In these partisan days, it's hard to see much that Democrats and Republicans have in common. But after attending a "Candidates' Comedy Night '08" at the Waterfront's Improv, I can tell you this: When an aspiring comedian bombs on stage, you feel bad -- no matter what their party affiliation.
Yes, even your faithful CP correspondent felt pity for Melissa Hart, the Republican former Congresswoman who is trying to regain the seat she lost to Jason Altmire. Hart's act -- which consisted largely of unfunny riffs on how being a candidate was like being a child -- became a joke for the OTHER politicos at the event, a fundraiser for the Allegheny County Music Fund. (The Fund provides opportunities for kids in the county's juvenile court system and the Department of Human Services.) Altmire, who went up on stage after his rival, rather cruelly noted that Hart had a tendency to cling to center stage too long. He also jested that he'd finally found a difference between Hart and George W. Bush: Bush, Altmire said, was at least funny.
We've posted video excerpts of stand-up routines performed by various politicos -- including county executive Dan Onorato, state auditor general Jack Wagner, and Congressional representatives Tim Murphy and Mike Doyle. You can judge their performances for yourself. But here's our brief recap of highlights and lowlights (quotes may not be exact -- it's not easy working a camera and taking notes at the same time):
Funniest politicians: Mike Doyle and Dan Onorato. Doyle offered a seemingly well-practiced series of riffs on John McCain's age, and other red-meat issues for blue-state voters. Onorato's performance, while less polished, was wickedly funny on occasion. Alluding to controversy over the fact that county council Democrats have held secret meetings, Onorato said he'd tried to make sure there weren't enough councilors in the audience to trigger a quorum. The problem, Onorato said, was that he didn't know who any of the county councilors were.
Onorato's drink tax had been the subject of numerous jibes all evening long, and he joked about it a few times himself. At one point, he told the crowd that he was in the best shape of his life. "Don't clap," he added a moment later. "It's because I can't get served."
Least funny politicians: Hart and Chet Beiler, a Republican running for state auditor general. Beiler was apparently brought up in an Amish household, and his act certainly lived up to the Amish reputation for humor. The best part was when Beiler asked if anyone in the audience recognized the sound "clip-clop, clip-clop, bang-bang." (Answer: It's an Amish drive-by.)
Beiler was so unfunny that afterward, emcee Gene Collier announced that he'd decided Melissa Hart was "fucking hilarious" after all.
Sharpest tongues: Altmire and his Republican Congressional counterpart Tim Murphy. Murphy proved the Republicans could dish it out as well as take it, taking several pokes at Democrats in general and Doyle in particular. In one shaggy-dog story Murphy told, the premise was that Doyle was no longer able to sexually satisfy his wife.
Most surprising talent: Murphy played guitar and sung a composition he wrote himself. He wasn't bad either, although the song -- a sort of "Schoolhouse Rock" ditty about how environmentalists and other special-interest groups were screwing up Washington -- had at least two more verses than it absolutely needed. At one point in Murphy's performance, someone in the audience held up a lighter.
Most surprising attire: Tom Ellis, a Republican running for state treasurer, showed up dressed like Napolean. The point here was that Ellis is short. In case anyone in the audience was confused about that -- in case they assumed Ellis, like Napolean, had grown up in Corsica or something -- Ellis made numerous jokes about his stature to drive the notion home.
Most conspicuous no-show: You guessed it -- Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who was listed alongside Onorato on the program. Onorato laughed it off, explaining that Ravenstahl was at the nearby Dave & Buster's, trying to top his personal best skee-ball score. But Ravenstahl's absence was commented on -- and not kindly -- by others on stage at least twice.