'Make America Laugh Again' Brings Conservative Comics Together In Long Beach
President Trump has been a frequent target of comedians, but a smaller number of vocally conservative comics are seizing the moment to make their own voices heard. This Sunday, several of them are coming together for a show in the Make America Laugh Again tour, headlined by Adam Yenser.
Yenser doesn't easily fit into a box — he's a conservative comic who's also a writer and recurring performer on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. He started out performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York and has written for the Oscars, contributed to SNL's Weekend Update, appeared on Conan — and appeared on Fox News.
"I think there's a lot of people in this country who, whether they're local here to L.A. or across the country, are looking for comedians that share their point of view," Yenser said.
SHOWS ACROSS THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM
He doesn't shy away from doing conservative material for general, even liberal audiences, including around Los Angeles.
"They find it refreshing as long as you do it in a smart and funny way," Yenser said.
The Make America Laugh Again show draws a largely conservative audience, according to Yenser. He prefers playing to more general audiences — it makes him write harder and helps him to develop better jokes.
"Because it's fun to play off the tension that you know not everyone in the room is on your side," Yenser said. "And I kind of like walking the line and seeing how much I can get these people to laugh at stuff that I know they're not necessarily on board with politically, at least at the start."
Playing a conservative comedy show has more of a pep rally vibe, according to Yenser. But he said that the thing he doesn't like about those shows is the same thing he doesn't like about late-night comics who do liberal material, like Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee — the crowd is already cheering and applauding at the premise of the joke, before you even get to the punchline.
"I think their comedy has suffered because of it. I don't think they're doing as strong material anymore," Yenser said.
HOW HE STRUCTURES HIS SETS
In his own comedy, Yenser tries to start out with non-political material, winning over the crowd with observational jokes. He follows with his political material, which he prides himself on spending a lot of time writing.
"I try to structure the jokes in a way that there's a nod to the fact that I know the audience isn't necessarily going to agree with me," Yenser said.
And he tries to see how far he can push things politically with an audience.
"I'll put the most controversial thing at the end of one string of jokes, and then have a joke right after that that's designed to get the audience back on board," Yenser said. "I think that often leads to bigger laughs, once they get that release after the tension is built up."
TRYING TO BREAK THROUGH
Being a conservative comedian can be a double-edged sword, according to Yenser. He enjoys having a unique perspective that sets him apart and has found success as a comedy writer.
"But when it comes to landing writing jobs or TV gigs that will allow me to present that perspective, the mainstream industry, and the networks, and the producers of shows are very apprehensive to putting that perspective on TV, regardless of whether it's funny or not," Yenser said.
He feels it's been more difficult for him to get booked on late-night shows and other TV comedy sets, but he's working on getting a conservative-leaning set on air.
His biggest late-night set to date was on Conan, but it was largely apolitical material. Yenser said that bookers often look at him and his material as high-risk.
"Even though they book people all the time on the other side of the political spectrum, that say jokes that would be high-risk if the audience didn't agree with them already," Yenser said.
It could come off as sour grapes, but Yenser said he knows his material works with a general audience because he performs it at clubs for audiences of mixed political backgrounds, and knows it gets laughs.
HOW HE DEFINES HIS OWN POLITICS
So how does a conservative comic who also works on Ellen's TV show describe what he believes? He said he's been a conservative as long as he's been into politics, but while he tends to vote Republican, he doesn't necessarily apply that label to himself.
"I don't think that what the party does, and what Republican politicians do, is always the best thing or is always in line with my values," Yenser said.
He cites what he sees as traditional conservative values: upholding the Constitution, freedom of speech, and some "Christian social values."
While he's someone who doesn't like what he calls "cancel culture," he still draws some lines — like with SNL performer Shane Gillis, who was fired for offensive statements before he even appeared on the show.
"I don't think Shane Gillis should have been fired for what he said, but I don't get much pleasure in defending him personally. Of all the things that people have been canceled over, I think what he said was one of the most genuinely offensive and not particularly funny things," Yenser said.
But beyond his feelings about "cancel culture" and politics more generally, Yenser said that his top priority is making people laugh. Others trying to make a name as political comics, particularly on the conservative side, start with making a point first, according to Yenser.
"I think the comedy can sometimes suffer," Yenser said. "Because they're making the message primary, and then the strength of the joke or the comedy secondary to that. And I think that's why sometimes it comes across as either hacky, or mean-spirited, or heavy-handed — and I try to avoid that."
As far as the point he does want to make, Yenser said he'd like if audiences come away thinking they may not agree with him, but that he has a valid point of view — or at least a funny one. And he'd like if crowds could think someone on the other side can be smart and funny.
The Make America Laugh Again tour plays Long Beach's Gaslamp Music + Bar + Kitchen this Sunday.