An Interview By Tom Hannigan

Electoral Dysfunction is a weekly political debate & comedy show hosted by Tom Brennan at the People’s Improv Theater (The PIT) in New York City. Brennan is bringing his show to Philly at the Playground in the Adrienne Theater at 2030 Sansom street for 3 shows during the Democratic National Convention. Tom Brennan is also a Harvey Award nominated comic book editor, whose worked with Marvel Comics in the past and now works with Valiant Comics. Here he discusses how comedy, comics and politics have all influenced him.

WC: How did you start this show?
TB: I created Electoral Dysfunction in 2012 at the People’s Improv Theater in New York City along with another comedian, the masterful improviser Nate Starkey (Of NYC’s longest running improv ensemble, Big Black Car). With the 2012 Election developing around me, I wanted to create something political in the world of comedy, but I also wanted it to be different and not just “guy you never heard of does The Daily Show” – something that incorporated a diverse cast, not just on ethnic and gender lines, but on political lines.  There’s not a lot of shows in New York that incorporate, say, Republicans or conservatives.  We wanted a truly balanced panel discussion show.
We began as a monthly show  – a mix of pundits (like our regular token Republican, Robert George of the Daily News) and comedians debated the news, then hopped up to make jokes and scenes and fun out of what they’d just discussed.
We went monthly for about two years, the PIT got a new Artistic Director, Kevin Laibson, who loved the show and asked me to do it weekly.  We’d developed a pretty loyal audience and he believed that over time we could really grow into a local phenomenon and he’s been right.
WC: How do you like doing the show regularly at the PIT in NYC? 
The Electoral Dysfunction set at the PIT Loft in NYC. (photo cred Thomas Davie)
The Electoral Dysfunction set at the PIT Loft in NYC. (photo cred Thomas Davie)
TB: The PIT is the perfect environment for this type of show.  We attract an audience that wants to laugh but also wants to see a show in a comfortable environment.  The PIT’s owner and caretaker Ali Farahanakian puts great effort into the presentation of his theaters – he really wants a safe space for artists to risk failure and for audiences to enjoy a show.  And the creative staff have been incredibly supportive.  The newest AD, Stephen Stout, just came on board and has so far delivered on his promise to help us make the show the best it can be.
We do this show every Saturday night, so it can be a bit of a grind – it’s a lot easier having a theater like the PIT helping out.  They really invest in their people.
WC: What’s you favorite moment from the show?
TB: I have about a zillion – from improviser & comedian Lucas Hazlett (look for him on TBS’s WRECKED soon) explaining that as a biracial gay man he’s afraid of everyone but especially loner white men, to the time screen legend Paul Sorvino attended the show and got into a lively debate from the audience with our performers – crazy stuff happens on this show.
Electoral Dysfunction welcomes Public Radio institution Brian Lehrer to the show. (Photo credit Jeanne Stafford) From left to right: Robert George, Whitney Meers, Nate Starkey, Brian Lehrer, Lucas Hazlett, David Kimball Stanley and Keisha Zollar
Electoral Dysfunction welcomes Public Radio institution Brian Lehrer to the show.
(Photo credit Jeanne Stafford)
From left to right: Robert George, Whitney Meers, Nate Starkey, Brian Lehrer, Lucas Hazlett, David Kimball Stanley and Keisha Zollar
But probably our two best hours – we did a show the week after the Charlie Hebdo massacre and our special guest was public radio superstar Brian Lehrer.  It’s a sensitive week news wise and we have a superstar joining us on stage.  So the pressure’s on – and it’s a tense, loud, confrontational show.  And then we hop up to do the comedy portion and we just absolutely knock it out of the park.  I’m not bragging on myself, I honestly just stood back and let the comedians work.  And they were so sharp and so funny – and after the show, Brian comes up to me and says, “Je Suis Electoral Dysfunction.”
I nearly cried.
