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You can’t make this stuff up

Pete Dominick in an interview with Campaign Stop 2016

You don’t need to make up today’s political humor.

As a stand-up comedian and host of a SiriusXM Insight radio show, Pete Dominick is gleaning plenty of punch lines from politics these days.

He’ll put it on display Monday as one of three comedians who will spend the day at Duke University. He, John Fugelsang and Dean Obeidallah will each host SiriusXM Insight radio shows that day prior to performing stand-up routines at Page Auditorium that evening. The radio shows run back to back from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at Penn Pavilion and the public is welcome to drop in and listen.

The stand-up show, which begins at 7:30 p.m., is open to the public. Tickets cost $10 for the general public and $5 for Duke students and are available at tickets.duke.edu. Students are also encouraged to enter this K-Ville Campaign slogan contest. The winner will get to eat dinner with the three comedians.

Sponsors for the comedy show are the Duke University Union and POLIS, Duke’s Center for Politics, Leadership, Innovation & Service. Sponsors of the live broadcast include POLIS and Campaign Stop 2016, a Duke election forum.

Dominick spoke with Campaign Stop 2016’s Eric Ferreri about politics, humor and, of course, Donald Trump. Here’s a lightly-edited transcript. 

Do political jokes pretty much write themselves these days?

It’s hard to satirize Donald Trump because he just does it himself. Sometimes the joke is just an impression of Trump saying what he actually said. That will get a laugh. I don’t have to embellish.

But it’s always been that way with politics. When you make fun of politics, you look for hypocrisy or contradiction or absurdity. Hypocrisy, contradiction and absurdity is part of politics for most politicians. It’s sometimes superficial — Bernie Sanders is frumpy, or Donald Trump has that hair. But usually it’s what they actually said.

It seems like the more absurd Trump gets, the more popular he gets.

As a stand-up comedian, I see what he’s doing. He’s exceptional at talking to an audience. Anything anyone said or does, he’s able to pivot on it and talk about it. That’s part of a politician’s appeal — how you address a live audience. He’s not actually saying anything or providing strong ideas. But he’s interesting.

So there’s something to be said here about people just wanting to be entertained?

No matter who’s talking, a professor or a politician or a stand-up comedian, you want people to pay attention. And that’s harder now because everyone has an awesome computer in their pockets, so if they get bored, they just start playing with that. If you can entertain them, that’s great, too.

That’s what our show attempts to do every day on the radio — fight apathy. Politicians on the stump want people to pay attention. Trump is an entertainer, first and foremost. I’m convinced a lot of people who go to see Trump are just going to see a free show.

Are people easily offended by political humor? How do you navigate that?

You don’t want to divide an audience you’re trying to entertain. You do want to make them think, but you don’t want them so divided that they get up and walk out. You do try to take a shot at everyone. So if you take a shot at a Democrat, you take a shot at a Republican.

But you lean on things like who are the most absurd people, who have the biggest quirks, and you go for that. You don’t care who wins in a joke, as long as the joke is funny.

I don’t think it’s our job to worry about hurting someone’s feelings. If you think most people will find it funny, say it. It’s a joke.

Do you approach a college crowd any differently from other audiences?

I approach every audience differently. I won’t be doing as many jokes about parenting and my kids. I won’t do jokes about things my audience won’t relate to. I try to cater to the audience. You have college students so you talk about drinking, a little about sex, even college loans and what kind of job you plan to get — things you know they’re experiencing.

Who are your favorite politicians to riff on?

George W. Bush was really a piece of cake, and Trump is pretty easy. Obama has been hard because he hasn’t had all the hypocrisy and absurdity. He doesn’t have an accent. Doing an impression of him isn’t inherently funny. He’s kind of professorial. He doesn’t have a tick in how he talks or anything that comedians have been able to latch on to.

Trump and George W. Bush have been solid. Clinton was easy, with his issues with women. You could really poke fun at that. But that’s all seen as old now.


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