For a comedian, it's hard not to be at least a little political in an increasingly divisive and contentious climate. But rather than treat the subject as an aside or digression, Robert Baril puts politics at the forefront of his act.
Baril's standup is a maelstrom of social observation and biting commentary that is as delightfully funny as it is whip smart. He's probably the only comic doing jokes about drone strikes on a Monday night at Acme Comedy Co., where he is a regular. In addition to his burgeoning standup career, Baril is the host of Laughing Matters, a show featured on locally based progressive radio station AM 950. He also makes up one-half of the sketch group Lestaril, which he writes and produces with the darkly hilarious Mike Lester.
We caught up with Baril to talk about the presidential election, alienating audiences, and his upcoming standup show, the Jest Wing.
CP: Robert, what on Earth made you wanna start doing comedy?
RB: It was important to me that strangers know how funny I think I am.
CP: A lot of your material is focused on politics. Was it that way when you started?
RB: It was, but the material didn't resonate because I hadn't really developed as a performer. I was opinions without a personality. So I wrote more about myself and my life first, then found ways to tie that into politics. I think that's a better way to ensure you don't come off like a preacher, which, however, is my back up plan.
CP: The old comedy adage tells us that as soon as you get political, you risk alienating half your audience. That's a myth, right?
RB: Depends on the room and crowd, but as long as it's funny, I feel like you can momentarily get people on board, even if they disagree with you. You just don't want to come off like you have the answers, only that you know some answers can't be right. Making fun of both sides and yourself also helps to show that everything is fair game.
CP: Who are your comedy heroes?
RB: What Garry Shandling did with The Larry Sanders Show was amazing, and I'm always blown away by Carol Burnett any time I catch one of her reruns.
CP: You love Dennis Miller but you're a pretty liberal guy. Was it hard for you to watch Dennis Miller turn into a raving neo-conservative?
RB: Yes. I haven't seen a betrayal like that since Simon Bolivar went 180 on Francisco de Miranda.
CP: Okay, you host an AM radio show. Why?
RB: Exposure. Is it not working?
CP: Who's your dream guest for the show?
RB: Eric Clapton. Wait, did you say dream or Cream?
CP: Do you think Trump is going to win?
RB: I don't think he wants to win, which clearly isn't the same thing, but given his lack of organizational structure and the already steep electoral college advantage the Democrats have, I don't think he will.
CP: What are you going to do if he does?
RB: Talk about it on AM radio. In all likelihood Democrats will retake the Senate anyway, which would handcuff a lot of Trump's extreme initiatives. He's essentially a corporate Democrat anyway, so I wouldn't expect any drastic differences. The wealthy will pay less in taxes, but there won't be any camps.
CP: What can audiences expect to see at the Jest Wing this Thursday?
RB: Some of the most talented comics in the cities trying their hand at political comedy. But, for the sake of advertising, also tits.
CP: Is Hillary as awful as my Facebook feed says she is?
RB: She's been in the public eye for over two decades, which is plenty of time to make enemies as well as bad decisions, in addition to being co-opted by powerful special interests. But I don't know if I would call that awful. Now, single-handedly killing four U.S. servicemen in Benghazi was a little much, but war is hell.
CP: You and Mike Lester write and produce sketches together as Lestaril. Is Mike your best friend? If so, why?
RB: I assume it's because he will kill any and all serious competition. He's like Hillary Clinton in that way.
CP: Why does Mike yell so much? Is he sad?
RB: Because if he insults you quietly, no one else will be able to hear it. Also, he's sad. We are all sad. Come to my comedy show.
IF YOU GO:
The Jest Wing
Comedy Corner Underground at the Corner Bar
8 p.m. Thursday, June 23