With the 2016 presidential campaign going full bore, the Los Angeles Convention Center last weekend hosted the first-ever Politicon — a sort of Comic-Con for political junkies, journalists and even a few actual politicians. The festivities included a competition to identify the funniest political comedian.
Adam Yenser of Sherman Oaks, a writer for The Ellen Degeneres Show, beat out nine other comedians and won the $500 prize. Yenser said he thinks comedy plays an important role in how people process politics.
"When you present something in a funny way, and also an intelligent way, I think that kind of makes people think about it in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise," Yenser said. "It’s fun to seek out comedy. It’s not fun to seek out political information."
The event was held in part to help promote comedians who have political material, and also to encourage more comics to talk about politics.
Longtime comedy writer Merrill Markoe, who worked for many years with David Letterman, was one of the judges. She said comedy is important during campaign season in part because it helps people understand what’s happening.
"I think it’s a release valve," Markoe said. "It’s the thing you do to make life not seem terribly scary."
Andrew Tenenbaum, a producer and manager, was also on hand to judge the competition. He said he was impressed by the number of young people who showed up at the convention who are interested in politics. Tenenbaum said, for comedians, the campaign trail provides lots of opportunities:
"It is a gift on a silver platter to comedians, and to late night talk show hosts, because there's more material from Donald Trump alone — and you haven't even gotten to the rest of the candidates, and Hillary's hairdo and all that — than probably the last five or 10 campaigns combined."
Ramsey Badawi was one of the comedians in the competition. He said political comedy presents unique challenges.
"It’s hard to find the right rooms. Most comedy clubs are filled with people having bachelorette parties," Badawi said. "So you could go up there with some killer material, but people are just like, ‘Hey, we’re just trying to get drunk. Can you stop talking about Rwanda for a minute?’"
Yenser, the event’s winner, said he enjoyed the challenge of playing to a mixed crowd, with various political leanings. His material was much further to the right politically than most of the comics who performed, and he even earned a few groans with his jokes at the expense of the president:
"I don’t worry about the economy too much though, because when Barack Obama got elected I stocked up on these Obama commemorative coins. 'Cause as any collector will tell you, a coin is worth a lot more when there’s an obvious mistake on it.”