Can the political left laugh at itself?
The brainchild of Mr. Green and Mr. Bell, Laughter Against the Machine was born out of comedic frustration. In 2008, the two performed together in Laugh Out the Vote, a set of political-humor shows.
Though the gigs were billed as left-leaning — and attracted a like-minded San Francisco audience — Mr. Green and Mr. Bell found the experience oddly unsatisfying.
“The people wanted to have their backs patted for living in the right city, [to] be assured that they were better than the people in the red states,” Mr. Bell said. “They wanted us to say things they could applaud, not things they could laugh at.
“For us as comics, that just wasn’t fun. It’s not comedy. Comedy should challenge people.”
Both men saw the election of President Obama as an opportunity to do something different — breaking with boilerplate liberal comedy they viewed as smug and lazy, epitomized by stand-ups poking fun at President George W. Bush with what Mr. Bell calls “recycled dumb-blonde jokes.”
“I said, ‘Give me a few seconds to figure out what I hate about Obama,’ ” he said. “When he was elected, a lot of people who had been doing political comedy walked away from it, saying they only want to make fun of Bush. They came back for the tea party.
“I’m as happy to make fun of the tea party as anyone else. But I don’t want to only make fun of them.”
Mr. Green and Mr. Bell staged their first Laughter Against the Machine show on New Year’s Eve of 2008. Since then, the two comics — along with Ms. Brito, who later joined the group — have learned a few things about liberal comedy audiences.
Rule No. 1: If you’re a black comic like Mr. Bell, do not mock the movie “Precious” — unless you enjoy being screamed at by indignant spectators.
Rule No. 2: If you’re going to argue that because only things that harm others should be illegal, marijuana should be decriminalized and Wal-Mart outlawed — don’t add that multi-culti world’s pop darlings the Gipsy Kings also deserve to be thrown in the clink.
Rule No. 3: Do not make fun of vegans. Like, ever.
“We’ve got a black guy, a Cuban lesbian and a white guy in me,” said Mr. Green. “So our shows are actually the best when the audience is diverse. When we get too much of an NPR-listening, old white people crowd, it’s a bad show. People get caught in their white guilt and overthink what’s funny.
“That’s not a surprise, but it’s emblematic about what is dopey about the left. It’s like, you can make fun of anything, but don’t make fun of vegans. And I’m like, ‘Hey, I just talked about the Holocaust for 15 minutes.’ “
Beyond dumb-blonde jokes
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