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Friday, October 28, 2016

"Make America Kait Again": a conversation with New Orleans comedian Kaitlin Marone, who is kind of running for U.S. Senate

Posted By on Fri, Oct 28, 2016 at 12:00 PM

click to enlarge COURTESY OF  KAITLIN MARONE
  • COURTESY OF KAITLIN MARONE

"I thought about calling one of my platform points 'art school for everybody,'" says Kaitlin Marone, after thoroughly dissecting gender equality and police brutality and mulling over the idea of melting down all the guns. "The whole idea was going to be that everyone deserves to get a frivolous degree, and we should actually fund the arts, and art criticism, and research, and we should be into that. What's the point of being a group of beings on the Earth if we're not going to try new things?"

So that's what she did. In the grand New Orleans tradition of "protest" candidates led by comedians, Marone, party of none, is running for office for the very first time by entering a U.S. Senate race that has attracted two dozen people vying for the seat of outgoing Sen. David Vitter. Microwaved white supremacist David Duke unfortunately attracted enough attention to get into a debate let alone the actual ballot. Marone only sort of jokingly says she hopes to at least beat him.

She performs every Wednesday with the improv troupe Dean's List and co-hosts the Saturday stand-up comedy showcase Go Ahead, both at The New Movement. Dean's List will host her election night party.

Gambit: Why did you decide to do this?

Marone: I'd been making a lot of jokes about running for president. People kept saying to me, "I would vote for you." I was having a conversation with somebody about what to do about police brutality — and we were very drunk — and we decided the only path was to get into government. That was it. That was what we could do. I decided to look into what the upcoming races were. I guess I knew David Vitter was [leaving], but it didn't occur to me we would have to elect someone new, which of course we have to do. Then I thought, "If I don't know this election is happening, and it's for the [U.S.] Senate, then I bet a lot of people don't, and a lot of people aren't going to."

I thought it'd be a good way to get attention, for myself, because I really like attention, but also maybe an opportunity to change the conversation a little bit to try and get candidates to acknowledge issues that maybe they wouldn't talk about, because they wouldn't think certain groups were even voting in the election. There are certain groups none of these candidates try to speak to.

Your campaigning has been limited, because of a lot of things, one being that you don't have a gajillion dollars to participate.

Since I've decided to run and now, there's been a lot of changes in the race and it's gotten so weird. I was never able to raise money because I couldn't figure out how to do it legally. ... I don't have the money to get a lawyer. The last thing I want is to get in trouble for fraud for a joke. Not that my campaign is totally a joke, but I'm never gonna win.

When we found out there would be 24 people in the race, I found out I'm not the only weirdo. I'm definitely not the most interesting weirdo. Also because it splits the vote so much it starts to feel almost immoral to take away votes from people who might be better than others.

You've brought up before that you kind of want to run now just to get more points than David Duke.

"He got $600. He can get on the ballot."

In theory I'd like it to shake out that way naturally. I'd like it to just be more people in the world who'd vote for a comedian they saw on the internet than there are people who would vote for somebody that most people know as having been in the KKK. I don't think there's a way for me to campaign to have that specifically in mind, but it'd be really beautiful if it just happened that way. I have no faith that it will. He's polling about 5 percent.

Do you feel like you might've moved the needle at all?

No, I have not. I think that's largely because I'm not running under any party, because I didn't want to have to be a part of any of that, and also the Democratic party in Louisiana doesn't really fit my own morals. But no, I haven't met any of the Democratic candidates, and I've met one of the Republican candidates.

Who'd you meet?

Charles Boustany.

When you signed up?

He was right before me.

Did he say "good luck"?

No. I think he maybe thought I was a homeless woman. No, I don't think Charles Boustany thought I was a homeless person, to be clear, I just don't think he had any idea who I was because there's no reason for him to. Your platform is largely four-pronged.

I was hoping to speak to issues I thought would never come up. In Louisiana this year we've had a lot of issues with race and the police. It's been a topic of conversation, it got really heated during the summer, and I assumed none of the candidates would talk about it, and for the most part they haven't, or come down on the side of being neutral. That's a huge problem that needs to be addressed. You can see young people in Louisiana calling out for change, and it just doesn't matter to most politicians here. Also because personally those issues are important to me. I've always been an activist and and I've always chosen issues of racial equality, gender equality — so that's where [my platform points] fall.

