Friday, June 16, 2006

Big Time

From the Boston Globe:

Stage gives him a place to express himself politically
By Nick A. Zaino III, Globe Correspondent
June 16, 2006

Political comedy and social satire require a bit of a risk for a comedian. Any time a performer exposes a point of view or a personal experience , there's a chance the audience might not agree or identify.

For one of the comics on the bill for Laughing Liberally, playing Jimmy Tingle's Off Broadway theater this weekend and next, the show is about finding a comfortable place to be himself.

Chelmsford native Benari Poulten, 28, is an Army reservist, the third generation in his family to serve in the military. He was stationed at Guantanamo Bay for a year, from 2002 to 2003. So when he criticizes his boss in his stand-up, there's a little more at stake than for your average working stiff.

``It puts me in a very difficult position, because sometimes as much as I'd like to really say something, I don't want to get sent back to Guantanamo," he says, laughing.

Politics are in Poulten's blood. He says his father, a 30-year veteran reservist, is a ``yellow dog Democrat," and some of Poulten's earliest memories include watching Walter Mondale lose in the 1984 presidential election.

Poulten left Boston and a gig as an aide to Democratic Representative Marty Meehan 2 1/2 years ago and went to New York and started getting serious about stand-up. Naturally, he turned to politics for material. It's a chance for him to vent -- albeit carefully.

``In the Army, you have to be a little more diplomatic about what you say," he says. ``The stage really became a great outlet for me to really talk about these conflicting feelings and what's going on."

Laughing Liberally started in New York two years ago at a small black box theater called the Tank and moved on to New York's 1,500-seat Town Hall venue earlier this year.

Organizer Justin Krebs says the show is meant to have a political impact and develop the next generation of satirists. And that's a task he won't entrust to comedy clubs, citing what he believes is a dearth of political stand-up beyond stars Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo , Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert.

``You have this top level of smart, thoughtful political humor, but you don't have that much of a farm team below them," he says.

Last month's Town Hall gig was a boost for Poulten.

``That's the biggest venue I've ever played, and it was probably one of the best sets I've ever had," he says. ``They were a really fantastic crowd."

Laughing Liberally plays Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway tonight, tomorrow,

and next Thursday-Saturday. Visit or call 617-591-1616.