“That’s right, everyone. I’m a Negro in a hoodie, and I know who Michele Bachmann is,” he continues, as the audience claps and roars. “Sorry, but I’m paying attention!”
White is one of a dozen rotating acts in “This Ain’t No Tea Party,” a progressive comedy revue in the midst of a 10-week off-Broadway run. It often draws a packed audience filled with young Midwestern tourists in Uggs, dreadlocked blipsters from the Bronx, retired Upper West Side theater buffs, along with political wonks and human rights activists. The traveling show, Laughing Liberally, plans to tour nationally soon.
Like all good comedy, the show relies on timing. In a cultural moment that finds liberals dismayed by the tea party’s popularity and disheartened by Democratic losses in the 2010 midterm elections, the left is in need of a good laugh.
“Among liberals there’s no euphoria, that’s for sure,” says Laughing Liberally co-founder Justin Krebs, 33, who wears a rumpled suit and sports a loose ponytail as he ushers the audience inside. The goal, he says, is “to energize our base — in the same way the tea party does for the right. The left really needs this. It allows us to vent.”
Laughing Liberally is part of a national volunteer organization called Living Liberally, a social networking organization for like-minded progressives. It is best known for its offshoot, Drinking Liberally, a social club where progressives are invited to cry over a pint in bars and other venues while dishing on politics. “Like many liberals during the George W. Bush years, I realized I needed a drink,” Krebs says. He was not alone. Drinking Liberally grew to have chapters in 50 states.
Laughing Liberally began as a scrappy activist comedy show that entertained liberal protesters and others at St. Paul’s Ordway Center during the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minnesota. Justin’s father, Eric Krebs, a longtime theater producer, saw more in his son’s project than street theater.
“The tea party movement gives Laughing Liberally more urgency than ever,” says Eric Krebs, a curly-haired professor of theater at Baruch College in New York City.
Conservatives in the early 1990s turned to talk radio as their main venue to hash out politics while liberals dominated fake comedy news shows on television, says Paul Lewis, a Boston College English professor and author of “Cracking Up: American Humor in a Time of Conflict.”
“Inspired by Rush Limbaugh, conservative radio relies on what I call ‘rage-icule,’ an angry form of mockery that not only criticizes but also scorns its targets,” Lewis says.
Though conservative comedians exist — Dennis Miller or “Saturday Night Live’s” Victoria Jackson — conservative comedy hasn’t had as much mainstream success, Lewis says. In early 2007, Fox News attempted to launch a conservative version of “The Daily Show” called “The ½ Hour News Hour.” But after just 13 episodes, the show was canceled.