Performing Arts

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

When Barack Obama was elected president, some comics were not amused. Chris Rock called him a comedian's worst nightmare. Bill Maher said: On top of being perfect, he's black, and liberals are afraid to laugh at anything with a black person in it. But President Obama does not intimidate Second City, the comedy troupe based in his hometown of Chicago.

As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, Second City is in Washington with a show called "Barack Stars."

ELIZABETH BLAIR: "Barack Stars" is pretty raucous and irreverent. Chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is like a little pit bull out of control.

(Soundbite of comedy show "Barack Stars")

Mr. SETH WEITBERG (Actor): (As Rahm Emanuel) (Unintelligible) (BEEP)

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLAIR: Vice President Joe Biden is one giant, run-on sentence.

(Soundbite of comedy show "Barack Stars")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TIM SNIFFEN (Actor): (As Joe Biden) (Singing) But at those moments you'll still hear my voice, like when I told the media nobody should fly on a plane or ride a subway 'cause of swine flu.

Unidentified People: (Singing) The swine flu.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLAIR: And President Obama?

(Soundbite of comedy show "Barack Stars")

Mr. SAM RICHARDSON (Actor): (As Barack Obama) We can be who we want, if we want to be what we can.

BLAIR: Cast member Sam Richardson has been impersonating Barack Obama for about a year now and studying his mannerisms for even longer.

Mr. RICHARDSON: Sometimes when he speaks, he's got a little bit of Martin Luther King in his voice. So sometimes he'll, you know, go: Now, what we need to do as a people is come together and achieve what we can all achieve. But then sometimes he'll bring it way down and he'll just be talking to you, and he'll say: Uh, I like what you're talking about. I understand what you're saying, but I don't think it's prudent at this time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RICHARDSON: Because he's got so many nuances, and he's such a dynamic figure, it's fun to play with that.

BLAIR: And play they do. Everyone's fair game in "Barack Stars," including Barack fans.

(Soundbite of comedy show "Barack Stars")

Unidentified Man: (As character) Can Obama really turn Guantanamo into the next Six Flags?

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified People: (Singing) Yes he can. Yes he can.

Unidentified Man: (As character) But can he really make smoking good for you?

Unidentified People: (Singing) Yes he can. Yes he can.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLAIR: Second City's Marc Warzecha directs "Barack Stars."

Mr. MARC WARZECHA (Director, "Barack Stars"): A lot of our Obama material is rooted in exaggeration. There's real-life Obama worship out there. And yeah, that can be a lot of fun.

(Soundbite of comedy show "Barack Stars")

Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) (Singing) When my boyfriend and I fight...

Unidentified People: (Singing) Obama is there to stay the night.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLAIR: "Barack Stars" was made for a D.C. audience, and this crowd was into it. In fact, Second City gets a lot of its material from the audience. At the comedy troupe's resident stages in Chicago and Toronto, the cast will do improvisation and let the audience shout out ideas.

Mr. WARZECHA: And most of the time, I think the audience is reflecting what's going on out there in the world today. What they read in the paper in the morning, they're going to shout out at our improvisation at night, and that's going to work its way into our shows.

BLAIR: Take gays in the military and the policy "don't ask, don't tell." This is what the real Barack Obama said in an interview with Military Times before he was elected president.

President BARACK OBAMA: At a time when we are shorthanded, that everybody who is willing to lay down their lives on behalf of the United States and can do so effectively and perform...

(Soundbite of comedy show "Barack Stars")

Unidentified Woman #2: (As character) At ease, soldiers. I am here to talk to you about a policy called don't ask, don't tell. Now, this thing's been working fine for a while, but now we've got to change it because we're very shorthanded in certain areas of the world right now. So from now on, "don't ask, don't tell" will be called "don't leave." Don't leave, please, don't leave.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLAIR: Second City is marking its 50th anniversary this year. It was founded in 1959 at the University of Chicago by young actors who wanted to do political and social satire. Its alumni is like a who's who of American comedy, from John Belushi to Tina Fey.

"Barack Stars" is the first new show Second City has premiered in D.C. Mark Warzecha.

Mr. WARZECHA: To get to do, you know, a whole show of Second City social and political satire in our nation's capital, in a great theater just blocks from the National Mall, is a real honor and privilege and thrill for all of us.

BLAIR: "Barack Stars" is on stage at the Woolly Mammoth Theater through early August. So far, no sign of any real Barack stars in the audience.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington.

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