The Man in The Middle
“People ask if I went crazy. Nope. The country went crazy. I’ve been standing right here.”
I didn’t want to write this show. I knew it was gonna be a tough sell — getting people to come watch a guy talk about politics for 75 minutes? No thanks, I could hear them saying. We get enough Trump all day long and then for our night out we’re gonna listen to more of him?
And yet, I found myself staying up at night or waking up in the morning to write about one topic over and over: Politics.
As the first draft of the script ballooned to 61 pages, I called in the big guns. I sat down with the booker of The Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, easily one of the greatest clubs in the world. He connected me with Pat Hazell, a writer on Seinfeld. Pat had me crash with him down in my wife’s hometown of Austin, Texas, and we spent a week focusing and honing and punching up the script.
Pat’s key insight?
“The show isn’t about Trump — it’s about YOU.”
He continued: “You’re a tremendous litigator. You can take a point and go at it for minutes on end and people will believe you. That’s great but it’s not theater. Take your rants about wealth inequality and health care and — .”
Me: “Shove ’em up my ass?”
“No, they won’t fit. They’re too long. These are great topics for your series, Raj Against The Machine. People can watch them and hit Pause or even Stop. But in theater, the audience doesn’t want to hear somebody tell us somebody else’s story. Your Dad voted for Trump. How has that affected you? Open with that. That’s a story I want to hear.”
It’s almost like he was quoting the late, great Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting when I was all hot about my stances on issues:
“Personally, I don’t give a sh!t about all of that, because you know what? I can’t learn anything from you I can’t read in some f*ckin’ book. Unless you wanna talk about you, who you are. Then I’m fascinated. I’m in. But you don’t wanna do that, do you, sport? You’re terrified of what you might say. Your move, chief.”
I’m an Indian, not a chief, but yes, I was terrified.
Even though it’s now my personal story — and I must say, quite funny (hiring a Seinfeld writer will do that) — I am still terrified to stage this show. People are so super-sensitive. And Politics is the new Religion. I’m still confident the middle 80% will enjoy it — people who can laugh at themselves will have a ball. But I know the hard-core Trump supporters on the Right and the Social Justice Warriors on the Left ain’t gonna love it. It could piss people off and offend people and even damage my brand. That said, I can’t live knowing that I stayed silent just so I can sell more tickets to my standup shows. “I didn’t want to disappoint my friends” has rarely been a worthwhile justification for anything.
Besides, sure, we all live in a bubble, but what bubble is that for me? Yes, I spend a lot of time in LA and in NY but also a lot of time in the middle of the country, staying in touch with more people from my suburban town high school than probably anybody in our class of 500. I love big cities and small towns and have performed on five continents. If you were to say I live in a bubble, what exactly would that bubble be? Earth? (Nobody’s been to Mars yet.)
So, to cope with my fear, I spent the last few weeks channeling all of my passion into one question: “Where do I fit in this new world?”
If the show is a pie, I’d say it breaks down like this:
Above all, I’ve written The Man in The Middle because I’m compelled to write it. That’s it. It’s the artist in me winning out over the businessman. I’ve only referred to myself as an artist twice — once with my first one-person show, No Man’s Land, and now with this. Artists are inspired to create — and that’s why this is my most important show ever. No Man’s Land was about my personal life but it was still only about one person. This is about all of my fellow Americans.
As such, the show isn’t a rant. I’m hosting a party. We play music as you file in and out. I’m going to give you something fun you can take with you, literally. And I’m gonna give y’all an intermission. The show is structured roughly as ten 7-min scenes so I certainly keep it moving. If you’re not feeling this one part, hang in there for a few more minutes and I’ll shift gears. Over the course of 75 minutes, I explore the different sides of me — the son, the host, the marketer, the Indian, the angry man, the crazy person, the optimist, and of course, the American.
I’m not necessarily trying to change anyone’s mind. That’s a surefire formula for a standup comedian to fail. I want to open people’s minds. I’m not trying to smash people’s belief systems apart. I’m just trying to keep the ball in play. I’m stepping on that stage to play pinball, not whack-a-mole.
I’ve spent a lot of time being pissed off. It’s no secret that I’m no fan of this President’s. But when I sat down to write the section about Trump’s positives and negatives, I was astounded that I actually did come up with some good things to say about him — and some not-so-good things about his detractors. I’m gonna try to use the gift the Lord gave me: to tell the truth and not be hated for it.
It doesn’t seem like there are many people sincerely trying to talk to both sides. Well, maybe Robert Mueller. But hey, I claim to be the world’s greatest host — so it’s time to put my money where my mouth is.
My Fellow Americans… Let’s do this.
All info at SeeRajiv.com.