To be fair, one of them is in direct response to Caroline Fayard's platform. Pay women more than men. She's running on a pay equality platform, she's been saying she's going to take less money if elected. ... Women are constantly told we can't negotiate well, so let's start with more. Also we deserve it more.

If the U.S. refuses to cover the costs of women's health care, women inevitably pay more than men. Those are things men don't have to buy.

Plus, paying us for emotional damage for all the times we haven't been taken seriously. There's so many reasons.

There was no pragmatism considered in establishing any of my platforms. I call for reparations. And I do think that's important. Reparations for slavery is something some people think is a joke on my platform. And it isn't. I'm 100 percent serious about the need for that and the fact that we owe that for people.

It's been talked about since emancipation.

It's been over a century. It's time. That people don't think it's possible is amazing to me. We have so much money in this country. There's so much wealth, and so much of it was gained off the backs of slaves. You can trace so much of the wealth that the wealthiest Americans have to the work of slaves. To this day [people] are being screwed over by the same people, the same families — it doesn't make any sense to me.

Plus with mass incarceration it raises the question, "Has it ended yet?"

One of your points is that cops need therapy.

Over the past few years we've seen a rise in people paying attention to police brutality and the murders of unarmed black men and women and children. Of course it's been on my mind. I personally have dealt with PTSD from being around shootings. If I can't sit alone in my house and hear a balloon pop without freaking out, I can't imagine what cops go through. Cops see some of the most horrific things people are exposed to, and they get exposed to a lot of it. They're exposed to a lot of violence and terrifying situations. That we wouldn't expect them to have lasting effects from that doesn't make any sense.

I went to a protest in Baton Rouge being run by teenagers. It was peaceful. Then I was corralled with several other people on the way to my car into a neighborhood and had guns pointed at me by cops. They seemed so afraid of us but we hadn't done anything wrong at all. You can't sustain a good police force with that much fear being supported by the policies of the police.

It seems like a good place to start to help people with PTSD, so we don't have cops that are like, "Well I saw him, and he reminded me of what I'm told is a criminal, so I shot him," or "I've been in a situation like this before, and it was scary, so I shot him."

We can treat PTSD. We know how to. It's not a mystery.

There's a lot of stigma around treating mental health. That, compounded by a generation that doesn't talk about it.

That kind of thing cheats them out of living lives that are fulfilling. There's a lot of domestic violence problems in police. All of that can be traced, I think, to having seen a lot of shit and not dealing with it.

"Can everyone just, like, talk about their feelings for a second?"

"I don't want to take away your guns but you're making me."

The name of that platform plank — "I don't want to take away your guns but you're making me" — is mostly just a humorous way of leading into the idea that we just need sane gun policy. Right now it's totally dictated by the NRA.

The concept that you can carry a gun and have the ability to kill someone at any time you want — any time you want — is freedom. That makes you feel free. That's psychopathy. What is that? Why would you want someone who believes that to make a decision for you, about anything?

That freedom is at the expense of others, that someone could have the freedom to murder them.

At any time. Ultimately what the NRA wants is for there to be no tracking for who buys and sells guns, no limits on who buys them — they say that's not true, but they talk about these mental illness lists that would never work and would be a huge violation of privacy, and a horrific and not effective way of protecting people from gun violence, because the people who seek help for their mental illness aren't generally the ones that go out and shoot people. It's not like there's someone keeping a list when people are born and shake their heads and see if it's right or not in there.

It's so far from making sense it's disturbing to read about. ... There's this idea that the Second Amendment allows us to stay stocked up on guns in case we need to turn against the government, because the government turns bad. Which is not what most people who defend the Second Amendment are doing when they picture themselves stocking up on arms.

You don't think so? You don't think there's a fantasy that things could go sour and it might be time to rally?

I think they're preparing for a race war, and I think they're afraid to say that. Because we have a black president now, it made it easier for them to not say "race war" and they could just say "Obama is taking our guns." The whole language of the NRA and defending the Second Amendment is filled with racist dog whistles. "If guns are outlawed, the outlaws will have guns" — if you think about that, it's the dumbest, who are the outlaws? There's not a group of outlaws out there. ... They literally just mean people who don't look like them.

