Chicago’s Democracy Burlesque sketch comedy group creates a unique fusion of the city’s long and vibrant histories of political action and stage performance. “I’d rather be doing sketch comedy that has something to say,” said Erik Parsons, writer/artistic director/actor in the group. “Occupied!” had a three-show run in February and March at the troupe’s regular performance space, Hamburger Mary’s. Now performing new material, the group continues to proudly tout themselves as “Chicago’s Only Political Sketch Comedy Show.”
Joseph Fedorko, Regina Buccola, and Sandy Bykowski founded Democracy Burlesque in 2006, initially writing sketches around political figures in the Bush administration. The writing began as a way to keep people interested in politics. Producer/writer/director Joe Fedorko expected the group to end “with the 2008 election. It was a natural end point to whatever this was, then I could go on to my real career.” Instead, the work evolved into issue-oriented sketches with the company doing three shows a year built around specific themes such as religion, the environment, health care and corporatization. A recurring sketch in “Occupied!” involved Parsons as Jesus Christ violently attacking right wing characters including an anti-gay activist.
Creating a show for the group is a collaborative effort. The “Actors of Evil” and “Writers of Wrong,” as they call themselves, come together to produce the show. Some members of the group have overlapping roles in the process. This method begins with a theme already in mind as the writers and actors sit at a table and riff ideas. “Writers trust the actors,” said Parsons. The writers familiarize themselves with each of the actors’ capabilities in order to strengthen each sketch.
When asked about their relationship to the city, Fedorko explained, “Chicago is the capital of sketch comedy.” This community is most widely known for The Second City, an improv and sketch comedy center with famous alumni including Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert. Many of the Democracy Burlesque members are non-natives who have come to Chicago to pursue comedy. Fedorko, originally a playwright, also explains that Chicago is a “theatre town” where you can “get a crowd and still live an actual life.”
Chicago also has a rich political history, which Democracy Burlesque addresses in their work. Fedorko stated that in Chicago, “there is an interest in politics as a spectator sport.” The group has written sketches addressing Chicago politicians such as Rod Blagojevich, Rahm Emanuel, Richard M. Daley and Barack Obama. President Obama was parodied as a stripper in the opening sketch at the group’s March 6 show. The act ended before any nudity occurred because in Democracy Burlesque’s show, “only the politics are naked.”
Democracy Burlesque was planning a NATO/G8-themed show to happen in conjunction with the political summits set to take place in Chicago this May, but after it was announced that the G8 Summit was going to be moved to Camp David in Maryland, the Democracy Burlesque crew reworked the previously written set into a new show entitled “Psycho NATO.”