Q&A with with Will Durst

Renowned political satirist Will Durst brings his razor-sharp wit to Washington this week, appearing at the Riot Act Comedy Theater Nov. 3-5.

The seven-time nominee for the American Comedy Awards’ Stand Up of the Year tells The Hill why this batch of GOP presidential hopefuls is the most entertaining yet and how valuable humor can be during tough economic times.

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Q: Why did you choose politics as your comedic niche?

When I started out, it was the tail end of the Vietnam War. I actually started in ’74, and everything was political back then. So I don’t know, I just kind of fell into it. Every comedy-club audience reflects the comedian, or [vice versa], and everybody was political back then.

Q: Which fellow comedians do you admire?

I’m Pollyanna — I know how hard it is to go onstage and elicit laughs from a crowd who are cantankerous and reluctant and reticent and all those things. Anybody who can do it is pretty good, in my book … I like [Bill] Maher and I like [Jon] Stewart and stuff, but they each have 17 writers. They’re the Wal-Marts of political comedy. Me, I’m kind of like a small boutique in SoHo. I hand-stitch every joke.

Q: Do you feel you have to dumb your act down for many American audiences who aren’t that familiar with politics?

I love working D.C. because it’s a company town, it’s the company business. But what I do in my act is I don’t dumb it down, but I try to skim the surface … Every punch line is the setup for the next joke, so I don’t have to waste time telling everybody who everybody is.

Q: Is the current crop of GOP candidates a good source of comedy?

Normally it’s good, but these guys are a cornucopia of delights … Rick Perry kind of looks like a robot porn star, and Michele Bachmann is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is frightening.

Q: Is every election cycle a mix of characters, or is this one really a standout?

It seems more ridiculous this time around because so much more media is focused on it. We all share references and now we immediately find out about Rick Perry’s hunting lodge and it goes viral and everybody knows about it and we immediately find out about his debate stumbles because it’s on the front page of Yahoo … I think we just know more about them.

Q: At this point, is there anyone you’re hoping gets the GOP nomination?

Rick Perry. If I can’t have Sarah Palin — if I’m going to go cold turkey on Sarah Palin — Rick Perry would be a wonderful dose of methadone.

Q: Would we be better off, comedy-wise, with another four years of Barack Obama or with Rick Perry?

Republicans are always better because Republicans and logic go together like vanilla milkshakes and uranium. When you have illogical stuff going on, it’s much easier to lampoon.

Q: So has it been a four-year dry spell for you with President Obama?

You know, everybody says after eight years of [George W.] Bush, “Oh my god, it was the golden age of political comedy.” I was one small cog in his No Comic Left Behind Program. And everybody said, “Well, what are you going to do with Obama?” And I’ve been in this game long enough; the same thing happened after 12 years of [Ronald] Reagan and [George H.W.] Bush and they said the same thing about Clinton. But Clinton was a corpulent womanizer, so we had that going for us. But there’s so much now, there’s always so much to know, and if you’re not making fun of Obama, you’re making fun of the people who are making fun of Obama.

Q: Is there any comedic silver lining to the dark economic cloud we’re under?

That’s why we need the comedy. We need to be able to laugh at this stuff, because if you don’t laugh, then you cry. We’re actually doing a public service, comedians.

Q: You see the light side of politics, but are there ever moments when you get frustrated?

You mean are there some times when I don’t think it’s funny, I can’t find the funny anymore? Yeah, that actually does happen, I do have to walk away from it sometimes … It’s just when they claim that they were working with each other and you know they’re not. It’s when they lie, and I have a line in my act that says, “The only time I ever trust a politician is when he’s telling me the other guy is lying.”

Q: Do you think politicians are losing the willingness to compromise?

Yes, I do, and I have some jokes about it. I do a bit in my routine called “It’s Over,” and I talk about bipartisanship. It’s just a run of words. “Bipartisanship? Forget about it, it’s over, finished, done with, kaput, deceased, defunct, extinct, artifact, washed up, down the drain, sleeping with the fishes, see ya, wouldn’t want to be ya,” and then it goes on and on. And the way I get into it is the Republicans keep saying, “Oh, we want to work with the president.” Yeah, the same way a 5-year-old with a magnifying glass wants to work with ants.

Q: So what does this mean for the country’s future — that it will be rife with comedy, but we’re all in serious trouble?

No, no, when something like this happens where it gets frozen by inaction, it’s the same as what your mother says, or your father, “When a door closes, another door opens.” And I don’t know what the door is going to be, whether it’s a third party. I don’t know, a revolution? San Francisco is going to secede? I don’t know what’s going to happen, but something will happen, and equilibrium will come back.

Q: Are there any politicians whom you genuinely admire?

Yes, and there’s a lot of them in Northern California here. There’s a congressman named George Miller [D-Calif.] who’s great, and Sen. Barbara Boxer [D-Calif.], I think she tries as hard as she can.

Q: Does that mean they are off-limits comedically, if you respect them?

No, everybody’s fair game. If they do something stupid, I’ll jump on them like a coyote on a baby duck.

Q: If you, Will Durst, were running the government, what would you like to see changed?

Oh, jeez, well, I would get rid of the bar time across the country. I’d float a constitutional amendment outlawing the imposition of any closing hours at any bar. That would be the first thing.

Q: Would that increase compromise, or would everyone just be drunk all the time?

You know what, it would facilitate negotiation.

But none of the bills would be readable; that might be a problem.

It’s all right — nothing got passed this year anyhow. It doesn’t matter if it’s readable.


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