Elect to Laugh by political satirist, Will Durst, is described as the comprehensive guide to the 2012 Presidential Election for potential voters and non-voters alike.
Durst, a moderate, talks about how political comedy allows “laughter [and] hope to creep back on the inhale.” It’s “[a] great gig,” he says. “Making people laugh out loud on purpose against their will. There’s worse ways to make a living.” Durst reminds us “as long as we laugh we are not lost.”
LK: Why is political satire so important?
WD: Political comics are the canaries in the coalmine. Our job is to sniff out the hypocrisy first. And then sing it to the heavens. Not a satirist. Say satirist and people think you have goat legs and play a pan flute. Colbert is a true satirist. Says things he doesn’t believe to make a point. Me, I just mock and scoff and taunt. But with taste.
LK: In Elect to Laugh, your latest book, you call Washington D.C., “[a] company town solely designed to support the federal government.” In a sense, they don’t support the people, correct? Has D.C. gotten lazy?
WD: Not lazy so much as isolated. It’s a work free drug zone. The largest Super Fund site in America. And built on a swamp. And you know the kind of creatures that normally frequent swamps.
LK: You’ve been called “…possibly the best political satirist working in the country today” by the New York Times, which is a fairly left wing publication. However, whether Democrat or Republican, no one gets out alive in your comedy. Do you consider yourself a moderate?
WD: Yes, I consider myself a raging moderate. But then most politics is geographic. Back home in Wisconsin, I’m a commie pinko yellow rat bastard. But in San Francisco where I live now, I’m a Nazi. Because these people are quite mad.
LK: You call democracy “the new black.” America has made “majority rule fashionable again.” Who has made democracy fashionable?
WD: I think it’s like a tide. Back and forth. Ebb and flow. In and out. Up and down. Left and right. The whole Katy Perry song. Two steps forward, one step back. Lather. And repeat.
LK: You write: “You may be excited to hear about some other upgrades we’ve made in areas such as in transportation, communications, and hygiene. It’s all there in your orientation packet. Watch some MTV. Ignore Jersey Shore. No, they’re not real.” How is reality TV destroying the soul of America?
WD: Not sure it is. Probably always been the same. Imagine it started with vaudeville and moved to radio back in the 30s. In the 50s the big show was called “Queen for a Day.” Just different now. Splashier. And moving exponentially faster. Pretty soon we’ll be watching rotating flashes of light. Surgically enhanced rotating flashes of light.
LK: Is the American public disillusioned? Can humor give us hope for something better?
WD: Jaded, perhaps, but humor always cuts through. Laughter allows hope to creep back on the inhale. It can be therapeutic. A great gig. Making people laugh out loud on purpose against their will. There’s worse ways to make a living.
LK: If you look back, Chaucer was one of the earlier satirists. In the Canterbury Tales, he reveals the ridiculousness of people and their lifestyles, especially the Medieval Church and those connected to it. In way, his satire was meant to inform change. Can satire save the world? Can it change history?
WD: Ask Swift.
LK: Isn’t political satire much easier under a democracy? What are you trying to change?
WD: Not change so much as empower. People feel intimidated by the political machinations and obfuscations for being so arcane and inscrutable. And my job is to push it all through a simplifying filter, and explain it in easily understandable doses. A translation job is all. I speak BS.
LK: When we’ve lost ability to find humor in the everyday, and especially in our government, we’ve lost on all grounds. I suppose we have the First Amendment to thank for keeping the “mock in democracy,” as you suggested. In any case, if we do, in a sense, elect to laugh, what are we gaining as a people? What are we maintaining?
WD: A sense of priority. Of scale. As long as we can laugh, we are not lost. We keep track of the silliness so you guys don’t have to. It’s a public service really when you think about it. And I would like to talk to somebody about my pension.