"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.