Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “a communist, an NDPer and a capitalist walk into a bar…”
While the set-up for that particular joke might be similar to thousands you’ve heard before, from Vancouver funnyman Charlie Demers it encapsulate the theme behind his 90 minute stand-up / theatrical hybrid Leftovers, currently playing as part of the 2016 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.
Very early into Leftovers, Demers sets the stage by promising that he will try to be funny as he is in his more familiar stand-up routine, as long as he can talk about something that he wouldn’t be able to do in front of his usual audience. That “something” is to ask why we have collectively given up on the idea that there is no alternative to capitalism.
Demers largely delivers on that promise with some blisteringly funny jokes, while weaving a personal narrative that explores some of the philosophies that turned him into a self-described socialist at a very young age. In some of Demers’ more vulnerable moments, and in which he appears genuinely uncomfortable, the comedian talks of his mother and her battle with leukemia. It is within this context that Demers finds his biggest argument for socialism: the idea that society must take some responsibility for those that need our help the most. In very real terms, Demers recounts how if it were not for some of the social benefits that are provided, like universal healthcare and disability, his mother’s battle with cancer would have been much different.
While Demers provides an entertaining and thought-provoking evening (he may very well be the only comedian on stage that could make a fart joke both funny and political), there is a big difference between performing a show like this in front of a theatre audience and those in a comedy club.
Judging by the reaction at opening night at the York Theatre, it is evident that the theatre crowd is largely sympathetic and predisposed to much of Demers’ ideaology. Like other shows that preach to the choir though, while entertaining and we can all nod in agreement, is that enough? Of course to be fair, Demers isn’t alone here as many of the best political comics – Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, Rick Mercer – play largely to like-minded individuals.
Perhaps the real test will come should Demers decide to take Leftovers into the Yuk Yuks of the world. But then, if he doesn’t receive the same reception in the comedy clubs, he may very well be risking his livelihood. Isn’t it ironic to think that capitalism might very well be as fickle as a stand-up audience?
Leftovers created by Charles Demers and Marcus Youssef. Directed by Marcus Youssef. A The Cultch and PuSh International Performing Arts Festival presentation of a Neworld Theatre production. On stage at the York Theatre (639 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) until March 30. Visit https://pushfestival.ca for tickets and information.