By Ron Fassler
How do you review a night of five comics doing their usual standup material when you’re mostly used to covering live theatre? Such is this reviewer’s dilemma, but I’ll give it my best shot. Playing cities around the country, Laughing Liberally has landed in Manhattan exhibiting a host of progressive standups for an evening billed as having “the goal of saving democracy one laugh at a time.” Fifteen shows are scheduled over a three-week period at the St. Clements Church on West 46th Street, with the lineups changing nightly. Consisting of equally talented comedians doing what they do best, thematically the attempt here is to give voice to the left-leaning side of things. But honestly…what is the competition? It’s not like there are conservative standups out there putting together shows like this. For those in attendance last night, hearing the comics dump on Trump was the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. Preaching to the converted, as it were, evidenced by when the evening’s organizer John Fugelsang asked who of the more than 250 audience members voted for Trump, not a single person raised their hand. Now it’s possible there were one or two Republican supporters there, though they obviously didn’t feel like copping to it amongst such a firmly Democratic crowd. That said, in all probability the odds of a MAGA hat wearing person paying to see a show titled Laughing Liberally are pretty low.
So what sort of show is this? Damned if I know. There really didn’t seem to be any kind of concerted effort to require the comedians to travel outside their comfort zones. It was obvious that we were getting their best 15-20 minute sets, laced occasionally with a few routines that checked the box marked “political commentary.” This resulted in a bit of mish-mosh, which I suppose in the long run is fine, considering a diet of solely political material from six different sources would end in an overdose. What ends up as something less than pure politics, winds up not being consistent with the show’s title: Laughing Liberally, which I suppose falls into the category of You-Can’t-Have-Everything.
As for the talent, they all acquitted themselves well. Produced by John Fugelsang, this is his baby, and as one of the smarter progressive comedians out there, his set was the most politically charged (it was also the longest). If you’ve ever tuned into his Sirius XM Satellite Radio program, Tell Me Everything, you will know that he pulls no punches and that his zingers land (more often than not) on target. His style is bombastic, but not in your face. He has a certain grace, and he isn’t mean (in fact, no one out of the cast on stage Saturday night had any hostilites on display). Fugelsang’s description of Ivanka Trump slayed me. “She’s like the weather—
hot and mostly unpleasant.”
Nina Karoufeh, a Muslim female comedian, was first up. She provided the shortest set and seemed a bit nervous. I thought her scripted material was funny, but it lacked spontaneity. She was followed by Pete Dominick, a standup with twenty years-experience and it showed. Comfortable in his own skin, he projected confidence that allowed for a very funny set of routines. He ended with something not at all of a political nature (a wife joke, of all things), but it had a sweetness to it and actually served as a nice way to make his exit. He then gave the stage over to Marina Franklin, who had a wonderfully wry delivery that hit my soft spot. African American and dressed in ripped jeans and a loose-fitting blouse, she was super-relaxed, which allowed her personality to shine through. When she went political, she laced things with a common sensibility that was very entertaining. “There’s so much going on I’ve got to get my march on (pause). But my allergies are acting up. (pause) I’m more of a seasonal protester.”
Fugelsang took the penultimate spot of the night, which left comedy veteran Ted Alexandro to close the show. I’m a fan of his comedy web series Teachers Lounge, which he writes and produces. His take-no-prisoners style of standup is brutally honest, but still somehow manages not to alienate his audience (something that a Bill Maher can take note of by means of improvement).
Some of the comedians scheduled to make appearances over the course of this run are Elayne Boosler, Janeane Garafolo, Judy Gold, Calvin Cato and Negin Farsad, among many others.
For more information, visit the website www.laughingliberallyny.com.