During a Tuesday night rehearsal at Plays and Players Theater near Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square, the theater troupe 1812 Productions worked out some kinks in its new show, “This is the Week That Is.” The eighth annual production features sketches and musical comedy based on current events.
The monthlong show changes nightly based on news headlines.
But the news is sometimes difficult to make light of.
The show traffics mainly in political humor. It had been produced toward the end of the calendar year — around election time — when year-in-review political humor is at its ripest. Due to a competing holiday show, 1812 Productions moved “This Is The Week That Is” to the spring.
“We pride ourselves on being in the zeitgeist — what are people talking about, what’s in the air?” said 1812 founder Jennifer Childs. “Unfortunately, what’s been in the air are disasters. And those are not funny.”
Spring is tornado season. Childs and company had worked up a number about how political pundits on cable television spin the news to their own agenda. The joke is that they will even spin the weather to serve their political talking points.
For weeks the company developed lyrics set to a song by the Motown R&B group The Spinners, and shot video to accompany actors playing Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Rachel Maddow, and Al Sharpton – all spinning the news like a tornado.
But then, just days before opening night, a series of powerful tornadoes killed at least 30 people in the South and Midwest.
With one day before opening, the actors put their heads together to figure out what to do with the tornado sketch.
“It’s that thing where you can make fun of the smoke, but you can’t make fun of the fire,” said Childs onstage at Plays and Players, looking over her laptop at the actors around her. Tornadoes are not funny, she explained, but pundits who use tornadoes for political leverage are.
Childs does not want to cut the number, because that puts a significant hole in the two-hour show, which includes lots of video that the company does not have time to reshoot.
And, besides, the joke makes fun of talking heads on TV, not victims of natural disasters.
Actor Scott Greer, who portrays Rush Limbaugh in the sketch, suggests mentioning tornadoes at the top of the sketch, to allow the audience to get used to the idea of tornadoes before the joke hits them.
“It feels like we’re dealing with it, as opposed to, ‘do they know people are dead because of tornadoes, and they are doing this funny sketch?'” said Greer. “It’s not about tornadoes, it’s about Rush and Ann and Rachel and Al.”
The cast, who write many of their own lines, decided that Greer’s Rush should rant against the National Weather Service, because blaming a government agency is funnier than blaming victims.
“Listen up, dittoheads,” said Greer, doing his best impersonation of the conservative radio talk-show host. “There is nothing those socialist, feminists, tree-hugging socialists over at the National Weather Service won’t do to get their hands on your tax dollars.”
“Should you say socialist, twice?” said fellow performer Dave Jadico.
Yes, the group concurred, because that’s funny.
Problem dodged? Maybe. The real test comes when there is a live audience in the room.