Your Facebook feed is filled with acrimonious claims about the election. Even as we speak, your friends are sharing bite-sized videos and strongly worded stories with click-bait headlines from NowThis and RedState to your wall. They contain tons of unchecked assertions and opinions disguised as facts about how one of the presidential candidates is the most partisan, racist, corrupt and mentally deficient organism to ever run for the highest office in the history of everything, forever and ever. Amen.
The silver lining to this shitstorm of social media is that it has inspired comedian Adam Conover and company to start boning up on the history of American democracy and politics. He says the hyperbole surrounding the presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump seems to exist in a bubble that completely ignores even our recent political past.
"People are so cynical about the tone of the election this year, and if you ask the average person on the street what they think of the election this year, and it doesn't matter what political persuasion they are, they go, 'Oh God, I hate it. This is the worst election ever and I hate both candidates and it's been going on forever and I'm totally sick and tired of it. Can we please just end it already? This is going to be the worst election of all time,'" Conover says. "That's the way most people feel, and what we wanted to do was take a historical perspective and ask, 'Is this the craziest election of all time?' Guess what? There were [crazier ones]. We just forgot about them."
Conover, the CollegeHumor writer and star of TruTV's Adam Ruins Everything, will address the exaggerations and misconceptions about American democracy and the election on the current season of his TV show. But before that episode airs, he's touring a show on the subject that will stop at the South Side Music Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 20.
Conover says he and his team wanted to do a special episode about politics that examines the state of the current election by taking a look at how we got here. The challenge was finding a way to make it stand out from other satirical shows that regularly skewer politics and the news such as Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Real Time with Bill Maher and pretty much every show that airs on a non-cable network after the 10 p.m. news.
"There are so many people right now who are doing current events comedy at such a high level on TV that we wanted to bring something different to it," Conover says. "What we're doing is taking a historical perspective on the election. We're going to be talking about crazy elections of the past, weird presidential facts and we're also going to be trying to answer questions like, 'What do you not understand about the election and what about our common conceptions of the election is wrong?'"
The TruTV show that started as a web series for CollegeHumor features Conover as a knowledge-dropping sprite who shows up at inopportune times in people's lives to spoil moments with well-researched facts, cartoonish charts and historical necromancer powers that show the ineffectiveness of everything from airport security procedures to "flushable" wipes.
He's tackled election topics on his show before, such as the outdated electoral college process and the effectiveness of legal cheating practices such as gerrymandering, but the live show will examine the election from a historical perspective that will normalize what seems to be unprecedented and bridge the divides that politics loves to build between its respective bases.
"The Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton of 100 years ago, everyone forgot about it," he says. "We don't read about it in the history books very regularly and the average person doesn't know about it. So we want to go find those stories and tell them again to shed light on what is really strange about our modern election system and we wanted to see what really is unique and disconcerting about our election this [time] and about democracy at this moment, and we have a theory on what this is and we present that at our show, too."
Conover says he relished the challenge of transporting the style of his show's presentation into a live format.
"We are trying to match the aesthetic of the show," Conover says. "The reason the TV show is what it is is because I'm both a stand-up comic and a sketch writer. I play a lightly heightened version of myself as a character, but I'm mostly speaking as a stand-up comic directly to the audience telling verbal jokes, and then we whip over to the sketch comedy. It will be a very similar style to what I do on the TV show. It won't be quite as nerdy and silly as I am on the show because I play a slightly heightened version of myself, but part of it is pretty similar."
The stage will feature a video wall where Conover can present charts, graphs and videos that help make the case for his bizarro, TED-like talk, he says.
"The goal of the show is very similar to the TV show," Conover says. "We want people to come out. We want them to laugh a ton, learn a ton and leave thinking about our democracy in a fundamentally different way."
The live shows are also a way to prep the material they'll be presenting in a special episode about presidential elections and American democracy that will air around two weeks before Super Tuesday, Conover says.
"We're going to be doing more material on the show than what's going to air," he says. "So people who come to see the live show are going to see the extended version that's never going to make it to air and it will be a totally different experience. The cool thing about a live show is we'll be walking through the material together. It's intended to feel like me and the audience are going through this journey together."
The crux of his theory won't simply be that history is an endless repetitive cycle of doomed mistakes and stupid candidates. Conover says that something much deeper seems to be at play leading up to the two choices we have for president in November.
"I always think it's a mistake to say that history repeats itself absolutely," Conover says. "Basically what we did was looked to see if we could find some historical analog to Donald Trump and people who are similar to him because there is a feeling that people have, especially liberals, that this can't be happening. This can't be America. This isn't how America works. This is fundamentally wrong. What country do I live in? People shouldn't be this way. If you look at the perspective of someone like Donald Trump, who's often been accused of stoking racial resentment, there are presidential candidates who got far by doing that, like [former Alabama Governor] George Wallace. That's not a perfect comparison, but people forget how recent George Wallace was and how far he got. He won, I believe, five states as a third party candidate."
Instead, Conover hopes to ruin the idea that the United States is hopelessly divided, he says.
"When you argue with people on Facebook, they seem really set in their ways but when you go to a bar and have a drink and a chat with them, they say, 'I see where you're coming from,'" Conover adds. "Everybody is at root a reasonable person and I want us to get back to that and treat each other as humans."
The Adam Ruins Everything Live! tour will make a stop at the South Side Music Hall at 1135 S. Lamar St. at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 20. Tickets are available online at AXS.com.
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