Saturday, November 29, 2014

Free Candy: Sketch Comedy at the 10th Avenue Theater in San Diego

Writing about comedy is hard, because it's generally not funny.  Explaining why a joke lands is like relating the plot of obscure foreign movies: interesting, but only if you're a huge nerd.  Only the hugest of nerds would dare make the attempt.

The performers of the sketch comedy show Free Candy could probably write a really, really funny review of their performance on Friday night.  Some might question whether that review would be biased or accurate, but it would definitely be funny.  And frankly, that's all that anyone who's ever written about comedy has ever wanted.  Those who cannot do, pathetically emulate while describing in general terms, often with no idea what they're talking about.  Allow me to furnish an example.

Before I get serious, I want to emphasize something very important: there was, in fact, free candy at this show.  Everybody only gets one, and that is not nearly enough, but times are hard and comedy doesn't come cheap. On the basis of this generous gesture alone, I award Free Candy three out of five stars.

Cast members Devon Kane, Meridith McNeill, Brendan Milove, Nick Scutti, and Alec Sobejana complemented the complimentary sweets with an evening of highbrow amusement, inviting us to cordially chuckle at rarefied jokes about BDSM, latent incest, and the improbable anatomical possibilities of an umbilical cord.  However, the full range of their performance cannot be described in a punctuated three-part list.  It would take some kind of high-tech video recording device to display their genius and do it justice.  I understand there was one in the theater, and I will do my best to track it down.

Making use of minimal props and effective lighting and sound cues, Free Candy was all the funnier for its DIY ethic and the sheer determination of the cast.  The occasional flubbed line, cracked smile, or weak joke hardly slowed them down, as each actor sold their momentary parts with glee and powered through to the next highlight.  Special musical guest Devon McNeill's appearance set the stage for my favorite sketch of the whole show, expertly combining talented singing with unhinged disruption and deadpan non-reaction.

Perhaps the real engine of the show was writer and performer Brendan Milove, who committed his full intensity to each new character at a moment's notice.  Perhaps I am biased in making this claim because I have known Brendan since we were children and his mother got me a ticket to the show.  Perhaps you should just go see him yourself some time and judge.

Having thus placed the integrity of this review in grave doubt, I leave you with a thought on the value of small-scale local theater productions.  In today's increasingly high-structured, over-produced entertainment culture, it is extremely refreshing to watch a dedicated band of goofballs go nuts on a tiny, tiny stage.  Performances like this are what make culture a going concern, and should be supported at every opportunity, no matter how many dark alleys you have to explore before you find them.

I also want to remind you that there was, in fact free candy on everyone's seat before the show.  That's not something you see every day.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Republican Congress

In my heart of hearts, I really do not see what has managed to convince the voting public that the solution to the problems of the United States is to send more Republicans to Congress.  It really strikes me as the equivalent of smashing a broken computer with a baseball bat: it fixes nothing and your kids are likely to crawl around in the mess afterward, putting pieces of glass and circuitry in their mouths.

It looks like America is about to send a Republican majority to the U.S. Senate, to join the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.  The two houses of Congress will then presumably begin passing horrible new bills (which the President will veto), or simply continue voting to defund the Affordable Care Act (which the President will also veto).  Jack shit will get done, and everyone will stew in a toxic cloud of misery and blame everyone else for their own failures.  The people of the United States (at least the ones who haven't had their votes stolen), contemplating this state of affairs, are smiling, and already practicing their collective swings with a Louisville slugger. 

But what the hell do I know?  I'm an unemployed teacher.  Nobody gives a damn about teachers or the unemployed (apart from making sure it's easier to get rid of them or sweep them out of sight).  When it comes to national politics, nobody really cares about anyone but themselves.

So I'm not looking forward to Tuesday night.  I'm going to watch the dominoes fall, shake my head, and get on with my life.  Being a cis-het white guy with wealthy folks, there isn't a whole lot the Republican party can do to hurt me directly.  It's just about everyone else I'm worried about.

In 2014, the Republican party stands for ignoring the issue of income inequality, shrugging at our country's most deplorable human rights failures, and if at all possible actively making these problems worse.  Democratic politicians frequently find themselves on the wrong sides of these issues.  But the Republican party has staked its reputation on always being on the wrong side. The party has a compulsive need to claim the most classist, nativist, chauvinist possible positions as the national mood will allow.  The principal failure of the Democrats has been their vain desire not to be outdone on this score.

For a long time, keeping Republicans out of power has seemed like a good enough reason to vote for Democrats.  Honestly, it's about the only recommendation I can make for the party as a whole.  But it doesn't really fix things either.  To go back to my metaphor, voting for a Democratic Congress is a lot like trying to turn on a broken computer every morning, hoping it'll work this time. 

The elite political class of the United States has systematically failed hundreds of millions of its citizens.  Half of us are low-income or impoverished.  If you are a woman, a person of color, a disabled person, an immigrant, an adherent of a non-mainstream religion, or anywhere in the LGBTQIA field, you can be certain that duly elected politicians are working hard to screw you out of your rights and your basic human dignity.  And if you're a young person, you can also be sure they're doing their level best to alienate you from the political process, and sap your empathy for the people most marginalized by the system.

The next few years will be more of the same, only with more broken glass on the floor.  There may be hope for us yet, in the form of genuine grassroots activism that continues to edge the mainstream of political thought in a more progressive direction.  Creeping from victory to victory, we might make the sort of progress that will improve people's lives in the long run.  But there's little glory in the march toward a better America.  It's going to be ugly the whole time, for the principle reason that the national political establishment, and especially the Republican party, are going to make it that way.

I've already voted in this election, and yeah, I voted for Democrats across the board.  I call it damage control.  Millions of people have already voted as well, and it's too late to change their minds about anything.  But if you haven't voted yet, and you're looking for a little help deciding, here's my recommendation.  Don't vote for a Republican.  Vote for anyone else or no one else.  Dull the edge of this wave if you can.