KINGSTON, R.I., Sept. 25, 2015 – If you’re a fan of Bill Maher, MSNBC, CNN, NPR, Sirius radio and, going way back, “America’s Funniest Home Videos” you’ve probably heard John Fugelsang fire off zingers:
“Donald Trump had to work himself up from nothing to be born a millionaire.” “Carly Fiorina’s brilliant plan to beat ISIS involves buying them, laying them off and outsourcing their jobs to China.” And “Congress has a lower approval rating than …” well, use your imagination.
The comedian, writer, actor and political commentator will bring his wit and wisdom to the University of Rhode Island Tuesday, Oct. 13 for the Honors Colloquium about “The Power of Humor.” His talk about humor in politics and religion will start at 7 p.m. in Edwards Hall, 64 Upper College Road on the Kingston campus.
Fugelsang takes the word multi-faceted to new heights. He’s been a host for VH1, interviewing musicians like Bruce Springsteen and George Harrison, who gave his final public performance in an interview with Fugelsang. He has acted in TV dramas and sitcoms, appeared off-Broadway in a solo show about his parents and recently filmed a documentary for PBS on the American dream, with hundreds of interviews in 55 cities in 16 states. He also tours the country doing stand-up comedy.
When he’s not in front of an audience, he’s facing a TV camera commenting about politics, usually from the left – although he says even the left is fair game. He appeared on Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect” more than 20 times, debating Jerry Falwell, Ralph Nader and the neo-Nazi David Duke.
His latest gig is as host of “Tell Me Everything” on Sirius XM’s new Insight Channel. The show covers a variety of topics, not just politics. His guests have been diverse too, from talk show host Rosie O’Donnell and David Crosby to Weird Al Yankovic and his friend Scottie Nell Hughes, news director for the “Tea Party News Network.”
URI chatted with Fugelsang about his visit to URI, his childhood, funny and not-so-funny politicians and even Bob Dylan.
What do you plan to talk about at URI?
The power of comedy in politics and religion, my adventures as a political comedian in the minefields of cable news, why people trust comedians more than politicians or media figures, and gratuitous Trump jokes.
The 2016 presidential race is wacky, to say the least? What’s the appeal of Donald Trump?
Bill Clinton once said “Americans would rather vote for someone strong and wrong than weak and right.” My personal opinion is that Trump 2016 is the closest some Americans will ever get to being able to vote for Boss Hogg.
Some staffers at CNN seem to be upset with the 24/7 coverage of Trump. Do you think the national press is hyping Trump to get ratings?
The news networks that need ratings boosts are milking Trump desperately. The one that already gets ratings fears him. Trump proves that the media isn’t liberal. Their bias is toward ratings and profit.
What role does humor play in politics?
Humor gives people space to consider how they feel about an issue in a non-threatening way. It also may be the only thing keeping us from killing, cooking and eating our elected officials.
Is humor a way to promote activism?
Yes, but it’s tricky. There’s a line where comedy becomes propaganda. If you’re going for more applause breaks than laugh lines the show’s already over.
You said once that conservatives “can’t do comedy.” Why?
Conservatives can do comedy, and many of our funniest comics are conservatives. Generally, it’s tougher because conservatives – again, generally – are trying to conserve a status quo, rather than enact radical reform. Rule number one in satire is that you have to attack up, not down. The modern GOP agenda – which Eisenhower wouldn’t recognize – defends the most powerful in society. I’d rather make fun of the millionaire senators than the struggling Americans whose food stamps they cut.
Your parents met when your mother was a nun and your father was a Franciscan brother. Both left their orders to marry. How has your background influenced your work?
My parents left the clergy and tried to raise us as progressive free-thinking Catholics; I do stand-up because I’ll never be able to afford the therapy I actually need.
You famously said that Jesus was a “peaceful radical and non-violent revolutionary who hung around with lepers, prostitutes and criminals and was anti-capitalism, anti-wealth, anti-public prayer and anti-death penalty, but who never once was remotely anti-gay.” Was this directed to the religious right?
That’s directed as support toward Christians who know Jesus wasn’t as judgmental as some of his modern followers.
Most politicians seem stiff. They’re probably funny behind the scenes. Why do you think many are reluctant to crack a joke?
Because most of them are politicians, not leaders. Obama, Reagan and JFK never shied away from being funny.
Who’s the funniest politician you’ve interviewed?
That’s a tough one. Mike Huckabee was the most charming; former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm the most clever. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson was probably the funniest but I’m not altogether sure that was intentional.
Who’s your dream guest?
One last question: How did you come up with the name for your radio show?
The title came from an old Bob Dylan interview I came across. He was asked what advice he’d give to any woman on a date with him and said “Tell me everything.” I wanted something that might encourage guests to over-share.
Photo above: John Fugelsang, a comedian, writer, actor, radio host and political commentator will speak at the University of Rhode Island Tuesday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. in Edwards Hall on the Kingston campus. His topic is politics in humor and religion. Photo courtesy of John Fugelsang.
The major sponsor of this year’s Honors Colloquium is the URI Honors Program.
Other URI sponsors are Office of the President; Office of the Provost; The Mark and Donna Ross Honors Colloquium Humanities Endowment; The Thomas Silvia and Shannon Chandley Honors Colloquium Endowment; College of Arts and Sciences; College of Pharmacy; The Harrington School of Communication and Media; John Hazen White, Sr. Center for Ethics and Public Service; Gender and Women Studies Program; Theatre Department; Talent Development Program; College of Engineering; College of the Environment and Life Sciences; College of Human Science and Services; College of Business Administration; College of Nursing; Division of Student Affairs; Department of Marketing and Communications; Department of Publications and Creative Service; Instructional Technology and Media Services; ASF College of Continuing Education, URI Providence; and URI Family Weekend 2015.
This year’s organizers of the colloquium are Rachel DiCioccio, professor of communication studies, and Brian Quilliam, associate dean and professor of pharmacy. For more information on colloquium events contact Deborah Gardiner at 401-874-2381 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information about ways to support the Honors Colloquium, contact Lynne Derbyshire, URI professor of communication studies and Honors Program director, at 401-874-4732. If you have a disability and need an accommodation, please call 401-874-2303 at least three business days in advance.
For TTY assistance, please call the R.I. Relay Service at 800-745-5555.
For more details about the events, visit Honors Colloquium.