Journal entry: October 19, 1996 (age 27) – Comedy and the GNP
When I moved to the Washington, D.C., area three years ago, it was my goal to work with the city’s top sketch comedy troupe, Gross National Product, or GNP. They do topical political humor, and they do it very well. GNP’s artistic director, John Simmons, has been on a roll lately, landing them several PBS television specials and a residency at one of the top regional theatres in the country, Arena Stage.
The troupe’s highly specialized brand of satire is selling very well, even during the most boring presidential election season since Ronald Reagan failed to break a sweat pummeling Walter Mondale. The most important question of our time was answered two years ago, when President Clinton finally endorsed briefs over boxer shorts. This year, Bob Dole’s selection of Jack Kemp as his running mate was only marginally more thrilling than Ross Perot’s selection of a guy named Pat Choate. (I imagine PEROT-CHOATE bumper stickers will be quite a collector’s item someday.)
Several GNP cast members also perform in an improv troupe called ComedySportz D.C., which I joined earlier this year. CeCi Stephens, Bob Garmin, Liz Demery, and Jim Nieb are all extremely talented and at the top of D.C.’s comedy scene. CeCi and Bob went to bat for me and succeeded in getting me a private audition with Simmons a few months ago.
I knew the troupe already had a terrific Clinton impersonator named Bob Hecht, and Simmons himself did a solid Dole. An actor named Victor Steele had a hilarious running bit with “Clarence Thomas: After Dark,” and a very pretty actress named Christine Thompson had an uncanny lock on both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Libby Dole. Ace comedian Wes Johnson (who is also the voice of the Washington Capitals hockey team) cornered the market on media types and authority figures. After considering the limited possibilities that remained, I settled on playing the senior U.S senator from South Carolina, Strom Thurmond. By “senior,” I’m referring to Strom’s age, but also to his lengthy career, including a presidential bid. Against Harry Truman. In 1948.
Knowing that GNP was especially interested in hiring writer-performers, I wrote my own monologue for the audition. It was my imagined version of Strom’s current stump speech, as he campaigns for his eighth consecutive term in the Senate. I was eager to mock Strom’s repugnant past as an avowed racist, but for the audition, I focused on his current status – as an addled, disconnected, old man desperately clinging to power. The speech positioned Strom as the voice of “fresh ideas.” They included his vision of an America crisscrossed by a system of roads, a reluctance to join the League of Nations, and strong support for chicken pot pies.
Happily, I nailed the audition and got the gig. Tonight, we’re playing to a packed house at the Bayou nightclub in Georgetown. For Christine’s opening number as Hillary, I’m the singing construction worker in the It-Takes-a-Village People. The 94-year-old Thurmond is my main character in the show, but I also pinch-hit as the 73-year-old Dole and kneel on my shoes to play Ross Perot – a spring chicken at 66. Being 27 and the youngest member of the cast, I feel a little conflicted about being the troupe’s go-to guy for playing sexta-, septua-, octo-, and nonagenarian men. And Janet Reno. You know, I never thought I’d miss Dan Quayle…
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