Comedian Zahra Noorbakhsh, who says "Comedy is truth and pain. And there’s a lot of pain in politics this year." (Photo: Courtesy of Zahra Noorbaksh)
Standup comedian Karinda Dobbins is clearly not a fan of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
"I’m not feeling Donald Trump’s outreach to the blacks," she said during a recent performance at the Uptown, a club in Oakland. Dobbins, who is African-American, went on to riff about Trump's habit of using race and gender as a weapon to polarize the country.
"His pitch to us was, 'Your education is trash, you don’t have any money, you don’t have any jobs.'" Dobbins said. "He’s like, ‘What have you got to lose?’ I was like, 'Everything we’ve gained since reconstruction?'"
Women comedians both in the Bay Area and around the country have been especially tough on Trump, with his history of demeaning women. A few days after the show, Dobbins talked in her Oakland apartment about how she wants audiences to see Trump as she does: a privileged, white man. Dobbins works for a biotech company, and she says Trump reminds her of the kind of boss or co-worker women put up with all the time.
"They asked him about sexual harassment in the workplace and if his daughter -- Ivanka Trump -- had been sexually harassed, what should she do," Dobbins said. "And his response was, ‘She should find another job.' Which is a really weird response considering that his daughter works for him."
Dobbins' jokes about Trump are as rueful as they are funny. And that goes for other women comics commenting on this year's election, like Zahra Noorbaksh.
"Comedy is truth and pain," Noorbaksh said. "And there’s a lot of pain in politics this year."
"I think probably my comedy this year is more political than it ever has been, because it hits so close to home," she said during a conversation at the dining room table of her parents' home. "You have to go vote, because I don’t want to be in an internment camp."
That’s a half-joking reference to Trump’s waffling on whether internment camps for Muslims are a good idea or not.
"After the first debate, I was like, 'Okay, now I’m a Muslim Isis informant,'" Noorbaksh said. "After the second debate, I knew that I should hold onto my Muslim Isis-informant pussy. And now I have a nasty Muslim Isis-informant pussy. I feel like everybody found their pussy that day. And held on."
Not just Trump
The Republican nominee is certainly an easy target in the left-leaning Bay Area. But local comedians are also taking Clinton to task.
Noorbaksh calls out the Democratic nominee for her assumption that American Muslims have a special responsibility to fight terrorism. "Hillary Clinton also came out with, like, 'Muslims are on the front lines,'" she said. "Of what? At Starbucks, in line for coffee?"
And even in blue, blue San Francisco, there are more laughs than groans when comic Will Durst talks about Clinton ("a political cyborg") and the perception that she’s not nice enough. Durst is doing his election-oriented solo show Elect to Laugh through Nov. 8 at The Marsh.
"It must have been a bitch growing up Chelsea," Durst said, imagining life in the Clinton household when daughter Chelsea was a youngster. "‘I’m sorry honey, that looks nothing like a butterfly, and it’s not going on the refrigerator.’"
Underlying many of these jokes is the fact that both Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton are the two least popular presidential nominees in history -- or at least since polling began.
But Durst is sharpest in his takedowns of "creepy clown" Trump. "How do you parody a parody?" Durst said. "It’s like trying to staple smoke. The GOP nominee for president is Donald Trump. That’s the joke!" Durst shouted that last line and slammed the mic stand down on the stage. "The rest is farce."
Durst is a veteran comic. He’s toured Elect to Laugh around the country in each of the last three presidential campaign cycles. But he is modest about what he can accomplish as a political comedian.
"My one goal is to make people laugh out loud on purpose against their will," Durst said backstage before the show. "What artists can do is plant seeds of doubt."
Durst said he wants to make people reconsider their prejudices, at the very least. Zahra Noorbaksh shares that ideal. "I take it very seriously," Noorbaksh said of her job as a comedian, "as a person who is there to get us to see what we refuse to see about ourselves."
This suggests that the joke in political comedy is always on us. The United States gets the politicians it votes for and deserves.
Karinda Dobbins co-hosts a show at the New Parkway Theater in Oakland on Friday, Nov. 4. Details here. Will Durst's 'Elect to Laugh' runs Friday and Saturday, Nov. 4 and 5, at the Marsh in Berkeley, and on Election Night, Tuesday, Nov. 8, at the Marsh in San Francisco. Details here.
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