Most conservatives know Evan Sayet as the author of The Kindergarden of Eden: How the Modern Liberal Thinks (And Why He’s Convinced That Ignorance Is Bliss) and as a political activist, known for his awe-inspiring and often quoted Heritage Foundation speeches. However many may not know that Evan began his career as a very successful stand-up comic and comedy writer for the Arsenio Hall Show, (cue ominous music) Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher and much more.
On a personal note, Evan was one of the first people I ever interviewed on camera. After seeing my husband, our initial conversation went something like this:
Evan: Is that your husband?
Me: Yes, his name is Mark.
Evan: I’ll just call him The Obstacle.
And The Obstacle is what Evan has called my husband ever since. (Luckily, Mark has a very good sense of humor.)
On another occasion, Evan and I exchanged the following Facebook messages:
Evan: Do you have a sister?
Me: Yes, but she’s taken.
Evan: Do you have a brother with long hair?
I’m certainly not alone in thinking Evan Sayet is hilarious. When Ann Coulter was asked ‘Who makes you laugh?’ she responded, “Easy—Evan Sayet.” Michael Medved calls Evan “the most successful conservative comedian in America” and Hugh Hewitt says, “There’s funny, there’s VERY funny…and then there’s Evan Sayet.”
Although “Serious Evan” is very important to our conservative cause, I’m thrilled to announce that “Funny Evan” is making a comeback, performing a comedy show at The Laugh Factory in Long Beach, California on Sunday, September 22. I spoke to Evan about his upcoming show.
A-M: These days most people know you as Evan Sayet, the Heritage Rock Star and/or your book, ‘The Kindergarden of Eden…’ So you’re funny, too?
ES: Actually, I was funny first. I was extremely lucky. At the exact second that I was finishing school and beginning to look for a career, this industry that had never existed before anywhere in the history of the world — stand-up comedy — boomed. That was literally the expression, it was called “the comedy boom” and it began sometime in the very late seventies. Think about it, where else are there comedy clubs? Not a lot of Yuk-Yuks in the Sudan. I doubt there were a lot of Laugh Factories or Comedy Stores in the old world. They were too busy trying to eat and to fight diseases to pony up twenty shekels with a two grog minimum.
But, suddenly, in the late seventies, there were not only all of these comedy clubs — many of them soon becoming chains and franchises — but even the smallest bars and clubs would have a comedy night. In New York, where I started out, you could literally start down at, say, the Comedy Cellar at seven and head north, hitting Good Times and Penny Packers and Foibles and Dangerfield’s and Catch a Rising Star — doing ten or fifteen minute sets in each place and, by the end of the night, end up at the Comic Strip having performed (and practiced and honed) your act more times in a night than the comedian of the past might have done in a month or two or longer.
The reason for this boom — in addition to the spectacular prosperity and the leisure time technology had brought to the children of the World War II generation — was the advent of a new technology, cable television. Suddenly there were hundreds of channels, each of them needing tons of programing and none of them having any money. The solution was for these channels to feature stand-up comedy shows because what’s cheaper than a stand-up comic? Unlike sit-coms or drama, you don’t need writers — he comes with his material already written. You don’t need supporting actors or extras, he stands there alone. You don’t need sets or scenery, just put him in front of a brick wall. And — and this is essential — each channel could be true to their brand. If you were Lifetime — “the woman’s channel” — you had three women comedians. If you were BET — Black Entertainment Television — you had three black comedians.
So, whereas, up until then, in order to be seen beyond the venue in which you were performing there was, for all intents and purposes, ONE place to be seen — The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson — soon thousands of us not only got this exposure, but we all came with that “endorsement” that seems to carry so much weight, “As Seen On TV.”
A-M: These are serious times we’re in. Why a comedy show?
ES: Comedy is not unserious. I mean, some is. I don’t think an hour with Carrot Top is going to leave one in any way deeper or better. And I’m not discounting the value of mindless release, but that’s not my purpose in doing my nights of conservative political humor. Mine, is in, fact, intended to be another weapon for our side in the culture war.
I had not done stand-up comedy in about a decade-and-a-half when I became a conservative. After about ten years of being basically a road comic — perhaps as much as forty weeks a year in clubs and other venues across the country with the other twelve in town doing showcases, one-nighters and other gigs. It was a great life – how can a job where you work forty-five minutes a night, get to smoke and drink at “work” and sometimes, you know, every once in a while, you get the girl NOT be great? In fact, not only don’t you work, you don’t even make your bed (the maid in the hotel does that) and you don’t even wash your own dishes (the busboy in the restaurant does that), so, yeah, it was a pretty great life.
But then my son was born and I didn’t want to be away from home for all that time, and so I started writing television shows. I wrote the Arsenio Hall Show and Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher for years and, segued, as I wanted into other venues. I was the original writer of what became a cult classic TV game show, Win Ben Stein’s Money, wrote and sold a couple of screenplays, wrote and produced a couple of award winning documentaries and more.
But throughout, I was either a “gun for hire” writing in the voice of others, or pursuing a personal passion (one of my documentaries was for the Discovery Channel and it was on the 1970s — my “wonder years”), but there was no purpose to my work, there was no guiding vision that I wanted to share with — and perhaps influence others with — until a little after 9-11.
