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Comic Will Durst on the All-American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing

Will Durst talks about his new show in Manhattan, getting flipped off by Olympia Dukakis, helping the terrorists win, necrophilia and other things liberals enjoy.
Will Durst is a San Francisco-based comic, satirist and pundit. He and I first met when we performed at a Laughing Liberally show in L.A. (I'm a comic too.)

A year later, we got a chance to reconnect in New York, where Will is making everybody laugh with his new one-man show Will Durst: The All-American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing. From left to right and everywhere in between, from the New York Times to the New York Post, the critics are raving.

When we met on Manhattan's Upper West Side, Durst was reading the sports section over a cup of black coffee. No doubt he had finished reading the latest issue of the Nation magazine and drunk his chai-organic-double-vegan-latte before I got there. But he wasn't fooling me. And soon we were talking about getting flipped off by Olympia Dukakis, helping the terrorists win, necrophilia and other things liberals enjoy.

Katie Halper: Why do you hate America?

Will Durst: I'm not an America-hater, I'm an America-lover. Dissent is the ultimate patriotic act. Just like every liberal commie pinko weenie says.

Halper: When did you start hating America?

Durst: I started loving America right away. Free water. Water fountains everywhere. Refrigerated, cold, refreshing water. You try getting that anywhere else. Try getting that in France, not gonna happen. Go head, I dare you. It's $5.

Halper: Funny, I was going ask you why you don't move to France. But I guess it's the whole water thing. Anyway, you have moments of redemption when you praise Bush, calling him a father figure.

Durst: He has been like a father to me. Just in terms of providing.

Halper: So he's a good provider?

Durst: Yes, not just a decider and a commuter; he's also a provider. Not just for me, but for editorial cartoonists, columnists, anyone with a speck of consciousness. He is very fecund and fertile.

Halper: He is very virile.

Durst: He's like a rising tide. The rising tide of Bush lifts all boats. It's a wonderful rain, it's a hard rain.

Halper: I saw Olympia Dukakis sitting right in front of me in the theater [at your show] and I knew I was in a scary place: a theater in New York, a woman who represents the unholy alliance between the Hollywood elite and liberals. But I was impressed when you got into a hissing match with her. Because anyone who hisses at a Dukakis is a friend of mine.

Durst: Yeah, I told a tough joke about Hillary, which I thought was fair, and then she hissed at me. I got her back on my side by doing the second part of the joke. I didn't know it was Olympia Dukakis at the time. But then when she came backstage, I recognized her. "Oh, my living god. I got heckled by an Oscar winner."

Halper: I think you got flipped the bird too.

Durst: Oh really? She flipped me off?

Halper: Yeah. How does it feel being flipped off by a Democrat?

Durst: Well somebody's gotta do it. I feel like Dennis Miller.

Halper: You make fun of Arnold Schwarzenegger for signing a law outlawing having sex with corpses. Why do you want to legalize necrophilia?

Durst: It's a freedom issue. Like the sanctity of life. It fits into the whole pro-life thing. It's actually part of the pro-life movement.

Halper: Right, the right-to-lifers for necrophilia. And then you're not wasting the seed either.

Durst: Right. Although I'm not sure exactly how that fits in, so to speak.

Halper: In your show you provide immigrants and terrorists with a plan for getting across the border. Why do you help the terrorists win?

Durst: I am of two minds about putting that portion in the show. I understand it could be considered aiding and abetting the enemy to let them know they could go around the 700-mile-long, 16-foot-high wall that covers a 1,952 mile-long border. Or they could bring a ladder. But since they have already started building tunnels, they probably already thought of it. But I really hope that you don't make a big deal of it. Maybe you shouldn't even print this.

Halper: What do you think that political comics can achieve?

Durst: I think we can distill what seem to be incredibly complex questions into something any audience member can understand. They don't have to be a poly-sci major. You can empower them to know that their opinion is important. There's no way that people are going to become enlightened. You're usually preaching to the choir. But it's nice to get the choir to sing. Especially after we've been used as human dart boards for the last six and a half years.

It's funny because there was a time when you couldn't do jokes about Bush. Even though we were, starting on Jan. 21st, 2001. Then Sept. 11th happened, and you couldn't touch him. It was seen as unpatriotic; we were involved in a war. Then Katrina happened. And taking on Bush became fashionable, and now it's considered old hat. We had a window of 18 months for Christ's sake when it was OK. And then it was, "Oh no, Bush is low-hanging fruit," or, "Everybody bashes Bush." Fuck you! We haven't hit him hard enough, and we're gonna hit him until ... until he dies, OK, until he dies, and we'll keep hitting, and then that still won't be enough.

Halper: And then you'll have sex with him?

Durst: Exactly, goes back to the Schwarzenegger law.

Halper: We've really come full circle. Speaking of dead people and perverts, let's go back to the Democrats. My favorite part of the show, obviously, is when you focus on your Clintons, your Kerries, your Dukaki. More of your thoughts on them?

