It was Will Durst’s kind of crowd, as most of the audience could read—or knew someone who could. It was a special addition of the annual event where local politicians poke fun at themselves and each other: Monday Night Live.
Held at the San Jose Athletic Club late last month, and on a Friday night instead of the standard Monday, the San Jose Stage Company also celebrated 30 years of local theater. It was a night to remember.
Durst brought the house down with a lively mix of old and new jokes that capped on everyone from William Howard Taft to Hillary Clinton. But this year’s event was fundamentally different from past MNL performances, as it only included one skit with local politicians. Our very funny city planning director Joe Hoerwodal and Stage Company founder/actor Randy King held mock auditions for who should be the next mayor of San Jose.
Good sports Pete Constant, Pierluigi Oliverio and Dave Cortese took turns skewering themselves. Constant focused on his previous incarnation as a bald guy, PLO poked fun at himself and his online dating profiles and the normally placid Dave Cortese took an imaginary hit from a bong to the delight of all in the crowd.
Sam Liccardo was mentioned in abstensia for his spandex pants. (He does ride a bike.) The biggest cut of all, though, was reserved for Madison Nguyen, who didn’t attend and wasn’t mentioned.
Like a Don Rickles routine, not to be mentioned in a joke at the Stage Company could mean you’re not really relevant.
The night was full of memories as clips from previous years were shown: Mayor Chuck Reed doing a full-on Bruce Springsteen; Jim Beall, a stage company patron for many years, as a member of the Blues Brothers, along with a yet-to-be-sentenced former Santa Clara County supervisor; Cindy Chavez as a hipster; and Frank Fiscallini in the role of Don Corleone ordering that former Mayor Tom McEnery never be given any work inside the family. “Give him a living,” Fiscallini says, “but nothing important.”
These were the skits of yesteryear. But this tame version of MNL was also very entertaining. The Stage promoted it’s current play and musical, Reefer Madness. There’s mention of Galen Murphy-Hoffman, whose portrayal of uptight authority gone wrong is hilarious.
Tributes were given to theater company advocate Jerry Strangis, whose litany of clients have helped fund the Stage Company for years. Special mention was also made of Cathleen King, wife of the Stage Company’s co-founder Randy. Without her steady business sense and influence, the entity might have folded years ago.
Assemblywoman Nora Campos and Beall gave a heartfelt plea to build a new venue, a model of which was showcased in the lobby before the event. It will be more difficult without a Redevelopment Agency, but the group is undaunted by the challenge.
And with local developers Barry Swenson, Chuck Davidson and the ever-elusive, but nevertheless philanthropic, Rob Bettencourt working behind the scenes, the venue will become a reality. Bettencourt is better known as “anonymous” in most of his philanthropic pursuits, but he is among the most generous contributors in San Jose.
The professional comedians kept the evening funny and light, with Johnny Steele waning hapless about having to fill in for a no show and Will Durst bringing the house down with his unique brand of political humor. And, yes, he does miss George W. Bush and the golden age of political comedy.
The Stage Company is certain to return next year to its regular bawdy event. It is an annual sideshow that brings out the best in our public servants and allows all sides of the political aisle to let their hair down and show they are real people who actually have senses of humor. It is an event that sometimes hits and sometimes misses, but it is always in good fun.
This year it was a hit.
Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley.