The Philadelphia comedy theater company 1812 Productions’ “This is The Week That Is” has become the go-to show in which to discuss all matters of political, social and cultural discourse — good and bad, but mostly bad, local and national news — with a critical, witty and caustically humorous eye. Think “The Daily Show” with music, and you get the picture. So heralded is the variety show-like “This is The Week That Is” that The American Theatre Wing (the creators of the Tony Awards who support excellence and education in theatre) has given 1812 a handsome grant to film a documentary on its news-based showcase. Two of the show’s most prominent members — co-director and writer Dan O’Neill, actor-singer-pianist Rob Tucker — are out and longtime 1812 collaborators, working alongside company artistic director Jen Childs, sat down with PGN to talk about how to make LGBTQ news funny, fresh and relevant.
PGN: Which LGBTQ news — national and local — is part of the schtick of “This is The Week That Is” and how did such news fit into the framework of the show?
RT: We briefly discuss the protests that we’ve had to do as a result of this administration’s policies. I think there’s so much to cover with regards to our world that we just couldn’t get as specific as we wanted with all the issues. However, there is a lot of gayness in the show. The middle of the first act is a big musical theatre spoof and the Act I finale is an ABBA song. Also, there’s much more drag than in previous years. Three of the four men are dressed as women at some point in the show.
DON: Working on and writing “This Is The Week That Is” is fun because the material is all generated by the people in the room, so people are writing the material that they will eventually perform, or writing for the person sitting next to them. When there aren’t LGBTQ voices in the room, those stories don’t get talked about and told, which is why the diversity of the group is so important. As for what’s particularly queer in the show this year, there are some really fun moments of drag — which I won’t spoil — and the variety-show part of “This Is The Week’s” DNA means that there are always big, sparkly, campy moments to counterbalance the heavier political satire.
PGN: What is most challenging about poking fun at LGBTQ issues? How do you, 1812 and Jennifer Childs deal with those challenges?
RT: There are some things that you just can’t make fun of. How do you poke fun at the hundreds of trans women of color who have been murdered this year? However, I’ve said this often — and it comes directly from Jen, who is quoting an old adage in comedy, “You can make fun of the smoke but you can’t make fun of the fire.” It’s about not alienating your audience.
DON: The difficult thing about poking fun at LGBTQ issues is the same thing that is challenging about writing satire about anything. And I don’t think it’s because we live in a “PC- culture-run-amok“ world either. It’s about speaking truth to power, and making sure that all of our satire is “punching up” as Jen Childs (my co-director our head writer) often reminds us when we’re writing the show. Satire isn’t fun or smart when the people you’re challenging and exposing aren’t the people with the power. And of course, the news is changing all the time, which means the jokes are changing all the time too. So your favorite joke from the show tonight may not have been written last week when your friend saw it, and may get cut by next week if it stops feeling fresh or current.
PGN: What do you think the funniest LGBTQ news of the day is from this year? What you see coming in the immediate future?
RT: Most of the funny things I see happen to be memes.
DON: This isn’t breaking news, but I just read that Dolly Parton once entered a Dolly Parton look-alike contest for Halloween on Santa Monica Boulevard and lost to a drag queen. As for what’s coming in the future — if there’s a joke to make about it, we’ll put it in next year’s show.
1812 Productions’ “This Is The Week That Is” runs through Jan. 15 at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place. Tickets: $28-$50, www.1812productions.org. Walnut St. tickets: $29-$49; www.annenbergcenter.org