Elect to Laugh
Soon after I first arrived in the Bay Area in late 1978, my newly wed spouse and I started checking out the bountiful comedy club scene that existed in San Francisco at venues like The Other Café, The Holy City Zoo, and Cobb’s Comedy Club. One of our favorite stand-ups soon became Will Durst, and almost forty years later this outrageously funny comedian is still going strong. Self-described as a “political comedian,” he adds, “I aspire to be a satirist; but if you say that, people think you have goat legs.”
Will Durst now brings to The Marsh (San Francisco’s prime spot for original, solo acts) Elect to Laugh, a blend of scripted theater and ad-lib stand-up comedy. The show is well-timed and well-named for this year’s increasingly bizarre presidential election. So bizarre is this particular cycle that Mr. Durst gets to employ more than ever his signature phrase: “You can’t make this stuff up.” And The Marsh is a perfect place for him to plop from now until Election Night 2016 (as is his plan, at least). “You are my target audience,” he claims. “You are people who read, or you know someone who reads.”
Dressed in a suit (Does anyone wear a suit anymore?) and armed with an overhead projector (“I like it ... It’s warm to touch and has the soft, reassuring hum of the fan”), Mr. Durst plunges with aplomb into both parties and all politicians, present and from the past forty years. With a voice that is gravelly and eyes that sparkle with devilishness, he rattles off things we have all for the most part heard and read in the past few months of ongoing primaries; but when pitched in rapid succession with his looks of incredulity, they are fabulously funny. And while he is certainly looking for laughs galore, he chuckles admitting, “I don’t care how you respond ... I just love writing this shit.”
HIs first order of business is to run through anecdotes and memories of presidents from Ford (whose appointment coincided with his debut as a comic in 1974) to Obama, slamming everyone along the way with glee. He also cannot pass up one of the past VPs, Dan Quayle, whose “biggest fear was that Bush would die and the next president would not keep his as VP.” His stories include some self-aggrandizement as he namedrops a number of politicians he has met along the way, including Bubba himself (aka Bill Clinton).
Once he begins going through all seventeen Republican and half dozen or so Democrat candidates who hoped in January 2016 to still be in play in May, the show, while still hilarious in many spots, bogs down a bit as pictures of each (mostly unattractive, of course) go up on the overhead screen. His jabs hit a lot of marks that match the hissing and soft boo’s in the audience as certain pictures are shown, including when he says of Senator Cruz, “I doubt he wins the majority of voices in his head.”
Of the voting public, Will Durst has a few, choice words along the way, too. Referring to one campaign with a slogan of sixteen syllables, he notes, “To the American public, that is not a slogan ... it is a pamphlet.” And he gets a lot of audience nods in this San Francisco setting when he admits, “I don’t know which is scarier: One of the people who will be our president or the American people who will decide.”
As one might imagine, the most time is spent on one Donald Trump, given that there is so much material (and so much hair) for fodder. But he confesses up front that focusing on Trump is not all that easy: “How can you parody a parody?”
And in the end, who is Will Durst’s ideal president? How about a combination of “Jimmy Carter’s policies on John Wayne’s horse and with Ronald Reagan’s hair”?
Overall, Elect to Laugh looks and feels much more like political, stand-up comedy than theatre since its script of sorts will likely change week to week as more unintended blunders and blistering accusations and counter-accusations are made by those still in the running (and those commenting on them). Will Durst is a master comic and highly enjoyable; but with this this particular election, it is somewhat predictable what he is going to mimic and mock. After all, daily feeds on Facebook and Twitter or five minutes on Fox News are actually almost as entertaining ... or as sad.
Rating: 3 E
Elect to Laugh is currently scheduled to run through July 26, Tuesdays at 8 p.m., at The Marsh, at The Marsh, San Francisco, main stage, 1062 Valencia Street. Tickets are available at http://themarsh.org or by calling 415-282-3055 Monday – Friday, 1 – 4 p.m.
Photo by Junior Hansen Jr.