Comedy takes you to some strange places.
Normally, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall wouldn't qualify as one of them. It's where the symphony plays, after all. But walking into the auditorium last Friday night and finding myself surrounded by a smattering of Proud Boys and soccer moms wearing "Fuck Antifa" T-shirts…well, "strange" probably isn't the right word. It was downright surreal.
On March 27, the Schnitz played host to the Deplorables, a definitively pro-Trump comedy tour featuring a lineup of podcasters, Fox News talking heads, YouTube personalities, and a guy named Mudflap. Its press materials promised a show that would "unleash the conservative mindset" while "unabashedly mocking liberals." You have to wonder, then, why the organizers would bother coming to Portland, the snowflake capital of the United States, and attempt to fill the city's biggest, fanciest performance hall.
As a comic, I have to admit I was curious—not just about the show itself, but who it would bring out.
I arrived over an hour early, assured there would be some sort of protest, either from Antifa or the local comedy community. I can confirm this idea was floated by a few comics before everyone realized that bombing in daylight outside the Schnitz for an audience of Trump devotees wouldn't serve much purpose. Of course, that didn't stop the usual suspects from showing up and spoiling for a confrontation: Joey Gibson and a few Patriot Prayer members made a semi-dramatic entrance, marching from a block away, each carrying an American flag attached to a PVC pole. I could only imagine their disappointment when they found no one to rally against.
Related: Police Told Patriot Prayer Leader Joey Gibson They Considered Fights At His Rallies "Mutual Combat."
Instead, the crowd ran the gamut of conservatism. Outside the venue, I spoke with a pleasant middle-aged couple from Vancouver who were simply looking forward to a rare night out in Portland and "didn't want any trouble." Moments later, a white stretch limo pulled up and two guys popped out, wearing matching MAGA hats and brick-patterned tuxedos meant to represent the border wall. The crowd cheered and clapped, with many asking for pictures, but all I could think of was Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels rolling up in their ruffled tuxedos in Dumb and Dumber.
Inside, people gathered around the merch table piled with overpriced T-shirts reading, "I'm a Trump Deplorable." These were not the rabid Trump fans you see at rallies on the news—they were grandmas and even young kids, and the folks I talked to were uniformly polite, if a bit skittish to give personal information to a guy recording for an interview. There were also not that many of them: Indeed, the Schnitz proved to be a bit ambitious for this tour, as the lower level was maybe half full. But the crowd was fully onboard throughout the night.
The show began with Michael Loftus, a standup comic and television producer, who also served as the night's host. With black framed glasses and short gray hair, he looked like a guy you'd see pecking away at a MacBook in your local liberal coffee shop. His set contained a few jokes and impressions of former presidents, but he mostly just pandered to the base, with plenty of applause breaks for any mention of Trump and the general Republican brand. He eventually brought up the Deplorable Choir, three self-described "housewives from Houston" in matching "Damn Deplorable" shirts and MAGA hats singing original songs with lyrics seemingly spat out of a right-wing AI machine: "I have a dream of a beautiful wall/There on the border 20 feet tall/Deadbeat Congress ain't worth no lick/So we're gonna build it brick by brick," went one number.
Up next was Brandon Tatum, who replaced YouTube comedian Terrence Williams after he was injured in a car accident. A black former Democrat and police officer, he offered what was more of a Republican salvation story than a standup set, describing his conservative awakening after Obama "trashed the police." He ended his speech with the declaration that God was on their side and put each and every one of us on earth to help move the cause forward. I'm personally still waiting for God to let me know what my role in Trump's re-election campaign will be.
To this point, the show felt less like a comedy show than a more benign Trump rally, minus Trump himself. Maybe I should have expected that, but I figured there would be at least some attempts at jokes, rather than regurgitated right-wing talking points broken up by "USA!" chants.
After the intermission, the Deplorable Choir's guitarist, Brian Haner, returned to play a few songs solo, digging at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jussie Smollett and Nancy Pelosi. Watching 500 Costco conservatives wave their arms side to side while mocking Pelosi's lisp and singing, "Nancy Pelosi, go spit on somebody else," was truly a sight to behold. During an aside, he asked the crowd, "Isn't it nice to have a president with balls, and a first lady without some?" On second thought, maybe I should count my blessings there were fewer actual jokes at this comedy show.
Finally, it was time for the headliner—veteran comic Steve "Mudflap" McGrew. It was the closest thing approaching a traditional standup set. At least, it was the only act that had non-political jokes. He talked about arguments with his wife on bringing up their son, generational differences and other fairly domestic topics. His closer was about the lady at McDonald's who burned herself with hot coffee, which happened in 1992, so you know he's been using that one for a while. Out of all the performers, McGrew made the best effort at what could be considered "neutral comedy."
It's no wonder most of the other performers strained for humor. To me, comedy that endorses a political party isn't really comedy. Good comics have to be willing and able to call bullshit anywhere they spot it, no matter what they believe. If the left had a version of this show, I wouldn't enjoy that, either. As a comic who's out most nights in Portland, I've heard enough jokes comparing Trump to orange objects to last a lifetime.
But hey, the crowd clearly enjoyed it. A man named Pat described the show as "having the spirit of an annual stockholders meeting," which I thought was apt. They weren't really here to laugh, necessarily. They came to celebrate their victories and hang out with like-minded people. They got what they paid for.
And anyway, comedy is a business, and something like the Deplorables is a great hustle. You've got an untapped market desperate for some sort of entertainment that says what it believes is right and true. You can't lose. The audience is already on your side, so if your joke doesn't work, you can always get the claps you need by invoking Trump's name and screaming one of his catch phrases. Book a few acts who drive home those "family values" of "God rules, abortion drools, and the flag is for standing" and boom—you've got yourself a national tour, one that will get press from a sad 31-year-old comedian who usually spends his nights pedaling to three open mics on his bike.
What a country!
Related: Portland Comic Jake Silberman Would Rather Work a Crowd Impromptu Than Polish a Joke to Perfection.