Long-time Nighttimes readers (from the days when we were Night Times and made of paper instead of pixels), will remember a certain columnist who liked to cause trouble. Whether he was slamming the Spice Girls or offending your mother, he had a knack for saying that oh-so-cutting-but-completely-true something that turned St. Louis upside down, filled our email and mail boxes with hate letters and marriage proposals, and significantly increased our readership. Back then, he went by the name of “Pissant.” Now that he’s a grown-up, he's doing comedy regularly at his new digs in LA, and touring around the nation as he can. We thought we’d catch up with him and see what makes him tick—and what ticks him off, today.
So, why comedy? Why now? All this time we thought you’d either be a writer or a rock star.
It's very diverse and very complicated. Here's the short answer: For some reason, I have this lifelong obsessive hate of dishonesty and hypocrisy. And I can't shut up about it. I have to point it out wherever I see it, and, of course, especially now, I see it everywhere. That's what makes me tick, and comedy's a good medium for it, I think. Otherwise, it would be just like Noam Chomsky and no one would really know what the hell I was talking about. Put my views in the form of a joke, and it's an easy way to explain my version of the truth to people and get them to pay attention to it. As to who inspires me, besides the obvious friends and family and that crap....let's see. Bill Hicks, Oscar the Grouch, Kurt Cobain, Lenny Bruce, Malcolm X, Richard Pryor, Hunter S. Thompson, George Carlin, Mort Sahl, Daffy Duck, Dennis Miller (before "Monday Night Football" and M&M commercials), Henry Rollins, Chris Rock, and anyone else who told the truth and dealt with the consequences.
And how long have you been doing the comedy schtick? You wrote for Night Times until the last paper edition, in March of 1998.
Three years. Most people in show business would say, for me, that's too long.
Religion is a consistent target of your criticism. What is your main beef with religious organizations?
Well, I criticize religion partially because it's such an easy target, because it's so open to hypocrisy and dishonesty and corruption. Let's face it, religion means that large masses of people pledge their loyalty to an invisible man that is the main character in a book that most of them haven't even read. There's a basic level of silliness to the whole ritual. Plus, the fact that most people that take it seriously have no sense of humor about it at all only makes it more fun for humorists to pick on it. My main beef? Geez, I'm not sure I can really answer this question in a school newspaper. To give it what it deserves, I'd need a whole "Encyclopedia Britannica". It's not fair to lump all religions together under some "main beef," when they're all evil and corrupt for their own special, individual reasons. Now, I'm not going to say that religion shouldn't exist, I'm very much in favor of religious liberty. If you want to believe in God, if you feel like you need that kinda moral anchor in your life, I have no problem with that. Delusional people's love of God obviously built some great hospitals and made some cool music and neat architecture. I will just say that, it seems clear to me that, if you study the history of Western organized religions, the whole thing was designed so rich people could keep poor people in line. That's why the holy books were written, that's why the churches, synagogues and mosques were built, that's why Pat Robertson and Billy Graham are famous...to keep the masses complacent, to make sure that the distribution of wealth around the world stays relatively the same as it has for centuries. And the vast majority of Americans buy into it and don't even notice it. That depresses me.
You've stated that you are a registered Republican yet you live just outside of LA. What's up with that?
Right, I brought that up because I saw that one of the sponsors of my speech in Warrensburg were the Young Democrats, and...well... if only they knew. It's true. I am one of the few registered Republicans in Los Angeles County, which, of course, means that I get an awful lot of jury duty. Ummm, I knew I was going to have to defend this to the liberal American college establishment at some point. First of all, being the voice of dissent has always appealed to me and so living in a place that's so solidly faux-liberal Democrat, I like swimming against the tide. Secondly, these days, I see more prejudice, hypocrisy, and censorship coming from the Left then I do from the Right. The Republicans are more honest and direct about their intent, I think. Democrats use people, use minorities, use women, use the working class and then dump on them once they get elected. I'd rather know what I'm voting for. You have to realize, I'm not a scary mainline Republican. I've never gone gay bashing, I'd never blockade an abortion clinic, I don't hate America enough to vote for George W. Bush. I registered with them, simply, because I like the horse race aspect of presidential primaries and wanted to participate in one. I'm really more of a Libertarian, but it's useless to register with them, because they'll never really win anything. No party whose platform is solidly anti-government is going to take an election seriously enough to win. So, yeah, don't hate me, I registered Republican. Of course these days, I just vote for fun. The controlling interests in this country, the people with the money who make all the real decisions, generally put money behind both of the main candidates in any important race, so both parties wind up generally representing the same thing. As the last election proved, it doesn't even matter who the majority of people vote for, the people who run the country are going to put in whoever best represents their interests, which is why during my lifetime, I don't think we'll ever have a good president.
