In a time of absurd politics, maybe it’s best to laugh. Relentless mockery helps, too. Luckily, Logan Square has its own band of merry political satirists bringing the funny takes. The Skewer, a review of op-eds, comedic debate and political games, hits Café Mustache‘s stage (2313 N. Milwaukee Ave.) first Wednesdays of every month. Catch the next edition Feb. 7 with no cover.
The show aims to bring satirical perspectives you can’t get on any of the thousands of Daily Show spinoffs filling today’s airwaves, host and co-creator Tom Harrison told LoganSquarist. That is, the op-ed writer/readers who make up the bulk of the show need to bring something new.
“The only rule we have for the op-eds is that you can’t be making a point that I’ve heard before multiple times,” Harrison said.
Birthed in the minds of DePaul-grads and writer/comedians Harrison and Eric Ruelle as a way to get their words onstage somewhere, somehow, the show debuted way back in the innocent days of November 2015. A year later, as you may or may not have blacked out of your memory, some political news occurred. Ruell is no longer with the show after leaving Chicago for work, replaced as co-producer/host by erica dreisbach (who doesn’t capitalize the first letters of her name).
With the seismic event of Donald Trump’s election, the Skewer crew took on a more pointed, protesting tone.
“At first, we assumed that it would stay a fun and lighthearted show,” Harrison said. “Instead, it’s turned into something vicious and angry… but also funny.”
To put it more graphically (literally), that first show after the election had the theme “Skewer 15: Chaos Reigns,” with Facebook art of skeletons screaming in a river of lava.
Op-Eds, Phone Calls and Fake News
That’s not to say the show is one long anti-Donald gripe-fest. The op-eds range from playful character pieces to issue explanations to personal essays.
The Skewer took January off, so the last show was in December, which you can hear in full on Soundcloud. There, the first op-ed came from Kristin Lytie who “suspiciously” had the same name as the union organizer, comedian and co-host of the (now defunct) Mom Genes comedy showcase. Playing the role of a happily dystopian representative of the Department of Labor, Lytie shared a PowerPoint slideshow on the agency’s new corporate merger.
“We’re now known as the Department of Flavor, because we’ve been bought out by Buffalo Wild Wings,” she said.
That merger comes with “exciting” new labor-law updates, she added. At-will employment, for instance, is now a thing of the past.
“You’re now a willing employee!” she said. “What this means is you can’t quit your job! You can only be disposed of!”
Academic, writer and activist Erika Price explained the real details of net neutrality, gently unburdening the audience of certain misinforming memes. You’ve probably seen the Portugal one, which claimed to show charges for specific websites in a non-net-neutral setting. That was actually from an add for an unlimited-data cellphone plan, Price said.
“Customers aren’t having to pay $4.99 per month to be able to access Facebook,” Price explained. “They have the option of paying $4.99 a month to get unlimited data on Facebook.”
The Skewer also includes a few rounds of a current-events quiz, a “Voice Mail Op-Ed” and a final debate round. December’s winning debater, for example, argued that the best way to win the war on Christmas is to terrify children with Krampus.
Taking on Trump
As for the skewering of the man whose election marred the show’s one-year anniversary, host Harrison often handles that during his intro.
“People tend to not willingly talk about Trump for an op-ed, so it falls to me to cover it,” he said.
Addressing Trump’s tax-cut plan in the December intro, Harrison said it didn’t even make sense to call Republicans villains. Because movie villains, he said; usually they at least have a scheme.
“We weren’t even tricked. They didn’t even hide it in a lie. Anyone can look at their agenda for, like, a second and be like, ‘Oh, sh**, it’s really evil.'”
A place for activism?
Though the Skewer’s primary aim is satirical, the creators do see it as a potential spur toward activism, Harrison said.
“It’s always been the intent that [the show would say], ‘Things are bad, but here’s what that means and here’s what we need to do,” he said. “I know that a lefty comedy show is never going to be that important a tool to get people to take action and change the world, but it can be something.”
dreisbach in particular brought in a more activist approach, adding the Voice Mail Op-Ed, Harrison said. In that segment, she contacts politicians’ offices live—and after hours, given that the Skewer happens at night, hence the voice mail part.
“Ooh, that hard thing of calling reps,” she told the audience at the December show. “But it’s so good. It’s one of the only things keeping a level of sanity in public life right now.”
The segment aims to both entertain and show people that calling reps isn’t that bad, she said.
In the December call, dreisbach phoned Sen. Dick Durbin with “a radical proposal” for an Illinois-wide tax strike. “Because I’m sick of my tax dollars being used to fund that asshole’s golf trips,” she told the Skewer audience.
And even if going to the Skewer isn’t an audience member’s first step toward greater activism, attending the show alone counts for something, Harrison said.
“The fact that you’re here, in a room [and] not online, listening to people talk about left-wing thought, and it’s not illegal yet—that’s something,” he said.
Could You Skewer?
The show is open to anyone who can write something funny, Harrison said. Performers come to The Skewer stage from backgrounds in standup comedy, essay writing, political activism, live-lit reading, improv, and even just a desire to write and share something onstage.
“We want it to be open to anybody who wants to do it,” Harrison said.
If you’d like to give it a shot, just send the Skewer an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Facebook message with a 200- to 300-word writing sample. (You can write something new if you don’t have a pre-existing sample, Harrison said.)
“And if it’s interesting and makes us laugh, you’re hired,” he said.
Oh, and another thing: The Skewer pays. Every reader gets a portion of crowd donations (no charge at the door). That’s usually $10-$25 per performer.