1812 Productions takes on election humor with improv

The comedy troupe is preparing for the annual performance of its improv political comedy.

For the past six years, Philadelphia’s own 1812 Productions has kicked off the fall theater season with “This Is The Week That Is,” a satirical political play tackling the news with the same style as The Onion and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”

With a presidential election less than two months away, “This Is The Week That Is: The Election Special” could not have better timing.

This year’s election special will feature “Presidential Idol,” an election pageant topped off with a swimsuit competition, and all the topical news you could ask for from the show’s new team, featuring a trusty head anchor, about-town reporter and TMZ parody titled “Hey B——.” Creative director of 1812 Productions and the director of “This Is The Week That Is” Jennifer Childs is featured as Patsy, a recurring character in each year of “This Is The Week That Is.” Patsy is a South Philly resident who speaks for the average Philadelphian on politics from the soapbox of her stoop.

The presidential election gives the “This Is The Week That Is” production staff ample amounts of material to work with.

“I think the show is especially relevant this year, mostly because more people tend to pay more attention to politics in the lead-up to a presidential election,” said writer and Associate Producer Greg Nix. “It’s much easier to present a satire when people know what you’re satirizing. If I write an awesome joke about the 2010 Missouri congressional primaries, you probably aren’t going to get it unless you’re from Jefferson City.”

Nix spoke about the election coverage and how a story becomes a joke. Writing the show involves combing through hours of political news.

“Almost any story that dominates a news cycle makes our job easier, excluding tragedies that are too sensitive to joke about,” Nix said. “That said, sometimes Anthony Weiner or Herman Cain comes along and you say a little prayer of thanks.”

Nix also detailed the writing process and the unique format of the show.

“The show is basically broken into two halves. The first act is a political sketch revue in the vein of Second City, with elaborate costumes and big production numbers. The second half is our version of the news, a la “Weekend Update” slash “The Daily Show,” Nix said.

Nix and fellow writers Childs and Don Montrey rewrite the second half of the show nightly.

“The second act is rewritten every day to reflect whatever’s in the headlines,” Nix said. “It’s a collaborative process that happens mostly through e-mail and starts with a discussion of what worked in the previous show and what is about to become especially topical.”

1812 Productions might seem like a laughting matter, but the troupe takes comedy very seriously.

“‘Theatrical’ is the key word in how 1812 approaches comedy. I’ve trained with [Upright Citizens Brigade] and read The Onion every day and am generally a pretty huge comedy nerd, so I try to keep an eye on how the comedy landscape is dealing with current events,” Nix said. “When we’re creating ‘This Is The Week That Is,’ we’re constantly asking ourselves ‘How is this different from “The Daily Show?” What can we do that is unique?’ And we try to answer it a lot of different ways.”

Nix hopes that his political comedy will strike a chord with Philadelphians, despite an ennui among many regarding the subject.

“I think people are way more concerned about Chase Utley’s knees or Michael Vick’s everything than Philly politics,” Nix said. “It’s been tough to get a read on what’s funny to Philadelphians, but luckily we can always make fun of Mayor Nutter’s voice.”

When asked about what he hopes the audience will take away from “This Is The Week That Is,” Nix had a simple request: “I just hope they laugh.”

The show will run previews with post-show discussions Sept. 27 through Nov. 4 and opening night is on Wednesday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at Plays and Players Theater on 1714 Delancey Place. Tickets cost $22–$38.

Jacob Harrington can be reached at jacob.harrington@temple.edu.

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