Monday, February 4, 2008

A Stand-Up Politician

Politicians make us laugh all the time. In the case of one state representative, it's actually deliberate.

Jason Lorber represents the city of Burlington in the Vermont legislature. His profession is stand-up comedy. He's also openly gay.

I'm guessing the guy is rarely short of material.

A recent Associated Press profile explains that Lorber performs stand-up, runs improv workshops and produces comedy shows. This can't be an easy career in a state with no comedy clubs. Like being a lumberjack in the Sahara.

Lorber has duel passions for legislating and performing. "Politics is about changing society and trying to make the world a better place. And performing makes me feel so alive. I love the creative aspect of it," he says.

Though he resides in the Green Mountain State, Lorber, a Democrat, grew up in California. This provides more grist for his humor mill, as he eyes Vermont with an outsider's perspective.

Basically he has no choice but to comment on the frigid Vermont winters. The AP story doesn't say, but I assume he also has in his repertoire jokes about maple syrup, fall foliage, tourists, cows, Ben & Jerry's, skiing, Calvin Coolidge, flinty natives and ├╝ber-liberal flatlanders who've emigrated to Vermont.

Regarding the locals' affection for the good old days, Lorber kids, "I'm used to directions based on what street you're supposed to turn on. In Vermont directions are based on landmarks that burned down 15 years ago."

His own life is fodder for his humor. That's a good thing. A comedian whose act is solely wisecracking about a state will likely be run out of it. Or at least be defeated at the polls.

Says Lorber about his personal life, "The thing about my partner is, he's gay. Which I'm fine with. Growing up, I never pictured myself being with a gay guy. Now I've come to realize that I could never be happy being with a straight guy."

I love it. And I'm sure some in his audience don't get it.

Vermont was famously the first state in the nation to provide gay couples with legal recognition, in the form of civil unions. On an official state Web site, Lorber's bio includes the information that his civil union partner, Nathaniel G. Lew, is a college professor. I assume Lorber wrote the bio, as it also says their son Max, a year-and-a-half old, "has not yet declared his profession."

Lorber isn't all hearts and flowers about civil unions. Boston.com includes this Lorber quip: "I hate the term civil union. It sounds like a cross between a civil war and a labor union. We just call it a c.u. That way, if it doesn't work out, it's just 'c.u. later,' or a 'c.u. in court.'"

Vermont's civil union law took effect on July 1, 2000. The period before and after that date was a rancorous one in the Green Mountain State. Vermont's motto, "Freedom and Unity," could've been replaced with "If You're Giving Gays Freedom, Wave Bye-Bye To Unity."

Now Vermont is exploring the possibility of moving up to same-sex marriage. So far, reports the AP, the debate has been much tamer. But it's early yet.

It seems to me that a gay comedian in the legislature may be just the ticket for Vermont as it considers granting gay marriage. He can poke fun at himself to humanize gayness. He can reduce friction by making both sides crack up. When the tension is greatest, Lorber can unite the lawmakers by pointing out that life could be worse—they could live in New Hampshire.