The other show was just a few weeks ago, after the tragedy in Dallas.  Yet another subject that I worried would be too sensitive for a comedy show.  Our panel that night included Keisha Zollar (actor, comedian – UCB, Orange is the New Black), Justine Cabulong (marine vet, warm up on The Daily Show), titan Levine & Taylor Ortega (hosts, Elite Daily’s day time web coverage) and Robert George (New York Daily News) – and they had such a funny, energetic and honest conversation about race and class in America – and again, we put on a show that just flowed effortlessly.
We also had a Werewolf with a guitar open that show, so y’know, we really did our best to be respectful.
WC: How does your background as a comic book editor influence your work as a comedian?
TB: I’ve been editing comics for nearly ten years now, primarily with Marvel and Valiant, and the key to editing comics is to cast the right people on the right projects, and then hopefully just get out of the way and let them play.  That’s how I approach Electoral Dysfunction – I have a lot of strong political opinions, but as moderator, my job is to put smarter people with stronger opinions on and let them argue their case.
WC: What are you most looking forward to in your time back in Philly for these shows?
Producer Tom Brennan
Producer Tom Brennan
TB: I’m excited for all of it – Philadelphia’s the most underrated city in America.  The audiences are demanding and generous all at once.  I’m thrilled to present the show – but what excites me most is that we only have 2-3 of our NYC regulars coming down, the rest of the cast are some of Philly’s funniest and I’m excited to see them at work.
Shannon DeVido and Darryl Charles are two of the funniest comedians I’ve ever seen perform, period.  Timaree Schmitt is an engaging, intelligent presence.  I haven’t had the chance to see sketch team Barbara Bush or improv troupes Aretha’s Hat, American Express, and Sabotage  play but all I hear is about how terrific they are.  I wanna see Philly come to bat and knock this out of the park.
WC: Who do you have on your lineup for the shows at the Playground?
TB: It’s as diverse a group as we’ve ever had on the show – check ’em out:
All three shows feature an opening video address from President Barack Obama (as played by Dion Flynn of The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon) and you never know who else might drop by – I hear Trump might be in town!
7/26 (opening night)
Robert George (editorial columnist, New York Daily News – twitter.com/@robgeorge)
Darryl Charles (stand-up, http://www.darrylcharlescomedy.com)
Rachel Gluck (local Philly playwright & actor)
And a special MYSTERY GUEST!
With guest improv troupe Aretha’s Hat
7/27 (Young Democrats of America Night)
J.D. Durkin (Senior Editorial Producer, mediaite.com)
Alyssa Al-Dookhi (Philadelphia area stand-up comic, twitter.com/@thedookness)
Katie Bohri (New Leaders Council 2016 fellow, co-creator of SPOKE magazine, http://www.spokemag.co)
Andrew Heaton (Libertarian author & stand up comic, themightyheaton.com)
Chris Kuncio (New Leaders Council 2015 fellow, Philly tour guide)
Kellan White (New Leaders Council Philadelphia chapter director)
With an opening sketch from Barbara Bush and improv troupe American Express 
7/28 (Drexel University night, closing night)
Robert George is back!
Shannon DeVido (Delco Proper, Difficult Peoplehttp://shannondevido.com)
Bruce Graham (Philly’s premiere playwright, http://bruce-graham.org)
Craig Liggeons (comedian, The Preston & Steve Show)
Rachel Semigran (comedian, PHIT teacher Sabotage)
Adrienne Shaw (professor, Temple University)
With guest improv troupe Sabotage.
Guest performers Sabotage.
Guest performers and former PHIT house team Sabotage.
WC: What Democrat do you think would be the best comedian?
President Obama.  Hands down.  Those White House Correspondents Dinners are a work of beauty.  I’m hoping they give him his own show when he leaves office.
WC: Who’s your dream guest on the show? 
Senator Al Franken.  You probably thought I’d say Trump, right?  Nope, disinterested.  Trump isn’t funny.
Electoral Dysfunction can be seen in NYC at the PIT every Saturday at 7:30pm.
You can purchase tickets to the Electoral Dysfunction shows in Philly at this link.
For more information about the Philly dates at click this link. https://www.facebook.com/events/272721306420282/?notif_t=plan_user_invited&notif_id=1468869564621180