City Desk

The Shutdown Diaries: Worse than Congress

ShutdownDIariesI am a nonessential federal employee. This is my shutdown.

If there is anything people hate more than Congress, it's a heckler at a stand-up comedy show. Last night I went to the opening night of the Bentzen Ball, the start of a four-day comedy festival that's at venues all around the city (full disclosure: I'm a longtime contributor to Brightest Young Things, the organization responsible for the festival). None of the comedians were political: Pothead comic Doug Benson made some crack about how marijuana is a Class-A narcotic, while headliner Tig Notaro mostly talked about how inflection can change the meaning of a phrase, then tested the audience's patience with her observation. The only remotely political comedian was Wyatt Cenac, who is best known for his stint at The Daily Show.

Cenac was quick to establish a rapport with the audience. He immediately asked if there were any furloughed federal employees in the crowd—I immediately cheered, of course— then he remarked that for the rest of the evening, the jokes would be free. (Alas, I had already bought my ticket.) He then went into comfortable territory—making fun of the Kardashians—but he circled around the topic to make a larger point about the privilege of wealth. I mention this because despite his lewd jokes, Cenac seemed like a sensitive comedian, so it was an utter surprise when the heckle happened.

He was talking about the double standard of vegan weddings. Vegans are not forced to be omnivores at weddings where meat is served, Cenac observed, yet omnivores must stick to no meat/dairy at vegan weddings (he wished they'd at least offer him some beef jerky in the back alley). While he was describing this, there was someone yelling from the upper level of the 9:30 Club.  No one could make out what he was saying, exactly, but in the middle of Cenac's vegan bit, the heckler finally blurted out, "YOU ARE A RAPE APOLOGIST!"

This immediately derailed the set, and the crowd instantly turned on the heckler. Cenac deflected well; he didn't show any anger, and gently mocked the absurdity of the comment, and the heckler stormed off shortly after. A lot of my friends are wondering when I'll get angry at Congress or the president or politicians in general, and I guess it's because I haven't caught the legislative body saying something that's viscerally infuriating. Or maybe I'm so cynical about the shutdown negotiations that it's hard to muster any kind of intense response. Either way, I haven't been more pissed off since the shutdown started then when that heckler yelled out something so inflammatory that made so little sense.

The shutdown is not so bad when there are exciting plans ahead. I'm going to Bentzen Ball shows tonight and tomorrow, and tomorrow I also get to meet the parents of one of my oldest D.C. friends. I realized that the key to a sunny attitude is not day-drinking or sharing shutdown woes with other furloughed employees: it's sticking to a routine, and finding something productive to do with each day. Yesterday, journalist friends suggested there's a chance the shutdown might last another six weeks. I hope it ends sooner than that—I'm certain all federal employees do—but  this has lasted long enough so it feels almost normal. I know I can handle indefinite professional purgatory.

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