"I don't know man, whatever," a sullen and unfriendly guy spits out. I want to know when the Occupy L.A. comedy show is going to start. The sullen guy doesn't have an answer. This is at the information booth. A cheerier dude is chatting up some punky teens who have walked by. He doesn't know either. Do they think I'm a cop?
This is my first trip to the Occupy Los Angeles tent village at City Hall and it's not going well: the info booth doesn't have the information I need and there's an impromptu jam band on the steps drumming and singing. Is that singing? There's also a didgeridoo going full tilt. On top of that, there's a heavy odor of...um...is it the art teacher's office? Is it your uncle's garage? It's weed. I smell weed. You've heard the jokes: This is what democracy smells like.
I'm bummed -- I want this to be better than the other non-Tea Party social movements that fizzled out in the past decade. I want this to not be the caricature that a million shitty hippie-haters have punchlined through since the movement began. But after twenty minutes meandering around City Hall's south steps, I'm panicking that it might be. I'm also pissed that I've fallen for some merry pranksterism and now I'm going to have to listen to my worst musical nightmare.
Oh, I've got the time wrong. I'm a half hour early. Thanks, Facebook.
At the correctly appointed time, Josh Androsky, the event's organizer, takes a microphone and makes it all better.
"Hi everybody! So, like so-and-so said, I'm a comedian! FUN. But, I just don't really feel like telling you guys my normal jokes... because, I mean, well... shit: we're here fighting for our very livelihoods."
Androsky plows through some jokes about a time-wasting Congress and values-voting right-wingers -- setting the stage for his three friends who will add some more well-needed levity to this burgeoning movement. He's billed this event as, "Like a USO show, but with more Guy Fawkes masks."
Allen Strickland Williams, in a suit, seems to miss the mark. Willams' twee one-liners are not exactly the political pith that the crowd wants to hear. "I love you, but you're not funny!" a heckler shouts. He's wrong: Williams is funny, just not for this crowd. At least he's loved.
Another young comedian, Hasan Minhaj fares much better with his nods to American excess and global injustice. "We live in the most opulent country in the world and we have responsibilities," reminding the crowd that we're still better off than half the planet. "We go camping for fun," he is forced to explain to a fictional Pakistani cousin. "We sleep outside and shit in a hole." The cousin concludes, "So, it's like Pakistan? Yeah...but with s'mores...and no dysentery."
"If I could fuck my wife half as good as Wall Street is fucking the country...oh boy," headliner Jimmy Dore laments. His set clearly had the type of blue-collar, working class heft that the movement needs. "My brother's a Tea Bagger...he makes $50,000 a year and he's worried about the estate tax...call me when that becomes a problem for you, and I'll organize a rally, ok? People with estates don't have two broken-down cars on their front lawn."
The anarchist band, or whatever it is -- dudes in black with horns -- comes to interrupt Dore's set. It doesn't go well. This is what democracy interrupts like. Dore gives them a good ration of shit, but they seem unfazed. They are some of the 99% after all. It's a big tent.
I catch up with Josh Androsky after the show and ask him what's up with the heckling douchebags. "I wouldn't call them douchebags, I'd say that in a movement this big there's always going to be an anarchist element...to any protest, really. And those guys are just going to yell 'Fuck this' to anything that happens. "
Androsky is an out of work TV producer who has taken to comedy so he doesn't have to hate himself for writing and working for the wrong people. He's been with the Occupy L.A. movement since day one and he's a member of the movement's media committee. He's dedicated and not quite the unwashed hippie you'd expect.
"I got here day one and I have other responsibilities so I can't sleep here but I'm here three to four nights a week," he explains.
As we're talking, another comedian comes up to congratulate him and joke that they're going to give one of the hecklers his own show. This particular heckler had briefly commandeered the microphone and regaled the crowd with half a dozen burps.
Androsky brushes it off. "That's what this fucking movement is missing: merriment," he says. "It's a battle to not become stale. I'm so afraid that this movement will get too serious that it will become a Tea Party...or that it will become an actual party. The best way to do that is to keep a sense of humor and self-awareness. With a sense of humor comes that sense of awareness and we need to keep that."
It doesn't take long to realize that Androsky's the perfect spokesperson for this comedic injection and maybe for the movement itself. He's young, pleasant, erudite, and downright charismatic. He's more Dustin than Abbie Hoffman (if he can be boiled down to a mere Hoffman) and he knows his shit.
Another well-wisher comes up to congratulate Androsky, "Great job -- can't choose your audience, I guess." Androsky is quick to respond, "But I did choose them! I chose exactly them. I'd be happy to entertain even ten people who enjoy it, laugh and learn something." Good answer.
I ask Androsky: What do you say to the charges and to the image that these are just ne'er do wells trying to drum the world a better place? How do you tell the normal folks at home that have been fucked over by banks that these are people speaking on their behalf?
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"What I would say is, participate in the general assembly," he says. "You watch mothers with children of all races, religion...all types. You watch the working class people come out and participate. They're out there participating in a transparent form of government. It's incredibly inspiring." He's right: at Occupy L.A.'s general assembly, every single person get's a chance to say something and voice concerns. It's not just the hippies. It's not just drumming. To say nothing of the content: it is indeed organized (for the most part) and it's totally inclusive.
So Androsky is going to keep doing this. He's a man on a mission to prevent a movement from getting mundane. But, like the rest of the movement, they need better attention, not necessarily more. "The goal is to get bigger and bigger names. I want to get Patton [Oswalt], I want to get David Cross, Mark Maron, Doug Stanhope," he says. "I want this to grow. I don't want to do another comedy show unless I can get some really big names." Earlier last week, Jeffrey Ross, Roastmaster General for Comedy Central's famed roasts, gave the crowd a supportive, good-natured ribbing...and hopefully it won't end there.
Clearly, for both the Occupy Wall Street movement and the associated comedians, this is just the beginning. This is participatory democracy after all, not 'Groucho Marxism' or any kind of Marxism really...it's transparency and inclusion. And with inclusion you've actually got to include people you can't stand -- drum circle hippies, hecklers, and lunatics included. Thankfully, Androsky and his cohorts are there to prevent it from becoming too boring, too off-message, too cliché, and too devoid of dick jokes. Because, what's a fresh young political movement without some good dick jokes?