It's so frustrating to me, and I don't have a specific gun plan, but I don't understand why it's resisted at all that we would track the manufacture and sale and resale and ownership of guns. We do it with cars.

People leave guns in hotels all the time. They just leave them there. They go into their hotel room, take out a gun, and just leave them. These are people who consider themselves safe, responsible gun owners. You know what happens to them? Nothing. Someone calls them, they get their gun back, and it's done. This was a machine made for the purpose of killing a thing. Cars are dangerous. The reason we register them isn't because they're dangerous, it's because of their value.

So say you don't win.


I can't imagine it, but go on.

Would you bring this up in another race, say for City Council or the school board?

Would I run again? Everything I've seen from this race, just from the electoral process in general, has disgusted me so much. ... On a smaller scale, I don't know what it's like. It seems bad. I hate it. I hate being a part of this.

Sorry.

No, not this. This is great. I hate running for office. There's so much to hate. You have to have so many opinions — that's exhausting. I have a lot of opinions naturally, but it turns out you have to have opinions about everything. There's a lot of bullshitting. You have to act like you know the answers to questions that there's no way anybody knows the answer to. That's something on a philosophical level I can't get behind.

You're comfortable not knowing some stuff and learning about it.

People say to me, "You should just say that. People like that kind of honesty." But they don't. [California Gov. Jerry Brown], he ran for president back in the '70s, and he was very big on, "I don't know, but we'll figure it out." And he lost the primary, spectacularly. I love reading about his campaign. But he was very much like, "We're going to acknowledge that we don't know, and we're going to accept that, because no one can predict the future." Nobody likes to hear that. They want to hear that you know the answers, and that the answers are what they think the answers are, too.

So the answer is I'll probably never run for anything, but I'm not promising anything.

I was never going to win. Even from the beginning I knew. And I don't think I necessarily should.

I just don't have time. Everybody else, I guess they do this full time? And they have money? 

"Why would a comedian run for office?"

One of the most important sources of information for millennials right now is comedy news. So many people get their news from [Last Week Tonight with John Oliver]. It used to be The Daily Show. ...  It's been a really effective method of communicating ideas to people. I think it's actually changed a lot of people's minds about things.

You saw it during the conventions. There were a lot of comedians at the conventions highlighting what's so crazy about the process itself. It feels like a zoo, or a circus, I guess, because it is one. Comedy is such an effective way of pointing out the absurdity of it. And that's helpful if some of the candidates are totally absurd people.

It's not just that they're pointing out absurdity, or that it's weird. There is actual criticism, or commentary, where in a sort of fast, dense TV news landscape, there's not a lot of room for that.

And you see so many shows engaging in investigative journalism, but they're comedy shows. [Full Frontal with Samantha Bee] does that, and John Oliver's show. It feels like the time. It also takes a budget.

Is your running for office an extension of your comedy?

Most of my campaigning has been through my standup. I have had a lot of people after my shows say like, "I will vote for you," which is very strange, because most of the time I'm talking about anti-social behavior.

My decision to run didn't come from people saying "I would vote for you" after I made jokes about it. So I guess it is completely an extension of that. But I hope that saying it's a joke doesn't diminish the seriousness of the issues I think are being ignored.

There are people who think it's a problem. I've seen people write angry things about me on the internet like, "This girl's coming in here and turning us into a joke, when this is a very serious thing." I get where they're coming from, and I don't know how to make them feel better.

There's nothing particularly "funny" about your platform.

I guess if you think inequality is funny, then maybe that feels like a joke to you, you monster.

Coastal land loss and oil and gas companies in Louisiana will likely be one of the defining issues of this century, here at least. And other Senate candidates haven't expressed support for abortion rights.

Louisiana's actual existence is threatened by losing our coasts and by man-made global warming, an existential threat to the people of Louisiana, and it's being ignored. I didn't make it a formal part of my platform, though I planned to. When I was in college I studied sustainable development. That's the thing I understand best. For me it's this huge thing that's hard to distill into single platform point. Also at a certain point I feel like a nihilist about it:  What can we do to stop it? Can we stop man-made climate change? We can't even acknowledge it's real. For some reason it's treated like a conspiracy theory.

