In this time of national turmoil, political fear and uncertainty – laughing yet? –emerges a voice of reason, of strength and of hope. Not Obama, you silly geese. Even better: Citizen Jimmy – comedian Jimmy Dore – premieres his one-hour Comedy Central special this week. Watch it— unless you hate America.
Our country is firmly planted in the shitter, folks: Gas prices are up to $4.60 a gallon on the West Coast, troop deployments to Iraq are on the rise; action in Afghanistan is heating up (again), Fox News is doing everything in their power to destroy Barack Obama and Indiana Jones heartthrob Shia LaBeouf flipped his car in a drunk driving accident. Add to that the death of George Carlin, the one man who was able to help succinctly express hardcore comedy fans’ fears and frustrations about this glorious downward spiral.
Enter Jimmy Dore—“Citizen Jimmy,” if you will: a quick-witted, politically observational dude here to take the edge off of our troubled minds, to help us feel semi-sane again— by prying apart society and then joking it into submission. But really, is this veteran comic from LA-by-way-of-Chicago our new hope? Is Dore’s Comedy Central special premiering Aug. 1 the kick in the pants our country needs to right itself? We seriously doubt it. But watching an hour of Dore will certainly help numb the pain. The man himself recently chatted with Punchline Magazine about turning to politics for punch lines, his much-too-conservative family and why a vote for John McCain is a vote for great stand-up comedy.
When did your stand-up shift to a more political bent?
About three years ago. The UCB Theatre opened in L.A. and they asked me if I wanted to do a show there. I was flattered. I said I’d love to. So I decided I was going to do a show that I just wanted to do— something that came from my heart. So I started to do what I wanted to do; the show was called Pop and Politics. It was a video clip show, sort of a cross between Bill Maher’s show and The Daily Show. Then Alex Murray, who’s my manager now — he wasn’t at the time — saw the show. So he encouraged me to tour with it, which led to Comedy Central. That’s how it all happened.
How difficult is it to write political material without becoming preachy?
I like to talk about important, serious things but in a real silly way. I like to be upbeat about it. The funny comes from my bones and my persona, rather than the words. It’s kind of like Jerry Lewis doing Lenny Bruce. You know, Lenny Bruce was a very serious guy. I don’t want to get caught up in that. I don’t want to get too serious on a comedy stage. It just makes me feel more comfortable— the older I get, the sillier I want to be. If I can talk about serious stuff in a funny way, that’s when I feel like I’m clicking, like I’m hitting on all cylinders. That keeps me away from being preachy. I’m not preachy; I’m not in your face. It seems like every comic wants to be in your face. I’m more silly.
Before all the political material, what was your material like?
It was a mixture of stuff. I come from a big family – 12 kids – so some of it was about that. Some of it was about being Catholic. Now, it’s more focused now; it’s more ‘stickin’ it to the man’ kind of comedy.
Where did your deep interest in politics develop?
It all started when I was in high school when I took a current events class. We didn’t have textbooks, so we just had to read Time magazine every week. That was what first opened my eyes. Before that, I would just watch TV and think ‘that’s what’s happening’ because I saw it on TV. Then I started reading and realized ‘Oh, that’s not what’s happening!’ I think television news is really a distraction from the news. I was interested in politics back when Ronald Reagan was president. I think whenever a conservative is in office, it’s great for comedy. There was a boom in comedy back when Reagan was president and another now with Bush as president.
So you’d agree with the idea that it might be tougher for comics to mock Obama than it was to trash Bush or would be to trash McCain?
Yeah, I’d have to agree, it’s a little harder. It’s a little sadder too, because you’d realize Obama is equal to the others running. So it hurts a little bit more. You know, part of me wants to see Obama in office, because it’s momentous and I’m an American. But at the same time as a comedian, it would be much better if John McCain became president. In some cases, there’s not that much of a difference. A lot of the financial mess we’re in right now is because Bill Clinton was so beholden to Wall Street. I talk about it in my special. It’s kind of a trap where people get caught up; this Left/Right, Democrat/Republican, Conservative/Liberal game. That’s more of a distraction, this whole ‘us against them.’
Do you find you have to interact with a lot of audience members who don’t agree with your politics? Do you get a lot of angry emails from gay Republicans? (See Jimmy’s clip below about “Log Cabin Republicans”).
Yeah. It used to be more. The further away we get from 9/11, the less people get upset. But it was bad after 9/11, when everybody got scared. It’s amazing how much people want you to shut up when they’re afraid. Now they yell at you less. But I’ve met plenty of people who are not big on freedom of speech in America. Plenty of people.
Are there club owners who tell you to stay away from certain material?
Yes, I’ve heard some say ‘Listen, we’ve got a lot of Republicans tonight, so take it easy.’
I’m guessing that happens mostly in the South?
