Who You Calling Republican?

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I opened TimeOut NY magazine this morning and saw that I was featured in their “Essential New York” issue. Excellent. I’m overjoyed, as most performers are when they get some press. Now among the other nice things in their profile, they said this:

“He’s the only conservative Republican comedian who’s actually funny.”

Now, what do you think was the first thing I did when I saw that in print? Defend the honor of Evan Sayet and Steven Crowder? No.

My act is personal, not political, and those are two different things, unless you believe what it says in that dog-eared copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” on your ex-girlfriend’s bookshelf. But since Andrew invited me to “come out” on this site last year and air my (comparatively moderate) center-right views, the word has gotten around to some of my fans and associates that I might be playing for the other team. I’ll be at a showbiz cocktail party and someone will playfully say, “I heard a rumor about you…” They’re not trying to be mean or McCarthyite-they genuinely like the idea that they may have a right-wing acquaintance. It’s fun for them! But then they want to pick my brain. “How did it happen? Was your dad a minister?” They begin to introduce me to their friends as “their favorite Republican.”

I usually respond the same way I did yesterday when the TimeOut NY profile came out-I immediately Twittered, blogged and Facebooked, “For the record, I am a registered independent.”

Why this reflex? Why do I rush to portray myself as an “independent?”

Two reasons:

1. It is true. I identify with no political party. I have a clear set of views about the way the world works best, and at this moment the people with an R next to their name do less damage to the things I hold dear than the ones with a D. I didn’t say “no damage,” just less. (Even though I am one, the politicians with an I next to their name often tend to be a little flaky. Sorry, guys.)

2. Most of my fans and colleagues identify themselves with the Left, and people in show business personalize their political affiliation to the point that anyone who believes differently is seen as lacking common decency and compassion. You’ve got to get past that somehow, and it’s hard to do that in a few short sentences. Which is probably why so many conservative entertainers just keep their mouth shut.

In most cases politics and art together do not interest me. I didn’t go to see Benicio del Toro in “Che,” and I wouldn’t go to see Kelsey Grammer in “Goldwater!” So I don’t do politics in my act. I’m in the business of communication. I want to play to everyone, not just people who are like me. It’s easy to find your audience niche and play to it (“Get ‘R Done!”), but where’s the challenge in that? It’s not gutsy, edgy, or artistic. But political comics on the left rarely admit the same about their own habit of preaching to the choir. I remember doing a show at a hip Avenue A club in NYC shortly after 9/11 and the guy on before me said “I know I’m not supposed to say this right now, but I think our President is an asshole.” Applause.

What? You mean you’re willing to go after George W. Bush in the East Village? Why, you’re another Lenny Bruce! Way to speak truth to power!

When I rush to portray myself as independent, I’m not backing away from anything, or trying to hide my beliefs. I’ve chosen to put myself in the public eye, and I’m trying to communicate with them, which is nearly impossible to do when people’s reaction to certain buzzwords is to shut down, tune you out, and change the channel to someone who is more like them.

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