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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Greg Proops: Political Affairs Are So Bad It's Hard to Make Fun of Them

Posted By on Wed, Dec 28, 2011 at 8:30 AM


Greg Proops leaps across multiple topics with a verbal felicity that brings to mind a particularly energetic, sartorially astute, and vodka-loving gazelle. Proops, who appears at the Punch Line starting Thursday, got his start in San Francisco in the 1980s. For years he was a mainstay at local nightclubs and still visits several times a year, despite having relocated to Los Angeles. He was also a regular guest (and guest host) on Alex Bennett's classic Live 105 morning show. This continued even after Proops had established an international reputation as one of the original panelists on the Channel 4 (UK) edition of Whose Line is it Anyway?, staying with the show when it emigrated to the U.S. under host Drew Carey.

Proops maintains a diverse show business career that includes voice work (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Bob the Builder, Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace), hosting duties (Head Games, Odd News), and now, with The Smartest Man in the World, a very successful podcast. (He'll record an episode during his time here.)

We spoke to him by phone just before the holidays.

How's everything going these days? You seem really busy.

I've got a podcast going and I couldn't be happier about the reception it gets. I just did one in London last week, and the week before that I did one in Atlanta, and the week before that I did one in Toronto. I'm doing the podcast there on Dec. 29 late -- at 10:30 p.m.

You're here for SF Sketchfest in January/February too, right?

Yeah, and at Sketchfest I'm going to do a lot of exciting stuff: The Set List, which is a show that Paul Provenza puts on that Troy Conrad thought of, where we improvise stand-up.

This is the show where the comics are provided with a list of topics?

The very one. You walk onstage and you're given the set list. And you have to just make it happen right there. I love it. It's the kind of free-falling I like to do. I just did it in London as well. It's tremendous fun -- and it's scary. But I like to improvise, and I improvise the podcast mostly, so it's not outside of the realm of possibility.


Regarding the podcast, each episode seems geared toward where you're recording it and what's going on in the news. It's basically a new 90 minutes or so each time. How do you prepare?

Wherever I am, we talk about what's going on there. I just make some notes, and I read the news. I think about what I want to talk about. This week, there's so much to cover, I don't even know where to start. We'll probably talk a little bit about Occupy, [the attempt] to close down the ports, the Yemeni woman who won the Nobel [Peace] Prize. And I want to start wrapping up the year: Anthony Weiner, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, the tsunami and the nuclear meltdown -- there's quite a lot to get to. It was a calamitous year.

Have things gotten to a point where you have to stop and ask yourself if politics are getting too funny?

My problem is that I tend to rant and rave about politics and not be as funny as I want to be about it. But sometimes it's not that funny. I was watching A Christmas Carol yesterday, and I could barely watch it because of how bad this year is.

It seems too real.

Yeah, it's not even a movie -- it's a documentary this year. It's just shocking when you think it's this mean capitalist who won't give any money to charity and has to be threatened by ghosts in order to give a fuckin' dollar to help crippled people. And I thought, "Oh golly, this is just too much." I watch it every year ... and this time I just started crying in the middle of it.


You seem like a really well-read guy. Is there anything you've read lately that's provided inspiration in the midst of all this?

I think what's inspiring is the woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize this year -- a Yemeni woman [Tawakkol Karman] who speaks only Arabic. I think she's the first Arab woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Yemen is not known for its democratic state. So that's inspiring. I think Hillary Clinton going to visit Burma [and political opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi] a few weeks ago was an extraordinary moment. To see two women in their 60s with that kind of integrity and power was really inspiring.

The way people are handling what's going on right now is inspiring. It's clear what's gone on in this country over the last 10 years, and people aren't having it. I always say on my show that it's about us pulling together, because the government's not going to help you. The government's going to do everything it can to stop you. The powers that be are literally quaking in their boots right now. That's why they're overreacting and throwing people to the ground and having people arrested and gassing people and all those things -- sound the cannons and tear gas!

By the way, the public's not a threat to public safety. Every time they say, "Oh, these Occupy places are unsanitary," and "It's a bunch of bongo-playing hippies who are unsanitary," they knock down the Occupy sites and leave gigantic homeless sites just a few blocks away. So, who are we looking after?

But I read a lot of history books. Those aren't quite as inspiring as they might be, because, you know, histories are lies that are agreed upon.

But there's still a kind of clarity you can get from that reading.

I'm finishing Bernal Diaz's Conquest of New Spain. He was one of Cortez's captains, so it's a first-person account, but written well after the fact. I've learned a lot of things from that book, and I thought I'd read a lot about the conquest of the Aztecs. It's extraordinary. And like you said, the context it gives you -- nothing's stopped, nothing's changed. It's 500 years later, and only the technology has changed.

Greg Proops appears Dec. 29-31 at the Punch Line, 444 Battery (at Clay), S.F. Admission is $10-$50.


Follow Casey Burchby and SF Weekly's Exhibitionist blog on Twitter.

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