It wouldn’t be wholly accurate to say 9-11 is what changed me. But the real evolution — which I’ve detailed in a million other places (including in my bestselling book The KinderGarden of Eden: How The Modern Liberal Thinks) — is too long to share here. But soon after 9-11 and my sudden recognition that we were in a war for America not just with the Islamists but with what I now call the Modern Liberals, saw me 1) determined to join the fight and 2) ask myself what weapons (talents) I possessed that our side seemed to be lacking or that were most in need? And the answer to me was a stand-up comedian — a Bill Maher for the Right if you will — and so I put together a stand-up act, this one with a purpose, and began to work it, practice it and hone it in whatever venue (typically a small Republican club or a Lincoln club somewhere) as often as I could.
Humor’s ability to be used as a weapon has long been known. Further, it’s always been known that it is the “jester” who is able to speak truths to the powerful. Saul Alinsky made “ridicule” one of his rules for radicals and, of course, “satire” has long been a way to challenge the powerful while maintaining a degree of plausible deniability. If the powerful are outraged by such silly and over-the-top seeming things as, say, Gulliver’s Travels then they are acknowledging that there is a relationship between the foolishness in the works and the things that they believe and promote.
Just two more points about comedy I’d like to make here: first, conservative comedy by itself helps to break a stereotype that the Leftists use against us: the notion that we are dower, humorless and “angry.” And, because my comedy exposes the Liberal mindset as not just “misguided” or just “a little bit” wrong but ludicrous and, in fact, laughable, the pomposity and the arrogance of the Leftist who believes himself so morally and intellectually superior, then exposed as nothing more than a joke, often is, more powerful and important than out debating him in a thoughtful and reasoned exchange (as if there were such a thing with a Liberal.)
A-M: Not too long ago comedians made fun of both political Parties. The Left has endless supplies of comedic material (Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer…) but Political Correctness seems to have squashed their ability to freely express themselves. Would a Don Rickles survive in today’s comedy climate?
ES: Okay, I think I’m going to take this as two questions.
Between the end of World War II and today the Democratic Party and the Modern Liberal movement that controls it has changed drastically. Think about perhaps the most iconic Democrat of that era, John Kennedy, and his admonition to “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Kennedy loved America, recognized communism as a great evil (and started the Vietnam war to prevent its further spread) and so on. So, back then — and until Jimmy Carter — we had a president and a Democratic Party that disagreed with the Right not so much on right and wrong but on the policies used to best support the former and beat back the latter.
In such a time the comedians could leave it to the “experts” to debate policy and go about their job of being entertainers. Once America reached the tipping point where the Democratic Party and those who believed in the Modern Liberal ideology whereby America was the enemy, saw – as I now see from the opposite perspective — everything including their act, as weapons to be used in this war. So, today, comedians are not “entertainers” they are warriors who use their weapon — comedy — to attack, in the case of the Modern Liberal ‘entertainer” (Maher, Jon Stewart, David Letterman, et al) Western Civilization in general, America in particular and the individuals who seek to conserve (thus our name, “conservatives”) those things.
As for acts like Don Rickles being able to succeed in today’s PC environment? It would depend very much on if he were an active and obvious — through his public statements and monetary and through the tenor of the totality of his act — Liberal or conservative. There are Liberal comedians who are far more “racist” than Don Rickles and who present there act not as clearly “jokingly” as he does who are adored by the Liberals and thus pushed to the top by the Modern Liberal establishment that acts as gatekeepers to determine who does and doesn’t get major opportunities throughout their careers.
A-M: We can’t change the world until we change the culture (didn’t you originally say this?), but currently the 4th Estate is banning us from the building. Is it possible for people like you to break through?
ES: Wars are fought on a million fronts. There are the big, obvious and important battles — the Battle of the Bulge or whatever. But there are also the littler things — some, in fact, little more than symbolic but good for moral, like our mothers or our grandmothers drawing lines down their legs to simulate the look of stockings. Did that win the war? Of course not. But we need to do everything on every level because this is a war. And just as the Cold War was a different type of war, so too is this culture war. And one of the things we can do is support conservative acts when they come to your town. It’s bad for moral when someone puts together an event and no one shows up. Those who do look around and say “why should I come out again?” It’s also bad because a good many people who haven’t yet joined the battle, not willing to put themselves out there until they see they’re not sticking their necks out alone, won’t come forward if they see that others won’t or just aren’t. And it’s bad in yet another way. There are a good many people out there who are apolitical. They’re business people. Right now, there’s a fair amount of pressure on them not to promote conservative acts because a Bill Maher or a Rosie O’Donnell or a Jeanine Garafalo (she used to be in show business) will say “why are you supporting that Nazi!!!!) and threaten to take their act across the street. And if he can’t even say (even to himself) “because he’s not a Nazi, you fascist and besides he packs the house” then, not as an ideologue but as a businessman he’d be right to never book another conservative act of any kind again.
So, I guess what I’m saying is, it’s your patriotic duty to come see me on September 22 on Sunday afternoon at the Laugh Factory Comedy Theater in Long Beach. So tell your friends to share, link, tweet and so on.
A-M: I’ll be there.
ES: Okay, see you there. Are you bringing The Obstacle?