When Comedians Go Into Politics

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Employment opportunities for comedians, once they get tired of the rat race of shows and pilots and tours, are wide-ranging: novelist, skull vodka retailer, insurance company spokesman, disgraced ex-insurance company spokesman, etc.

But some comedians, mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, have chosen to go into politics, a la the 2006 Robin Williams vehicle Man of the Year. And unlike Man of the Year, sometimes it turns out to not be a totally terrible experience!

First, the obvious one: Al Franken. After a bumpy, recount-paved road to the U.S. Senate that stalled his swearing-in for nearly six months, Franken has had a relatively smooth tenure as a politician. He sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he presided over confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen. He’s sponsored a total of 23 bills addressing topics as diverse as dairy product labeling and preventing schools from discriminating against students based on their sexual orientation.

Plus, during the summer of 2009, when health care town halls frequently devolved into invective-fueled shoutfests, Franken was noticeably candid and polite when confronted by Tea Party activists at the Minnesota State Fair:

Jon Gnarr was elected mayor of Reykjavik in a campaign that, at first, seemed like a satire of the campaign process; he named his political party the Best Party, and promised a polar bear to the city’s zoo, free towels at public swimming pools, and “a drug free parliament by 2020.” He ended up winning 34.7 percent of the vote, which in a multiparty system is practically a landslide.

After his election, Gnarr explained “no one has to be afraid of the Best Party, because it is the best party. If it wasn’t, it would be called the Worst Party or the Bad Party. We would never work with a party like that.”

As mayor, he’s pulled a few minor stunts like appearing in drag to open the city’s gay pride parade and delivering his Christmas message in a Darth Vader suit.

Gnarr’s had a few problems, though, mainly related to the terrible economic climate in Iceland and the belt-tightening resulting from that. In February, crowds turned out to City Hall to protest deep cuts to city music programs.

Hideo Higashikokubaru: this Japanese comedian had a recurring role on the game show Takeshi’s Castle. His move to politics was supposedly prompted by an incident in which he was accused of having sex with a sixteen-year-old prostitute, which caused him to, understandably, reevaluate his life. Higashikokubaru’s midlife crisis involved getting a divorce and winning the governorship of the Miyazaki prefecture, which he held from 2007 to this past January.

Higashikokubaru left his post in Miyazaki to run in the Tokyo gubernatorial elections, but lost just this week to incumbent Shintaro Ishihara, a hard-line nationalist who blamed the recent earthquake and tsunami on divine punishment and says the Chinese are making up the whole “Rape of Nanking” thing.

German Borat-esque comedian Hape Kerkeling, in the guise of his newspaper editor character Horst Schlammer, announced he would run for chancellor in 2009; this wasn’t a serious declaration so much as a promotion for his movie “Isch Kandidiere (I’m a candidate)”, but a German newspaper poll showed he would have gotten around 18 percent of the vote if he had run.

Tiririca: This Brazilian clown ran for parliament in 2010 under slogans like “It Can’t Get Any Worse!” and “What Does A Federal Congressman Do? I Don’t Know — But If You Vote For Me, I’ll Tell You!” His campaign snagged when a magazine claimed he was illiterate, but was soon certified as literate by a Brazilian court and went on to win the seat for Sao Paulo.

Tiririca was officially certified as a congressman two days after the Brazilian Congress voted for a 60 percent pay raise for themselves. “I guess I’m lucky  — on my first day I got a raise!” he told a reporter.

So, don’t count Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert out of the upcoming U.S. presidential race just yet, especially when there’s already a certified joke of a candidate already running.

Roxanne Palmer is a journalist, writer, cartoonist, and ex-fishmonger (for realsies). She lives in Brooklyn.