State senator partners with Working Classroom to chop legislators down to size
In the ancient tradition of making fun of politicians, Eric Griego and his communications director, Sharon Kayne, penned a script about the 2009 Legislature. Sen. Griego moonlights as a stand-up comic, and his view from the belly of the beast looking out sharpens this play's edge. No one escapes, not Republicans, not Democrats, not SunCal, not the deficit.
Obvious news items of the day make an appearance, like Gov. Bill Richardson's tumble from Washington. In some cases, the insider view dredges up an unheard perspective. The writers can't ignore Manny Aragon's dirty dealings but remember him as a giant in debate and lament his fall—to the tune of Barry Manilow's "Mandy."
"You took it on every day / Legislation that passed your way / A twinkle in your eyes / You could be so funny / I never realized / You made so much money, oh Manny / They said you were out for the taking / Then they sent you away, oh Manny / When we heard, well our hearts, they were breaking / And we miss you today, oh Manny."
The Roundhouse Comedy Revue will be performed by the high school and middle school students of Albuquerque's Working Classroom. With only three weeks of rehearsal under their belts, the performers will travel to Santa Fe to satirize some of the same legislators who’ll fill seats in their audience.
In the long, high-ceilinged room in the back of Working Classroom's Downtown Gold Street location, the performers hunch around a folding table and read through the script for the first time on Monday, Jan. 5. They stumble over words like “caucus,” “deficit” and “legislator.” Griego, bouncing his heels under the table, offers rapid-fire definitions and explanations of how the government works and what a lobbyist is. Weeks later, the show’s director, Daniel Garcia, says the actors have begun to understand and connect to most of the material.
We learned about them, how they talk and move and look. And that's how we're going to make fun of them.
Actor Jorge Valencia
Griego and Kayne's script mercilessly capitalizes on the character quirks of the senator's co-workers. Jorge Valencia, a 13-year-old student at Washington Middle School, says he's researched the legislators in the show to find out how to play them. "We learned about them," he says, "how they talk and move and look. And that's how we're going to make fun of them."
Sen. Pete Campos, with his robust head of hair, appears as a salesman for the Hair Club for Senators. Sen. Tim Jennings performs a slam poem about sheep and fiscal conservatism, because apparently he uses sheep metaphors often on the Senate floor.
"The show is very much written for the people that we're making fun of," says Garcia, a Working Classroom theater instructor. "Being that it's a roast, they kind of need to be there."
Last year, before Griego was a member of the Senate, he rolled out the revue for the first time in Santa Fe and used it as a fundraiser for the organization he directs, New Mexico Voices for Children. Because he's now a part of the Legislature, campaign finance rules almost stopped the show in its tracks in 2009. Garcia says he got a call from Griego saying the show would have to be postponed until after the session because of the fundraising blackout period. From Jan. 1 until the end of the session, legislators are barred from taking campaign funds.
"This didn't have anything to do with my campaign," says Griego. "But because I run Voices, and this is a fundraiser, I feel pretty strongly that we've got to abide by not just the letter but the spirit. I didn't want anybody to say this is a roundabout way of getting around the campaign finance rules."
It's all in fun. It's an old tradition to parody politics. None of it is really personal or over the top.
Sen. Eric Griego
Working Classroom opted to put the revue on anyway for free. "We can't just say no," says Garcia. "We can't do that to the kids. The fact that they're so excited about it, they're working so hard and learning so much, it'd be really sad to tell them halfway through, Oh, well we're not going to do it anymore."
Griego still plans to perform. Rep. Mimi Stewart and Sen. Tim Keller have shown interest in joining the cast for the performance, and there are a handful of legislators who, according to Griego, say they are considering it. Or, as actor Valencia puts it, "Some legislators might show up last minute and take our parts."
The Roundhouse Comedy Revue is a perfect opportunity for Working Classroom, which is partially dependent on government financial support, to lobby for its own funds, says Garcia. "It shows what we do in the program," he says. "We get to not only help the kids out with their acting skills but actually teach them about government and how that works."
Does Garcia worry that the inside jokes will turn off the very legislators Working Classroom is asking for funding?
"I think the jokes are personal enough that people will find it funny but not so personal that people will feel like we're attacking them," he says. Sen. Griego acknowledges some of the jokes are racy, but, he says, most of them are pretty good-natured. "It's all in fun. It's an old tradition to parody politics. None of it is really personal or over the top." Last year, there was concern that some comedic victims would get bent out of shape about the more sensitive material. "But the people it was about had the most fun with it," he says.
Hopefully that's how embattled ex-Sen. and rugby coach Shannon Robinson will take his appearance in the script during this song, sung to the tune of Dick Holler's "Abraham, Martin & John":
Anybody here seen my old friend Shannon? Can you tell me where he’s gone? He gave a lot of funding but it seems it wasn’t enough. I guess the rugby team doesn’t vote.
"It's a good way to start the session off," says Griego. "It gets so contentious and tiring and everybody's so frustrated. It's nice to kick it off by making fun of ourselves and not taking ourselves too seriously."
See the 2009 Roundhouse Comedy Revue in the cabaret room at the Lodge (750 N. St. Francis) in Santa Fe on Monday, Jan. 26, at 7:30 p.m. Though the show is free, seating is limited.