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Will Durst, Packing the Political Wallop of a Topical Storm

By Michael Cavna
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 15, 2009

Political comedian Will Durst inhales topical fodder the way cable-news channels subsist on scandals, so no subject is ever "too soon" -- not even recently deceased pop icons. "If Michael Jackson had died a week earlier," he says, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford "would still be in Argentina." (Wait a beat. Annnd inhale.)

Didn't care for that gag? No worries, there'll be a half-dozen more riddling the comedy club before you can put down that vodka rocks. Health care? Durst thinks there ought to be a "saint tax" for nonsmokers and teetotalers: "You want to live forever -- fine. Pay for it!"

The Emmy-winning, 57-year-old comedian (who bills himself as "a raging moderate") will perform his newest show, "The Lieutenant Governor From the State of Confusion," Saturday night at 8 and 10:30 at the D.C. Improv. We caught up with him to find out why he loves to play Washington.

You've brought a new act to D.C. How has your show changed?

I had to de-Bush my act.

Sounds painful. So, Obama -- seven months in, is he getting any easier to satirize?

A little, because we know so much about him now -- and every week, another page gets filled in, which means we've got a larger shared reference. Like "Gates-gate." . . . But I still can't even see him -- the halo is still too bright.

Even though his approval numbers are dropping close to 50 percent?

[In likability], that means he's dropped from Shar-Peis to bunnies.

What's your take on the Henry Louis Gates flap and the beer summit?

For all those people who thought because we elected a black guy as president, that we were post-racial and we were over this, Gates-gate proved 'em wrong.

So can you satirize Obama on health care?

Well, the Republicans are salivating over it. They need bibs to catch all the drool.

Do you make jokes about health care in general?

No, it's too easy to scare people about an operating room that has all the efficiency of a DMV.

And do you joke about world affairs -- like, say, Iran?

I say: "Hey, in Iran, they have hanging chads. They also have hanging Jeremys."

Y'ouch! How do crowds react to that line?

It gets mostly a groan.

Any humor to be had in Obama's handling of Gitmo?

It's just like the same circus, different clown.

So how DO you satirize Obama?

The little tics that everyone can relate to. Like, he's always looking into the future -- but not too far: 8:47 p.m. Eastern Daylight.

And how do you go after the GOP?

The whole Republican Party is going to shrink to the point where you can fit them into Grover Norquist's bathtub.

How have audiences changed since you began doing stand-up in the '70s?

People say kids have the attention span of high-speed lint. Well, they may not be getting their news from one source, but it's a different format. [Walter] Winchell ran the news in America for 20 years, and then there was [Walter] Cronkite. People are so upset about all the changes. Well, every job I trained for in college -- reporter, radio guy, journalism -- it's all dead. Fortunately, I was able to become a living editorial cartoon, or whatever it is that I do.

What was the first political joke you ever told onstage?

It was right after Nixon had resigned. . . . My line was: "When the going gets tough, the tough get phlebitis."

"Phlebitis" is a funny word.

It still is.

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