With the election season underway, it can be hard not to drown in the heated waters of political debate. Talking about politics does not have to be a dreaded conversation of disagreement and disaster. Comedians value talking about hard issues in their stand up and illustrate the ways that comedy can stir up some humor in a whirlwind of confusion.
Orpheum Theater is a Flagstaff staple where anyone can watch unique musicians perform, see original films, and see stand-up from locals or those making their way through town. On March 6, it hosted a show featuring comedians JC Anderson, Daniel Bridge-Gadd, Kerri Gallagher and headliner Reena Calm.
Calm is a stand-up comedian working on touring in all 50 states. Calm said her work is autobiographical and involves a lot of puns. Her comedy is silly and dirty with a punchline around every corner.
Calm has visited many clubs and venues to perform and tries to represent the female perspective in her comedy. Calm said the playing field is gradually becoming more level, with comedy clubs specifically having more women on their calendars each month, but it is clear that there is a long way to go for equality.
“That’s the difference in how we’re raised. I think men are encouraged to be heard and share their opinions and women are encouraged to be polite, seen, and not heard and support men,” Calm said. “I feel like even if comedy culture is booking more women, we still have to go up against the audience’s perception and it’s an uphill battle when it comes to talking about equality.”
Calm said she feels an obligation to speak up for and represent other women when she performs. She said talking about relationships is a good way to do that. Her material is about sex and relationships and she said it is progressive to talk about topics like reproduction rights. She said she jokes about abortion, sexual health and the act of getting someone pregnant is a two-person job.
Gallagher is one of the comedians who opened. She is from Phoenix and performs mostly around Phoenix and Southern California. Gallagher’s stand-up consists of anecdotes about her own life and commentary on current events.
“I like to be able to connect with the audience based on what is going on around us,” Gallagher said. “What I’m saying needs to be accurate and for comedians, of course, it needs to be funny.”
Gallagher said since people are very divided on current political issues, she tries to come at it in a way that can bring people together on a topic. She said she wants her comedy to lead to a really good conversation, not an argument.
There are comedians all over Flagstaff eager to share their perspectives and comedy. Students had the chance to experiment with stand-up and develop their characters and style in front of an audience.
Sophomore Marcus Russell recently began performing his stand-up in front of local crowds. Russell said stand-up allows him to express his identity in a funny way people can understand even if they are not black, Jewish or bisexual like he is. He said it’s important to frame comedy and share one’s culture even if it is subjective. Russell said crowds often filter in and out at shows, so a comedian should aim to establish a character before talking about edgy topics.
“It’s an exchange of culture. Someone says ‘This is my life,’ you consume it for a second and then laugh. That’s all it is,” Russell said. “Who am I to be the guy to talk about this really edgy thing for no reason? You don’t know who I am. I’m as familiar to you as a stranger on the street, only I have a microphone in my hand. I think it’s really important to establish who I am and what I identify with first.”
Russell said he does not believe in “punching down,” or joking at somebody’s expense, even when it is within his own community. He said the jokes are at face value and have to be making fun of something because they need context. Russell said he can make light of something or someone without actually attacking them.
Comedy is an outlet for people to share their lives, experiences and what makes up who they are. It does not hurt to be funny either. Humor can reflect the harder issues happening in society. When something goes sideways, there is bound to be someone who can relieve the stress by making a joke or two about it.