As I sat in the audience laughing, I thought, This is exactly what the world needs right now: a way to focus on what brings us together instead of what pulls us apart. That’s the mission at the annual 1812 Productions run of This Is The Week That Is, Philadelphia’s premier political satire comedy show.
In November, I spoke with This Is The Week That Is cast member Dave Jadico while he was working on this year’s run.
“People need to have more laughter and more joy in their lives and this is challenging because we’re doing a show about things that create stress. We’re doing a show about politics,” Jadico told me.
Different every day
A mixture of scene-work, satire, stand-up, and comedy improvisation, This Is The Week That Is is unlike almost anything you’ve ever seen on stage. The show changes day to day, week to week, based on the current headlines, so it’s different every time. Even the actors are surprised by the introduction of new material. That’s why part of each day’s rehearsal involves incorporating the previous day’s news into that night’s performance.
“We hire good improvisational actors,” Jadico told me. “The opening number of every show references things that happen that night, that week … Often, we are memorizing four, five, six lines of dialogue that you have to sing that is brand new that night.”
This explains why many people return to see the show numerous times within a given run: it’s always a surprise. If you’ve never been to This Is The Week That Is, think echoes of Saturday Night Live meets The Daily Show, but even more engaging because of the audience interaction.
This season, the show is written and performed by Jadico, Sean Close, Justin Jain, Tanaquil Márquez, Pax Ressler, and Brett Robinson, working alongside head writers Jennifer Childs and Thomas E. Shotkin, and head news writer Don Montrey.
Might as well be laughing
I saw the performance for the first time in 2016—an unforgettably contentious time in our nation’s history. Back then, I was apprehensive about seeing a show that was explicitly political, but it immediately allayed my reservations. In making equal fun of Republicans and Democrats, 1812 brought levity to the Trump/Clinton rivalry.
This year, I knew even before I went to see it, that the show would infuse happiness into a heartbreakingly divided political landscape. As Jadico put it, “Our purpose is to have people find joy when they’d rather be crying sometimes.”
In his annual letter, the show’s director, Dan O'Neil, echoed and expanded upon this.
“I know whatever the news brings us, we’ll find a way to … take a headline, an idea, or a political figure and make a big splashy musical number around it,” he wrote. “Here’s to laughing together, crying together, thinking together, and getting a little bit closer to a room full of strangers.”
The voices in the room
This Is The Week That Is may be so effective in bringing the audience together because of the way the show itself is created. After my sit-down with Jadico, I stuck around to observe a rehearsal and was thoroughly impressed by the all-hands-on-deck, work-hard-play-hard vibe. Every voice from the cast to the crew contributed.
“What about this…?”
“How about we try…?”
“Let’s experiment with…”
It was easy to see how incorporating different perspectives allowed for a funnier, more engaging show. I watched the cast workshop a satirical song about the current state of politics set to the most well-known melody from Hamilton and, even though the number was still in its infancy, it was hysterical. By the time it all came together onstage on December 4, resounding applause followed.
It wasn’t just that particular number that had the audience enthralled. Every one of the This Is The Week That Is cast members is a versatile and talented performer who heightens the show’s comedic and dramatic elements. Throughout the show, I reflected on Jadico’s words: “We hired actors who are good improvisational actors as well as people who have a point of view and can be a voice in the writers’ room.”
If you love politics, or don’t; if you’re a Democrat or a Republican; if you’re informed about the issues, or oblivious; you’ll enjoy This Is The Week That Is. I’m someone who finds the current political climate too overwhelming to contemplate and I was right there, laughing with the rest of the audience. This is thanks to the deliberate way the show’s creators structure their satire.
“It’s no surprise that our writing room is rather liberal,” Jadico said, “but we always punch up.”
The comedic principle of “punching up” simply means satire targeting those with power and privilege, instead of targeting folks who may be marginalized. In other words, poking fun at the victors, not the victims. Jadico explained that bipartisanship is an important feature of the show and that punching up enables the company to create a safe and welcoming space for people of all political affiliations.
“This year, the Republicans will get the lion’s share of the satire,” he said. “But when Obama was in office, the Dems got it. We poke holes in power.”
As I stood, shoulder to shoulder, during the standing ovation, with people of all ages, races, and political perspectives, all of us clapping and cheering together, it felt as if 1812 is getting something right that the rest of the nation has been getting wrong. Instead of yelling at each other, or crying alone, we should all be laughing together.
What, When, Where
This Is The Week That Is. Directed by Dan O’Neil. Through January 5, 2020 at Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place, Philadelphia. (215) 592-9560 or 1812produtions.org.
The restrooms at Plays and Players are accessible only by stairs.