The inimitable Greg Proops is coming to JFL this year for two separate events, the Proopcast, a recording of his world-famous podcast, The Smartest Man in the World, and he is also going to be discussing politics with Lewis Black for the Living in Fictional Times show. I am a super fan, and had the most lovely occasion to talk to him in advance of his arrival this year.
Angela Potvin (AP): You go around the world performing your podcast, The Smartest Man in the World. Where was your favorite stop this year and why?
Greg Proops (GP): Antwerp. I performed on the night of the bombing in Brussels for people who couldn’t get back to their homes, for people that came with rubble in their hair. It was a terrible night for Belgium, but we had to a show anyways in a book store. I went around the room before and after the show, and asked a guy how he was doing and he answered “blown up”. That’s the only time that that’s something you can say. I read some poetry that night, William Blake, we all loosened up and had a drink, then I went to Stockholm. My job is not to save the world, but to make people laugh, and on a night like that, when people came anyways… A lot of the people couldn’t get home, transportation was halted. It helped clarify things for me. It was terrible and profound.
AP: Your comedy and especially your podcast are overtly political. How would you define the relationship between comedy and politics in your work? Which informs which and how?
GP: My first job is to be funny first and hopefully that is happening, and secondly, I get to communicate. The more honest I am, the more people respond. In the last year, in the States, it’s been intense. I am a Hillary Clinton supporter and the Bernie people got huffy at me constantly. I never said anything denigrating about him, I don’t think that’s helpful, and I got trolled so much. I got called an idiot and would really rather they didn’t. I do my research and my wife does that too and she is very exacting and helps me to be accurate. I am never going to get over my politics and, if anything, it’s gotten worse over the years. But hey, I am a liberal from San Francisco, and quite frankly, those who call themselves that can be the biggest fascists you ever met.
AP:What can we expect from the Living in Fictional Times show that you are moderating at this year’s festival?
GP: We haven’t nailed down the specifics, but we will be talking current events. I’ve known Lewis Black for years and he’s lovely and he’s apoplectic and I hope we say something so awful that everyone notices. I intend on running him through the whole enchilada. I’ve been watching the Democratic Convention in preparation, so we’ll have a lot to talk about, but I’ll throw in some Canadian politics too. A few years ago I did a two-hander show with Ryan Stiles, and we had Margaret Trudeau on as guest and she was being all flirty with Ryan who had had a huge crush on her as a kid. Justin was in the audience and he was an MP then. During the Q+A period, he stood up and asked us “Will you leave my mom alone?” That’s my brush with your PM.
AP: How afraid does the sweet potato running for President make you? And do you think that it will be a close race?
GP: He makes me uneasy and dismayed. I think that the Republican party is reaping what they have sowed. He embodies anti-intellectualism, reactionary politics, tendencies towards violence, misogyny, racism… He has no idea of what it takes to be President, the 14-hour days followed by doing your homework and coming up with policy papers and the rest. In the words of Joan Walsh, writer for the Nation, and I am paraphrasing, his RNC speech was 76 minutes of unending red-faced screaming. When he got to the LGBT portion of the speech, you could see him reading off the teleprompter: L.B.T.G. with an order of fries; it was like he was ordering off an A+W menu.
He’s a danger to the world, the last person that should have nuclear codes, considering that he can’t handle a simple insult. Obama has dealt with so much racism, including coming from Trump, who won’t come out and say it, but who says that there is, “Something about him.”
I think the media wants it to be close, but no, my personal opinion is that he is going to lose in the most incredible landslide. He’ll carry the Rust Belt and the Bible Belt, but the demographics have shifted so hard in 20 years and that will be the big October surprise, as he is also hemorrhaging white people. Trump is polling with 0% of black people in certain states. Women, POC and LGBT people will pull for Hillary. The Obama years have been steady, he and Hillary are policy wonks, the population won’t go from the steady guy to the screamy whiny baby.
In 2012, Mitt Romney at least seemed like he could run a country. He was a governor, he never called Mexicans rapists and talk about building a wall. Trump’s a reality TV star, and is distinctly unqualified.
Last night at the DNC, you had a disabled girl speak, an illegal immigrant, union people, Elizabeth Warren, and that fantastic speech by Michelle Obama. At the RNC, you had Anthony Sabato Jr. And that guy from Duck Dynasty who pretends that he is a regular guy, even though he’s a rich reality TV show star. It’s a different world.
AP:If you could nominate anyone to the Supreme Court in the United States right now, who would it be and why?
GP: Michelle Obama. She wouldn’t take the gig, she’s too smart. I follow Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s opinion. When she was asked how many women would be enough on the Supreme Court, she answered nine. There were nine men after all.
I would want more judges like Sotoamayer and Elena Kagan. Clarence Thomas is threatening to retire and I’m thrilled. To replace with Thurgood Marshall with Thomas was an insult. I want people on the court that have intellectual curiosity and who are intellectual.
Greg, as always, is a generous interviewee, and we continued on about the Supreme Court for a while, and could probably fill a whole hour with just Justice Scalia’s perfidities and mysterious death, but this is where I will end it. I will see you at his shows, as this discussion continues with wit, vim and vigor on Thursday next.
The Smartest Man in the World podcast recording happen at JFL on Thursday, July 28, 2016, at noon at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Ovation room (access from Place Desjardins), $19.14 Tickets HERE.
Living in Fictional Times: A Political Conversation with Lewis Black also happens on Thursday, July 28, 2016 but at 4pm, in the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Grand Salon Opera Room, 26.09. Tickets HERE.