Durst: The Democrats seem more interested in getting re-elected than they are in changing anything for the better. When Gore ducked the Kansas Board of Education teaching intelligent design along with evolution and said, "Children should be exposed to varying theories," I just wanted to dick-slap him, I really did. And he would have had to have been very close, and I understand that. Not that I don't believe in Giselle the Mountain Sprite. She's from where all things flow. She's my goddess.

Halper: Do you renew the show every day with new news stories and headlines?

Durst: I try to. There was a quote from yesterday about dog fighting, and I'm chomping at the bit, so to speak, to put it in the show tonight.

Halper: And how do you actually get your news?

Durst: First I wake up at noon. Then I have to clear all the potato chip bags and beer cans that are covering the floor.

Halper: And the copies of the Nation?

Durst: Of course. Then I find a phrase that I love, and I try to come up with a punch line. I'm all one-liners. They're strung on top of each other so that hopefully the previous punch line is a set up for the next joke. It's piggybacking, which is a timing that I learned works because if you wanna do political comedy in Stockton, Calif., at Uncle Chuckles Fun Hut, then you have to learn how to get them to shut up.

There are about four places where we can work and people really know what we're talking about. N.Y., San Francisco, D.C., Boston. And I don't blame people because it's such a morass, it's so ugly, it's hard to keep up. The names are constantly changing. The circus remains the same, but the clowns are different. So I don't blame people if they don't know what I'm talking about. They have families, jobs, they have a life. It's our job to keep up on this shit and try to put it in terms they understand.

Halper: Was your comedy always political?

Durst: When I started doing standup in 1974, there was the Vietnam War and everything was, "We're gonna fight the man, man." Now, we are the man, man. But everything was political then. High school arithmetic was political. Of course in Wisconsin we didn't get the '60s until about 1974 anyway.

Halper: Was there one thing in particular that politicized you?

Durst: There were some riots in Milwaukee. I actually got run over by a horse. I was there for the chicks. That's what everyone went to rallies for no matter what they say. That was about as political as I got. I was never a big Weatherman kinda guy. I thought blowing shit up to protest blowing shit up was kinda oxymoronic.

Halper: Why a show and not just standup?

Durst: Bigger canvas, more paint, and with writing you can plant a seed in the first paragraph and follow it until it blooms in the last paragraph. That's something I can do with the show. I can take my time between laughs. I always thought I was more literary than most comics. Which doesn't mean they're not smart. Comics are smart. They have a lot going on in their minds. Most are ADHD.

Halper: Are you?

Durst: I dunno. When I was a kid, I was hyper. They started feeding me coffee at the age of 10. That was a popular therapy at the time, over-amping the kid to short-circuit him.

Halper: What's the worst thing that ever happened to you at a show?

Durst: A guy threw his prosthetic leg at me. He was trying to be funny. I held it up. Then I had a glass ash tray shatter behind me on the wall. The woman said she threw it because she was laughing so hard. Then I had a guy taken out on a stretcher because he had a heart attack right before I went on stage. I had a corporate gig the week after 9/11 for a law firm in Palo Alto, and they had an office in the World Trade Center and had just lost 16 people. So they had a moment of silence, and then they brought me on stage. I swear to fucking god.

Another time, this guy started yelling at me, and I couldn't hear him. And someone was taping the show, so he rushed at the camera and tried to grab it and had to be escorted out. It turns out he was an out-of-work right-wing talk show host. So he's calling all the radio stations in Sacramento and saying he was molested by the club staff, saying his freedom of speech was violated. Nobody would return his calls. Another time someone was going to beat me up in a club, but he got into a fight with someone who liked me, and they beat each other up. Good times.

Halper: Are you going to be sad at the end of Bush's term?

Durst: No. Because we're gonna get to know so much about the next person. Some people predicted the demise of political humor after Bill Clinton. Everything was below the belt. Every two-bit hack in America took his dick jokes and made them presidential dick jokes. Corporate gigs loved it when I would take on Clinton. I lost a lot of corporate gigs after Clinton. It's not so funny when you take on the boy king.

Halper: Who was your biggest influence?

Durst: Lenny Bruce. I used to listen to him before I went on stage. I read his autobiography, How to Talk Dirty. And there are great political comics out there. You were hysterical the other night. And there's Lee Camp, Costaki, David Feldman, Johnny Steel, Barry Weintraub. Marga Gomez is my hero. I worked with Mort Sahl a few months ago. He's great. He's 80 years old and his opening line was, "If Paris Hilton goes to jail, will that rob her life of meaning?"

Halper: What are you hoping your show will accomplish?

Durst: Driving a nail through capitalism.

***
Will Durst: The All-American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing is now playing at New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St., Manhattan, (212) 239-6200. It is presented by Hanging Chad Productions, Jennifer Sachs and Allen Spivak; and directed by Eric Krebs; and it features a production design by Peter Feuchtwanger. For tickets go to Telecharge.com or call 212-239-6200.
Katie Halper is a co-founder of Laughing Liberally, a political comedy group and one of the national directors of Living Liberally and artistic director and comedy curator at The Tank a nonprofit performing and visual arts space for emerging artists. Katie blogs regularly for the Huffington Post, Working Life, and the political comedy site 23/6.
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