The politics of humor: Scott Blakeman returns Sept. 2 & 3
Photo courtesy of Scott Blakeman
Scott Blakeman has a way with words.
"It took the Egyptian people 18 days to bring down a dictator. It took me 18 days to decide which coffeemaker to buy on Amazon.com. Talk about using your time productively," he says in a blog post.
Simple. Telling. Funny. Politics, current issues, and everyday life are the stuff of Mr. Blakeman's comic work, on display at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury Friday and Saturday evenings, Sept. 2 and 3.
The shows begin at 8 pm. Tickets are $25, and are available at brownpapertickets.com and at the door.
"I'll incorporate stuff from the week I've had on the Vineyard. The President was just there, so that's good. But also explaining how to eat on the Island late at night without a car — and some stuff I haven't thought of yet. But the majority of the show will be political humor from a liberal Jewish point of view. Which means asking a lot of questions," he deadpanned.
The Brooklyn-born comic is different. He'll be returning to the Island for the second year and he'll spend the entire week living at the youth hostel in West Tisbury. "I get to hear people talk in their sleep in five different languages," he said in a phone interview this week.
Not that his budget demands it. In addition to his comic performance career, Mr. Blakeman has a steady gig as a "Jewish liberal from Brooklyn on Fox News. It's a great way to get your heart rate up," he said of his forays into TV's heartbeat of conservatism.
He's also an instructor in stand-up comedy at the New School, has opened the "Late Show with David Letterman," and has done a documentary about the ups and downs of The Comic Strip, the New York club which nurtured Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Jerry Seinfeld, and Adam Sandler. He numbers Jon Stewart and Caroline Rhea as personalities who cut their comic teeth as his New School Students.
Mr. Blakeman performs his political humor from a liberal Jewish point of view around the world, including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, and the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. He was featured on MSNBC's live coverage of the 2010 and 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, and is also one of the few liberal pundits to appear regularly. He is an original member of and currently featured in the Off-Broadway political comedy show "Laughing Liberally: This Ain't No Tea Party."
He's also got an edgy performance on tour with Palestinian-American comedian Dean Obeidallah in Standup for Peace: the Two Comedian Solution to Middle East peace.
So he's got the chops and is descended from a line of comic social commentators, including Robert Klein, his personal hero, and from Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce, lefty comic saints of the Sixties.
Mr. Blakeman has a prime perch from which to view the twists and turns of the comedy business. "I've noticed tremendous growth in age and ethnic diversity in my classes. Black, Latino, many different Asian cultures and students now range from high school students to people in their 70s and 80s. That's different from the young, white mostly Jewish kids years ago," he said.
The stereotypes of audiences are not as comfortably predictable as they may have been a generation ago. " I played Kutshers, a kosher resort in the Catskills and told a mild Seder [ritual Passover meal] joke and they sat there with their arms folded. Then Dean and I did our Jew and Palestinian show in Gainesville, Florida. Little apprehensive but it was one of the best-received shows on the tour," he said. "The red and blue state thing isn't accurate [for comedy]. It doesn't really work," he said, adding that college audiences "are not buying all the conflict. They don't understand why people can't just get along," he said.
A journalism major at Northwestern University, "I was a news junkie, loved to follow media, and I always liked to get in front of people. As a kid, I used to interview my parents at the kitchen table," he said.
"You need to have experienced what you're talking about today to sell it, so for me mostly that's news, politics, family, Jewish, and Brooklyn," he said, noting that diversity in comedy has created more niche audiences and authenticity is a requirement for performers.
"It evolves, you have to be ready to talk about a lot of things. But at the core, it's amazing how many issues drag on, just the names change. Media coverage is a constant. Gays in the military have come back around in the last couple of months. We've been talking about Libya and Gaddafi for years. He's the only guy I know of who spells his name 45 different ways," he said.
In that vein, Mr. Blakeman said he asks each new class for their favorite comics. "You get Jon Stewart and Bill Maher and Chris Rock. But you also get a lot of Jack Benny and Bob Hope. The fundamentals of comedy don't change," he said. "You still need a setup and a punchline."
Comedy with Scott Blakeman, 8 pm, Sept. 2 and 3, Grange Hall, West Tisbury. $25. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jack Shea, of Vineyard Haven, is a regular contributor to The Times.