“Comedy is an escape—not from truth, but despair.”
–some dead playwright.
Consuming political news is not often a pleasant experience. Like taking your vitamins (or perhaps more accurately, watching overgrown toddlers battling for attention), engaging with Canada’s politicians/pundits/pipelines is generally the opposite of entertaining.
Enter Vancouver comedian Sean Devlin in April 2011. Devlin and bunch of Vancouver creatives, including producer/musician Cameron Reed, launched a simple website: it took unfortunate facts about our current prime minister and paired them with relevant jokes and news links.
The result was a vortex of nation-wide clicks, likes, and shares that stimulated just the right youth-dissatisfaction receptors. ShitHarperDid.com amassed 4.1 million hits in its first 72 hours, just a few weeks ahead of the federal election. Accompanying videos proclaiming “Stephen Harper is an Evil Astronaut” and other curiosities ramped up the social media buzz.
Sunday Service comedian Kevin Lee vividly remembers the launch. “I didn’t really have a concept about what it meant at the time. I just sat riveted in front of my computer.” After helping craft a few of the site’s juicy one-liners, Lee stepped into YouTube’s commenting arena for the first time. “Oh man!” Lee recalls, shaking his head at the misguided decision to defend his politics on an anonymous Internet forum. “It was like if somebody threw a bag of nails and glass into some quicksand and I jumped into it. Just awful.”
Lee found himself battling backlash that hurled “dirty hipster” insults alongside New Democratic Party (NDP) conspiracy claims. “They’d call us out for our glasses and beards,” says Lee. “Which I feel was referring directly to me.”
While Lee has since retired from the YouTube commenting game, his involvement with ShitHarperDid.com is expanding. For the month of March, he and many of the comedians and creators behind the website are taking a live act on the road.
“In a sense, it’s not that different, because there’s a lot of absurd things that happen in politics,” says Lee of the improv-based performance. Along with award-winning podcaster Graham Clark, the Sunday Service will perform at six campuses across the Lower Mainland.
“We already had a lot of shit at the time of the website,” he says, “and it has continued to pile up.” Later in the month, the ShitHarperDid.com team plan to relaunch their web presence with fresh interactive content. “Harper has not stopped shitting — which is kind of good for us, but terrible for everything else.”
Lee shares a little-known Sunday Service fact, that Devlin was briefly a member of the award-winning improv troupe in 2006. Devlin left before the group found their weekly home at the Hennessy, now called the Kozmik Zoo.
Devlin and Brigette DePape (an activist known for holding up a “Stop Harper” sign in Canada’s House of Commons) will close the event with their own colourful political commentary.
“With the tour, we’re trying to reach those people who were a lot like me when this all started,” Lee explains. “I knew I had certain opinions, but I felt somewhat intimidated by the news … I didn’t know how to engage or be useful.”
With a set of fresh gags that incorporate virtually every stereotype from classic college films, Lee hopes to spark the interest of folks that care more about hockey and Harlem Shake videos than voting.
“It’ll be pretty wild and loose,” says Lee, promising sex, drugs, toilet humour, keg stands, and at least one reference to the Centurion. After the show, Lee hopes audiences will connect with their own sexy political opinions. “The website really did that for me and I think it did that for a lot of young people as well.”