New York comics Jenn Welch and Emily Winter are the organizers of What a Joke Fest, a national comedy festival of 83 shows in 33 American cities over the inaugural weekend, from Jan. 19 to 21. ("Because, seriously, what a joke?" they say.) Proceeds from all shows will benefit the American Civil Liberties Union, as will a portion of the sales of the festival's official hats. Like President-elect Donald Trump's own "Make America Great Again" caps, these are red with the embroidered message "WHAT A JOKE."
What a Joke Fest's New Orleans show (the only one in Louisiana) will take place Saturday, Jan. 21, at AllWays Lounge and is hosted by Andrew Healan. The lineup includes local comedians Lisa Berry, Benjamin Hoffman, Isaac Kozell, Laura Sanders, Kamari Stevens and Paul Oswell. Tickets are $5.
Welch and Winter spoke to Gambit by phone.
G: How did this all come together?
Winter: As a woman, it's really hard to hear some of the statements that Trump made. I couldn't believe this was a real person and that we were supposed to be taking this seriously.
Welch: Everything is terrible. But for me, as a woman who is a survivor of assaults — I feel like I'm at a point in my life where I'm done sitting back and letting things happen. This makes me feel a little more in control.
G: Is the comedy expected to be explicitly political, or are the comics just going to be doing their regular sets?
Welch: Some will, some won't. For some comedians, the best thing to do is avoid [the topic] altogether. It's not going to be days and days of Trump jokes.
Winter: Comedians feel empowered in different ways; some will feel empowered by doing explicitly political jokes. But just doing the show is a political act in itself. We have these amazing diverse lineups ...
Welch: We started off with a list of 10 to 15 cities we wanted to reach out to, but once we started reaching out, those people knew other people and it's just grown exponentially. Right now, it's 83 shows in 33 cities, including the U.K., with more than 500 comedians.
Winter: It all sort of happened really quickly. When we started reaching out to people and they were so into it, I couldn't believe how many positive responses we got. I was crying at the bathroom at work, I was so happy.
Welch: To be able to have a good cry — it's a really powerful thing.
G: Have you gotten any negative feedback? It seems that many people who speak out against Trump get attacked via social media, especially women.
Winter: We've gotten little things here and there. The hat is the thing that most people are taking offense to, but it was intended to be a kind of "F—k you." That's really the most sort of negative attention we've gotten. I had a couple trolls get at me on Twitter — as a female comic, though, you get that whether Trump is president or not.
Welch: If that does happen to us, then we're doing something right.
G: Is this the beginning of an ongoing effort? Are there more What a Joke Fests in the future?
Winter: We are hoping to do it again; unfortunately we may need it again next year.
Welch: I can't imagine we'll be in a situation where the ACLU won't need money again next year. Even if somehow Trump were to be impeached, all his appointees are still there. This isn't just about Trump, though he is a big ball of pus — he's just the face of this ugly movement.