BRATTLEBORO—Selectboard Chair Kate O’Connor is the featured guest at the United We Standup political comedy event on Friday, Sept. 1, at 8 p.m., at the Hooker-Dunham Theater.
But the pressure is off O’Connor to come up with a bunch of jokes.
That job lies with Dan Boulger, who will headline the stand-up comedy portion of the evening’s entertainment.
Boulger, who has appeared on Comedy Central, the BBC, and the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, is joined by seasoned comedians Srilatha Rajamani, Jessie Baade, Zachary Brazão, Laura Fattaruso, and others.
After about an hour of laughs, United We Standup producers Annie Russell and Kendall Farrell will bring out O’Connor for the question-and-answer portion.
“We end the show on an actionable note,” Farrell said. “We give people information on upcoming votes and things they can lend their voices to,” he added.
During O’Connor’s segment, which will last approximately 20 minutes, Russell and Farrell may ask her about Selectboard issues, or about her role as campaign manager during former governor Howard Dean’s presidential run.
“When deciding on questions for our guests, I take into consideration a number of factors including our time constraints and an audience who may or may not be familiar with the guest or their work,” Russell said. The audience can ask questions, too, both during the show and beforehand on social media, Russell continued. “It is very much an audience-focused process,” she said.
“We try to provide an entry point for comedy fans to learn more about local politics in an informal space. In some cases, it’s the opposite: We get folks who are very involved in politics but haven’t stopped to relax and laugh,” Russell added.
“After you’ve enjoyed a comedy show, the Q&A is a space to learn and remember that there are serious issues behind the jokes. Dessert before vegetables, if you will,” Russell told The Commons.
“It’s like when you get a dog to eat a pill” by putting it inside a piece of cheese, Farrell said. “We make local politics a little more exciting to eat.”
“We hear from folks that the news is overwhelming and it can be hard to know which sources to trust,” said Russell, who is the deputy news director at Vermont Public Radio. “I think this show is such a great way to engage with local issues at a time when politics, not to mention our social media feeds, are so polarized,” she added.
When asked if any of the politicians have ever done a stand-up bit for the show, Farrell said “not yet,” and “we’d probably say, ‘no.’ We have talented comedians, and we leave the stand-up to the professionals.”
This isn’t to say politicians aren’t funny. “Most politicians we’ve had have a really great sense of humor,” said Farrell.
Russell and Farrell — friends from the tight-knit Vermont comedy scene — started the series in January. “After the election, we were talking about how upset and frustrated we were,” said Farrell. “We asked ourselves, ‘How can we use our comedy to get people involved in local politics?’”
United We Standup’s first political guest was Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman. Since then, they’ve had former Rutland Mayor Chris Louras and newly elected Burlington City Councilor Ali Dieng as guests, among others.
“We’ve only been able to get liberal politicians. We’ve tried to get conservative politicians, but so far we’ve been unsuccessful,” said Farrell. “I wanted to get Jim Jeffords, but he’s dead. I think we have as much of a chance at getting Republicans,” he added. “They’ve been pretty shy, but that’s too bad because we’re nice people. We come in peace,” Farrell said.
Farrell noted the United We Standup events happen earlier in the evening than typical stand-up comedy shows. That’s because the political guests “always have to leave a little early or come a little late because there’s some animal they have to take care of. Vermont politicians always have some animal.”
When asked if a show of this type could only happen in Vermont, Farrell said he and Russell have traveled a lot in the Northeast, “and Vermont people have been more willing to engage with a performance [and] they go out more for music, comedy, and participate in politics. Or, maybe they just don’t have cable.”