Comedy has always been inextricably linked with politics. As the internet age and the rise of social media has freed the public from the limitations of legacy press outlets and cable TV, comedians have become some of the most effective anti-establishment voices in the growing niche of independent journalism. Their combination of entertainment and sharp political insight reaches beyond the sanitized boundaries of cable outlets, and tackles issues that the public might not otherwise be familiar with.
Disobedient Media recently spoke with two comedic and political voices, Ron Placone and Graham Elwood, to gain their insight on the importance and success of comedy-as-activism. We discussed the ways in which their ongoing Progressive Comedy Tour breaks new ground in not only discussing political issues, but in actually inviting progressive candidates to participate at the events and to provide local audiences with information about grassroots organizations in their area.
Through comedy, Graham and Ron hope to reach audiences from opposing political echo chambers while highlighting the way in which both sides of the political isle are lied to, and are ultimately betrayed by a singular corrupt establishment. The following conversation between this writer, Graham Elwood and Ron Placone took place electronically:
Disobedient Media: What inspired you and Ron to combine progressive activism with comedy?
Graham: Seeing the positive response from the fans at Live Jimmy Dore Shows, we knew that progressives are ready for some humor mixed into their politics. Also, we know that no one has ever done a tour like this and the time is right!
Ron: Graham and I had done some segments on The Jimmy Dore Show and I did his show Political Vigilante. A little while later some of the viewers on my stream were saying that we should do some touring together. At first, I was like, “Heh, yeah, that would be cool if we did more stand-up together,” then I actually brought it up to Graham and we both kind of thought, “Ya know, we SHOULD do this!” So credit goes to Josh Pegg in Portland and some of the other folks who recommended we do this, it was kinda their idea.
Disobedient Media: Can you describe the success of that effort?
Graham: It was so amazing to see the wide range of people that come out to the shows! In line for the meet and greet was a couple in their 20’s and behind them were three older women and all of them watch us on The Jimmy Dore show! It is such a great example of the diversity of progressives and how the corporate media wants to tell us that we are divided rather than united.
Ron: So far the first leg was a blast. Graham and I both have other shows and projects that keep us in LA somewhat regularly, so instead of doing one big long several month long tour we’re doing it one chunk and region at a time. So far, each show has given us an opportunity to not just meet some of the viewers and listeners but also have a gathering with a bunch of like-minded folks thirsty for the same type of change in this country. The meet and greets afterwards have been amazing. So far it’s been more than “Hey, that was a fun show that made me laugh,” it’s more like “Hey, that was a fun show that made me laugh AND I’m getting to connect with people in my community that are fellow progressives doing awesome things.” We’ve had everything from local activists and organizers to people running for office just within the first four shows.
Disobedient Media: Is combining comedy with activism a uniquely effective method for combatting censorship in its ability to bring people together who may usually be separated into their own difference echo chambers?
Graham: Yes! When you make someone laugh they are more likely to hear what you have to say and be open to another point of view. The pro-war media want us fighting with each other, not laughing together. If we get together then we will see that the 1% is screwing us all over regardless of our backgrounds, political parties, etc. The two-party system is like a person saying coke is bad for you so you should try this wonderful health drink…Pepsi!
Ron: Certainly. People are incredibly tribal and leaning on their own echo chambers right now, if we can all get together and laugh for an evening maybe we can break down a few barriers. Plus, we’re not coming at it from some partisan point-of-view, our perspective is that the entire system is corrupt and needs significant change, what we’re finding is those frustrations are more common than people think they are. Probably because that’s not what the media wants you to think.
Disobedient Media: How will you and Ron be continuing to ramp up this effort in your next tour?
Graham: Ron and I want to invite more progressive candidates and organizations to the shows. So people can talk to them after and get involved. We want it to be more than just two comics telling political jokes. We want the tour to be part comedy, part political rally, and part activism. We progressives feel so isolated and are told we are crazy and out of touch. So this tour is a way for all progressives to get together and realize that we are the majority.
Ron: We plan to do as many regions and chunks of the country as we can until 2020. We may even continue beyond, but right now we’re just taking it one region at a time. There’s a bunch of places we really want to get to.
Disobedient Media: Will you be adding any new methods of raising awareness about progressive issues?
Graham: We will have candidates and organization set up in the lobby’s after the shows for the meet and greet, so that people can have the opportunity to get more information about candidates, their policies, and grassroots organizations.
Ron: We’re reaching out to different groups, DSA, groups like that. We’ve had candidates from DemEntering to Greens and Independents, and it’s been great. We do offer table space to candidates and political groups to meet-and-mingle afterwards. A few candidates have gotten some new volunteers and some groups have had new member interest, so it’s been working, which is really amazing to see and hopefully that continues.
Graham and Ron also told Disobedient Media that they welcome the public to let them know about any progressive groups or candidates running for office who would like to participate in the cities they will be visiting. The public is encouraged to inform the pair about additional locations that could host a stop in the tour. More information, including ticket availability, can be found at Ron and Graham’s respective websites. The tour currently includes stops in Nashville TN, Huntsville AL, Asheville NC, Louisville KY, and Atlanta GA, from June 20-24. Readers can also find Graham and Ron on Twitter and on their Youtube channels.
Graham and Ron’s efforts provide one glimmering example of positive change and unity beyond politics, amidst a news cycle that can otherwise seem endlessly bleak. Disobedient Media will continue to report on their efforts as they evolve.