What do you see as America's greatest political problem today?
Well....wow, gotta love these questions. I'm not a politician or even a political science major. I'm just a schmuck that writes jokes...I mean, obviously, the overwhelming problem is the basic unfairness of the system...the fact that corporations have entirely too much power and control over what goes on. This corporate welfare crap bothers me, all these bailouts and buyouts and rewarding that goes on of these companies that basically screw the American consumer. And, of course, it goes on because the corporations pick who our leaders are going to be. I mean, let's get this straight, I am a capitalist. I'm for consumer choice (and therefore, I think that some of the blame for our out of control culture has to go to the American consumers). I don't think there is a system that works better then free market. But we've let it get out of control. I didn't say I had a solution, you just asked me to name a problem. Here's what bothers me about America today....the complete and total lack of personal responsibility. The idea that no one is responsible for anything that they do and that everyone has a lawsuit going all the time and that nothing is anyone's fault. So, combine these two problems and you have a country where everything is completely out of control, nobody thinks it's their fault and nobody is willing to really do anything about it.
Did September 11 make it harder to do political comedy?
Umm, I probably broke even on it. When you're a comic that talks about the news in a country where most people are too busy to pay that much attention to what's going on, it can be frustrating. But during that period of time, EVERYBODY was watching the news. So, in a sick way, it helped me a little. Of course, for a little while, I had to be more sensitive to the feelings of the audience then I usually feel like I have to be. I was as bummed as everybody else about what happened on that day. It was terrible, and I really didn't want to upset anybody who lost anybody or insult any of the people that died. People were very angry at the whole thing. I did feel a responsibility to make sure that people were angry at the right people, the people who were responsible for what happened. Woodward and Bernstein said that if you want to solve a crime, you follow the money, and I think when you look at September 11 and follow the money, it's perfectly clear who is responsible for the whole thing.....flagmakers. It was a dying industry, no one had bought a flag since 1976. Suddenly in one week, they sell 100 million dollars worth of flags. 3000 people for 100 million dollars....that's good American business right there. That really was an amazing time to be in Los Angeles. We were defining patriotism by buying a car flag that was made in Taiwan and sold by Mexicans outside of gas stations owned by Arabs. Well, God bless America....Really, though, that event and our collective reaction to it obviously was illustrative of a lot of American
hypocrisies and a lot of the dumb things we've done in foreign countries over the last twenty years or so. And I did feel the need to point that out to people.
Who would make the perfect president?
Certainly not the one we have now. Well, it's a pretty silly question. Obviously nobody's perfect and no president will ever be perfect. Like I said, I don't ever expect to have a president that I could vote for without puking... the people who control this country probably wouldn't allow it. Umm, let's see. Well, as far as politicians go, here's who I like....John McCain, who's not perfect, but it's tough to find a real reason not to vote for the guy, Jim Traficant, Jesse Ventura, Gary Johnson (the governor of New Mexico who's the only mainstream American politician who had enough balls to call the drug war a "failure") and that's about it. I think Chuck D, Hunter S. Thompson, and Henry Rollins would also make good presidents, in a perfect world. And some day I'd like to see a political comedian have a turn at being president, as long as it's not me.
Who would win in a streetfight? Dubya or Gore?
Well, the short answer is Dubya, because, based on his background, I'm sure he's had some bar fight experience. And, if you saw that snow job he pulled on everybody in the election in Florida, it's obvious that Bush has more of a killer instinct then Gore does...But in any fight or contest involving Bush and Gore, the real loser is the American people.
You’ve got a gig coming up at the college in Warrensburg, Missouri. Why the hell would any LA comedian in his right mind go to Warrensburg?
That's the best question that you've asked so far, and, really, I have no idea. I think it will be a fun show though. If I can get off the campus without getting dragged on a rope behind three beer swilling rednecks in a pickup, I'll consider it a success.
Brian Dowell will be performing at the Central State University campus in Warrensburg, MO on September 30 at 5PM.