No, not always. The first time that happened was in Milwaukee. The guy said, ‘Look, I’ve got a lot of Republicans, so lay off Bush.’
And did you?
Is it easier to write material that’s exclusively focused on current events?
It’s harder and easier. It’s harder, because you can’t hang onto the joke for long. There are some jokes that I wrote 12 years ago – maybe about going to the doctor or my girlfriend – that I could still do today. But others, I know I’m going to have to say goodbye to them pretty soon. But I just kind of write what I’m feeling. If I’m upset or there’s an issue that bothers me, I’ll write a joke about it: gas prices or health care, for instance.
When you performed in Afghanistan a few years ago for the troops, your political stuff must have been challenging to do, no?
It was quite an experience, man. It was a hard trip, because I was kind of sick at the time. But it was great. A war zone is a real cross-section of America. I met people there who went to West Point and graduated the top one percent. But then I met other people who had no idea where they were, what was going on, and they couldn’t care less. So it was just interesting to meet all different kinds of people. And they were just really glad we were there. They were great crowds. I was afraid to make fun of George Bush there, I’ll tell you. In America, I don’t really care about upsetting someone in the crowd, but I didn’t really feel like that was my job there, you know? But they loved all those jokes, as I hoped they would. Turns out everybody hates their boss. I’m sure I’ll get an opportunity to go back at some point. It doesn’t look like we’re going to get the fuck out of there any time soon.
I was listening to some of the Comedy and Everything podcasts with you and Todd Glass. You mention that some people in your family doubt evolution. Are they much more conservative than you?
Yeah, I guess they’re much more conservative than I would like to admit. I don’t know what happened. I even have some born-again Christians in my family. I never understand why we have to tiptoe around the ignorance. They always say, ‘Oh, you have to watch what you say. They take their religion seriously.’ But I say, ‘Well, I’m an Atheist. I’m real sensitive about that.’
I also got the sense your parents weren’t too supportive of your stand-up at first.
Just like most parents, they saw how hard comedy was going to be and they thought, I have a college education. My mother said, ‘You have such a wonderful mind and you’re wasting it!’ I don’t hold anything against them. I would have thought the same thing if it were my kid.
Has the one-hour Comedy Central special changed their minds at all?
What changed their minds was in 1999 when they came out to L.A. where I was taping a show called Late Friday on NBC. And they got to meet Jay Leno, because we taped it on his stage. Even though I’d already been on television, that’s what changed their minds. They started to think, ‘I guess Jimmy knows what he’s doing.’
And they don’t mind the Bush jokes?
Well, my dad was a Reagan Democrat. My parents very much saw through George Bush, which was very heartening. We could talk about it— unlike some of my brothers and sisters, which is kind of funny. But my parents were pretty hip to George Bush.
Which stand-ups influenced you growing up?
My favorite one was George Carlin, no doubt about it. I remember, I was maybe 10 years old and I heard Class Clown. I was hooked. I loved it. I couldn’t believe that there was someone as cool as George Carlin. I was coming from Catholic school at the time so it really spoke to me. His rebelliousness, the way he talked, I liked it. So, I would say him, and I love Jerry Seinfeld. I would have to say Bill Hicks also. The first time I saw Bill Hicks I wanted to quit. I thought, ‘Wow, I’ll never be that good.’
You’ve been doing stand-up for 19 years. How has the national scene changed in that time?
It feels like they keep moving the goal line. When I started, all you had to do was become really funny and be a headliner at clubs and you’d make a great living and do well. That was my goal, to be a headliner in an A-room. Now, not only do you have to be funny, you also need to sell tickets anywhere you go. It feels like it used to be that the club was the destination. So the club would build up a reputation and people would go to the club, and look at who’s playing second. Now it’s different. Now it’s all about selling tickets. I think that’s the biggest difference. They don’t care if you’re funny. They just care if you sell tickets. It used to be that they’d care about the shows more because they were building a certain reputation. Now, most clubs will host different acts every week, so it doesn’t really have its own feel. Have you noticed that?
Yeah. One thing I’ve heard a few comics mention is that now a lot of the younger comics are much more focused on the marketing aspect through MySpace. So they’ll have a million friends that they invite to every show, but they don’t even have 10 minutes of material.
Right, exactly. And you shouldn’t be inviting people out like that when you only have 10 minutes. No one should come out to see the opener. It’s like they have the cart before the horse. And comedy would be a lot more interesting without that shit.
It’s so much harder to weave through all that clutter. We don’t know who’s funny and who’s not. I get MySpace messages from 10 comics a day saying how funny they are. Or to vote for them— is there anything more annoying than getting an email saying click on somewhere to vote for somebody’s bullshit? It’s one big fucking election: ‘Go vote for me.’ How about you go write a joke?
For more info, check out jimmydorecomedy.com.