Comedian tries to make us laugh during trying times
As a political comedian, Will Durst relies on current events for his source material, which inevitably has led to some dry spells over the years. “Sometimes, there’s nothing going on and you’re screwed,” he said during his Friday (Aug. 11) performance at Chico Women’s Club, and then lowered his normally nasal voice for dramatic effect: “But not now …” President Trump, he explained, is obviously bad for the country, hemisphere, planet and solar system—but for him? Pure gold.
“He’s done for political comedy what legalized marijuana did for Cheetos,” Durst added.
That one got a big laugh from the audience that packed the Women’s Club for this stop on the Durst Case Scenario tour. Presented by local community radio station KZFR 90.1 FM, the show was billed as a satirical diagnosis of America’s collective case of PTSD: “President Trump Stress Disorder.” Using an old-school overhead projector to illustrate his points, Durst kept laughs coming steadily throughout a roughly 80-minute set. (One gentleman toward the back spat up his beer to three separate punchlines.)
Durst, 65, has made a career out of exposing the absurdity of politics. He’s told jokes on stand-up stages across the country, during late-night talk shows, in columns for The New York Times and Huffington Post, on air for NPR and various podcasts, and as an author of three books. He’s also something of an honorary Chicoan who has made intermittent appearances here over the last several decades. After opening sets by the local husband-wife duo Merry Standish Comedy and standup-scene veteran DNA, Durst was presented KZFR’s lifetime achievement award by general manager Rick Anderson.
“Will Durst has been our friend for a really, really long time,” Anderson said. “Whenever we’ve asked him to do something, he’s always been right there.” Durst, for his part, made a quick observation about the silver statue: “It’s a little microphone and the switch is off,” he said. “I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean.”
Then he introduced himself as an “aspiring satirist,” adding, “When you say that, people think you have goat legs or something.”
He continually proved himself to be one of those sorts of people who can’t help being funny, even when his jokes flopped. For the most part, the bits were well-crafted, -timed and -delivered, but the humor was tied equally to his cartoonish voice—which often rose into an excited, screechy crescendo—and his wildly exaggerated hand gestures and facial expressions. He also had some goofy shticks, such as surveying the audience with questions like, “Who voted on Nov. 8?” and “How many people were afraid this sort of shit would happen?”
Given how toxic American politics have become, Durst covered some dark subjects—the death of American democracy, Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election, the prospect of nuclear annihilation—but he recognized that people want, or need, to laugh about it. He maybe even helped people at the show process it all.
As hilarious as he was this night, Durst admitted that, in this climate, it can be difficult to win over audiences on either side of the political spectrum: “It’s tough telling Trump jokes because Republicans don’t think they’re funny,” he said, “and Democrats don’t think they’re jokes.”