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Brave New Workshop feasts its comic chops on election

Josh Eakright, Lauren Anderson, Mike Fotis, Ellie Hino, Joe Bozic, Bobby Gardner
Courtesy of Brave New Workshop
Beyond the skeleton, the cast from left: Josh Eakright, Lauren Anderson, Mike Fotis, Ellie Hino, Joe Bozic and Bobby Gardner.

When the Brave New Workshop this Friday premieres its 2008 election show — with its characteristically long title, “The Lion, The Witch, and the War Hero; Or Is McCain Able?” — the troupe will engage, as usual, in equal-opportunity skewering.

Targets of their biting satire include Hillary Rodham Clinton, John McCain, Barack Obama, Norm Coleman and former Gov. Jesse Ventura. Even Brave New Workshop alumnus Al Franken is fair game.

Although some in the community have assumed that the workshop leans left, situated as it is in the historically progressive Uptown neighborhood of South Minneapolis, artistic director Caleb McEwan insists that the nation’s oldest sketch comedy and improvisational theater borrows its material from headlines — not party lines.

“We certainly don’t espouse a particular viewpoint,” said McEwan of the workshop, now in its 50th anniversary season. “When [Bill] Clinton was in office, we were making fun of Clinton all the time and everyone was like, why don’t you make fun of the Republicans?”

But of course, in recent years, the workshop has had a grand old time doing just that, blasting the Bush administration in such rip-roaring shows as “Bushwhacked II” and “Electile Dysfunction; Or Two Johns, a Dick, and a Bush.” 

Anyone in power is a moving target

“Everything swings back and forth,” said McEwan. “Basically, you take what you’re given when it comes to satire. … A lot of it is dictated by who’s in power, who’s doing something.”

Still, he said, there is a special opportunity when the show focuses on a presidential election: Audience members are all fairly knowledgeable about the issues, and there are multiple players who all have stellar name-recognition and familiar personal mannerisms. In the past, said McEwan, the workshop has encountered roadblocks in its attempts to satirize midterm elections. In fact, in 2006, the smarty-pants troupe ran into trouble: The audience hadn’t yet heard of Nancy Pelosi; nobody was catching all the jokes about the Speaker of the House.

As for this new show, most reasonably informed folk will easily follow along as Hillary Clinton gets clobbered for her tearful refusals to drop out of the presidential race. An emotional but under-informed Obama supporter gets raked over the coals. McCain, too, has proved to be a rich source of material; he gets ribbed for, among other things, proposing that the U.S. build a missile defense system in Czechoslovakia, a country that hasn’t existed since 1992.

Then, of course, there’s the delicate issue of his age, McEwan says. “We have a line in the show [that] ‘A vote for McCain is just putting his vice president on layaway.’ “

Candidates for U.S. Senate, incumbent Norm Coleman and Al Franken, also make cameo appearances — but their spotlight is stolen when Jesse Ventura appears and challenges them to wrestle.

It’s all in good sport — and it doesn’t seem to be offending people. Rather, McEwan said, he finds that sensitive and passionate voters simply use the workshop’s material to reinforce existing beliefs.

“For instance, in this show we have a young man singing about Barack Obama. He’s talking about all the amazing things Obama can do and it gets to the point where it gets incredibly exaggerated — he can fly, he has laser vision.”

Of course, the troupe intended this skit as an indictment of ardent Obama supporters who don’t know the issues. But so far, during the previews, said McEwan, “A lot of people are taking away from it that Obama is perfect.”

What: “The Lion, the Witch, and the War Hero; or Is McCain Able?”
When: July 25-Nov. 8
Where: Brave New Workshop, 2605 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis
Tickets: $23-$25; (612) 332-6620

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