training ground," he said. "There's a big gap. There's not really a farm team out there right now."

About a year ago he and his partners began staging small shows in New York called "Laughing Liberally Labs." Mr. Krebs, 28, said it was his father, the theatrical producer Eric Krebs, who helped push them to think bigger. Their first large-scale show drew more than 1,300 people to Town Hall last February, he said, and ended up being "part comedy show, part rock show, part rally."

Now, in addition to tonight's reprise, the group is planning a June 3 show in Los Angeles and future dates in Las Vegas and Boston. Maybe it's wishful thinking to imagine that humor can effect change. But to Mr. Obeidallah at least, an excellent time to impart new ideas to people is when they are laughing.

"Everyone's guard's up when they're watching the news," he said. "But comedy, their guard is down."

"Laughing Liberally" will be performed tonight at 8 at Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street, Manhattan, (212) 730-2423, and on June 3 atthe Wadsworth Theater, Los Angeles.