You might think the tone of this year’s political life in the U.S. — with its sometimes bizarre and unprecedented twists — would be easy pickings for comedy.
But you’d be wrong.
“Too much. Too much, I think,” said Jennifer Childs, founder of the comedy theater company 1812 Productions. “People say, ‘I guess you have a lot of material!’ I could do with less material.”
Collaborating with writers and performers, Childs has been creating the annual ‘This Is The Week That Is” for 12 years, through three presidential administrations. The “year-in-revue” sketch comedy show features multimedia staging, choreographed musical numbers, and character-driven scenes, much of it propelled by sharp political satire.
The show includes a “Saturday Night Live”-style comedy newscast that changes with every performance to reflect the daily news cycle.
Right now, the main driver behind almost all American political comedy has been President Donald Trump and his administration. The unorthodox rants and political maneuvers have been pilloried every night for a year by late-night television satirists. One of the challenges of developing “This Is The Week That Is” is finding ways to make theater different from TV.
The first step was to eliminate the president.
The production will not feature an onstage Trump. The numbers will mention him or refer to him, but audiences will not see or hear a Trump parody in this show.
A month ago, Childs pulled together a roomful of writers, advisers, and friends of the company to gauge what everybody was feeling about 2017. Before anybody pitched a single punch line or scribbled an idea on a legal pad, the mood of the room needed to be articulated into a theme for the show.
“Our focus is on exhaustion,” said Childs. “Wow — this has been a really long year.”
Or, as Childs’ alter-ego Patsy says in a South Philly hoagie-mouth accent, “Hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires, Trump is president, and the Eagles are in the playoffs. Is this the End Times?”
One of the threads tying the show together is the anxiety people feel as their cell phones constantly chirp with news headline updates. After a year of almost daily crisis — much of it coming from Washington — Childs says people are feeling Trump fatigue.
“CNN news alerts are the stars of the show,” she said. “A lot of what this year is about is every time you hear your phone buzz is like, ‘Ahhh! What is it this time?’ We need a Trump-free moment.”
“This Is The Week That Is” is designed to be funny, but not to bury its head in the sand. Childs takes satire seriously, walking the tightrope between ferocious and silly. She can take a swipe at the White House in one moment, then, in the next, do a song and dance while dressed as a hot dog.
But she insists that the stage is no place for petty anger.
“Anger is a really good spark underneath you to create satire,” she said. “But it’s not a great place for the satire to land.”