It was "created by and for China."

They acknowledge it on this physical level, where they feel it every single day, yet they refuse to vote for people who want to do anything about it.

The abortion thing — everyone is staying away from it because they know Louisiana for the large part wants to keep it illegal.

We barely have any infrastructure for supporting child-raising in Louisiana anyway.

The cuts to social services have been pretty dramatic.

We barely have schools for kids. We barely have schools parents feel good about sending their kids to without having to pay a ton of money to go to them.

You degrade motherhood to the point where you refuse to do anything to support mothers, but also give women no other option.

So after this campaign, if not a win, what do you hope to see happen?

I'd love to have a senator who would take seriously some of the needs of the people in Louisiana that maybe in the past were not taken care of. ... Whether it seems like it to people who are running for office in Louisiana, it affects a large portion of Louisianans. It affects everybody. We should be able to trust our police and we can't. They would never say that, but I know firsthand we can't trust them to tell the truth and act humanely towards people.

Same with women's issues — it would be wonderful if we had senators who weren't actively fighting against women. Again, a very large portion of the population they serve. ... Absolutely, without question, we should get more money than [men], hourly wages should be more for us, we should get better tax returns. Across the board. We deserve it more.

We've had senators who are part of this massive block of "we're never going to vote for anything, you can't appoint anybody to the Supreme Court because we will fight every single person" — that's not what government is for. It's not to make sure nothing ever happens. It's to work to help the people of your state.

Republicans are not interested in helping people. There's just so little evidence. Except fetuses — they're very into helping fetuses. Not after they're born, but before. Not just with health care, but their existence. If a mom needs to take care of the unborn fetus and doesn't have insurance, many would like to see her not get the help and that's — ugh, my god. If you think how they react to Obamacare — it's not the best system. I think it's bad. I think we should have a single-payer health care system. But so many people think we should have what we've always had, which is "you have to pay for everything, and if you don't have it, it's your fault, and there shouldn't a safety net for you otherwise."

What happens then? There's no safety net, this person can't afford care, isn't required to, is being punished for it, and dies.

"Well, they shouldn't have been so lazy."

Never asking the question, "Then what do those people do?" And never answering it out loud. "Oh, they just die."

Everybody gets sick. Everybody dies. Women give birth. That's a pretty normal thing for women to do, to give birth.

There's this article about conservative comedians, or why they're unable to break into "comedy," like there's no Daily Show or John Oliver from a conservative perspective. It's understood as objectively bad. You can't really make fun of people being oppressed.

That alone should be a big red flag. If you can't create comedy out of the thing you think is bad, like if you mock universal health care — and ultimately people who support that are saying "maybe people should get health care and have the government should be in charge of it so nobody is profiting off it," and that's a nice idea — but if you're making fun of that, you're making fun of that person for being a "pussy" or whatever. Or what else are you making fun of?

Have you seen [Jesse Watters] on The O'Reilly Factor? He asks people about issues of the day, and he thinks he's making a joke, then makes a smug look into the camera, and inserts basically a reaction GIF or a clip from some movie. Like Austin Powers saying "Yeah, baby."

Maybe the only successful right wing comedians are afternoon drive time DJs. ["Walton and Johnson"], don't they have a character that's like, "a gay guy"? The whole joke is that he's gay, right? And he just says things in a "gay voice," but he just agrees with them? If that's enough for you to laugh, the problem is your audience, too.

Also some white supremacists think they're funny. I got a meme made out of me.

You were a meme? Was it a Pepe meme?

Yeah, it was a pretty sweet one, too. It was me, Netanyahu, Pepe, just hanging out. I was like, "It's cool you think I'm this involved with global politics."

It was sweet of them to put the time in. It didn't go far. Nobody was into it except the people who were making fun of me, for some reason.

After an open-mic set at the House of Blues, I was rushing out the door, and an old white man — of course — stopped me and said, "Hey, if you do that, you gotta make fun of everybody who's running." I was like, "No I don't."  Why would you say that? You think the FEC is coming after me? Nobody's regulating comedians. ... I laughed, said "No, I don't," and walked away. But my joke was about how Donald Trump probably kills people for fun. I just don't have anything good like that for Bernie Sanders.


This interview has been edited and condensed, because it was very long.

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