This past weekend, Donald Trump watched a comedy skit parodying him on “Saturday Night Live” and grew dyspeptic enough (or was it despotic?) to demonstrate his complete lack of understanding of both the First Amendment and the absence of legal defamation protections afforded “public figures” under US law, by tweeting his belief that comedic skewering of himself was either already illegal, or must soon be deemed so.
In the unlikely event that Trump’s latest tantrum succeeds in eventually gagging political satire, however, there is one comedian in Albuquerque who should be very, very worried. Kendra Jean Brand, voted Albuquerque’s Best Local Comic in a reader poll by Albuquerque the Magazine this year, has made her ginormous mark on the local comedy landscape not with the usual Burque fare (you know: dick jokes, cholo impersonations, dick impersonations and cholo jokes) but rather with sharp and decidedly political observations, delivered in a cheery deadpan, that generally take aim at right-wing targets.
And now, Brand has a new feather to add to her proverbial cap, as the new host of the popular public-access talk show, “The New Mexican Inquisition,” seen on Comcast channel 27 and on Facebook. The show was formerly hosted by comedian Danger K. Varoz, who continues on as a producer. The show’s other producer, Stephanie Telles, sees Brand as Albuquerque’s own Stephen Colbert.
“Kendra’s a beautiful badass,” said Telles at a recent taping of the last show of the year. “She’s not afraid to take on anyone, or any issue. And she does it with a smile. That’s dangerous.”
Among Brand’s favorite topics? The ART Project, which she skewers relentlessly. Susana Martinez. Sexism. White privilege. At a recent taping, she even threw in some abortion jokes.
“Kendra is a conquerer,” said Varoz. “It’s been amazing to watch her grow from fan of the show to contributor to writer to producer to host. She has a strength in leadership that pulls the whole thing together. I’m so proud of what Kendra, (writer) Ann Gora and Stephanie are accomplishing every week.”
Brand, 30, was born in Florida and moved to New Mexico nearly nine years ago. She is part of a rising tide of serious comedic political resistance that includes Colbert, and which began when she was just 5 years old, with the deregulation of the nation’s news media in 1993.
Less real news, and more corporate or government censorship of information, reliably leads—almost always—to a spike in alternative activism, according to those who study this sort of thing. Much of the time, the most effective such activism takes the form of comedy, underscoring the truth of comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s description of comedy as nothing more than “socialized rage.”
The Media Deregulation Act of 1993 allowed for media monopolies in the United States for the first time. The organization Reporters Without Borders estimates that before the media deregulation act, the United States had the 7th-freest press in the world; it now ranks as the 45th-freest press in the world.
When access to factual information through traditional news outlets declines, two things happen. Corporate or government control of the media increase—but so does biting, truthful political satire, as modern-day court jesters becomes the last safe haven for truly honest public political discourse. Think of Brand as a modern-day court jester, empowered to speak truth to power in the relatively non-threatening form of jokes.
Brand got her start as a performer in middle school. “I joined theater,” she said in an interview after the taping of the show last week. “And I kept with it, through high school. That led me to improv, which led me to stand-up. And that led me here.”
Brand says the purpose of comedy is simple: “Make people laugh.” She also says that the things she personally finds funny “vary widely. I can get down with a silly pun or fart joke. I can also find beauty in intelligent, thought-out humor.”
Her favorite comedian is Mike Birbiglia.
It is hard not to see a bit of Tina Fey in Brand’s calm, confident quips. Recent adjustments to the show have also proven successful, as Brand has added more artists and other performers, from musicians to magicians, to her guest lineup. It’s a formula that’s working; the show is attracting top-tier political guests, and a recent show featuring incoming governor Michelle Lujan Grisham drew a record-breaking 15,000 viewers on Facebook.
All of this, alongside Brand’s rising local fame, could catapult her into the national spotlight; but this is not something she cares about or wants, she says.
“I don’t want to be anywhere else,” she said. “My goal isn’t to be the next Samantha Bee. It’s to get New Mexicans involved in politics, through humor.”