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Shadow Event Has Last Laugh

The only party line at this convention is the punch line, as all sides become targets for jokes.


Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Someone should have told political comedian Bill Maher that before he delivered his "Politically Incorrect" routine to the hot and restless activists at Patriotic Hall.

The crowd roared as he roasted American drug policy with typical bravado: "I'm not just a pot reformer; I'm a user. Just making a light remark there, federal authorities."

Why do people go into politics anyway, he wondered, "the pay stinks. The women aren't much. Monica proved that." Boos rose from the sweltering crowd like heat waves. He was confused. No one in Hollywood ever calls him a sexist.

"I can't believe you think Monica is good-looking! I can't believe I got booed for . . . ," he stumbled.

"You [expletive] pig!" yelled a woman wearing a bandanna, flowing skirt and fierce expression.

This was not the Comedy Club; this was the Shadow Convention. And no one was safe here, not even fawned-upon comedians like Maher. But especially not politicians. Here, elected leaders were roasted, lampooned, ridiculed and skewered this week.

And satirist Maher was actually a hit.

He kept referring to the two major presidential contenders--Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore--as "Bore and Gush."

"These guys understand what drugs are all about, big time," Maher said. "One of them had an 'inappropriate relationship' with Bolivia for a while. They could debate coke versus pot very easily. Pot didn't make Al Gore any dumber, and coke didn't make Bush any smarter."

Corporate political sponsors weren't safe either. The National Rifle Assn. has a new slogan, quipped comedian Bill Somerby: "Guns don't kill people. Our members do."

Will Durst, sitting beside him, called Pat Buchanan "a man who doesn't believe in evolution and, ironically, is his own best argument."

"Saying President George W. is like saying Pope Dennis Hopper. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Fabio," said Durst. "Bush said he wanted to get rid of the incentives of the poor. What are those? Sleeping under bridges?"

Then there's Gore, the father of five: "four kids and the Internet."

The Los Angeles Police Department didn't get off without taking a hit. After some accused the LAPD of excessive force in breaking up a protest, comedian Al Franken, assuming his Stuart Smalley character, asked any officers to stand up as he led the crowd in a lisping self-help affirmation:

"OK, close your eyes and say, 'Hello, me. I am a police officer. I am fun to be with. I have a hard job. Sometimes I make mistakes, but that's OK, because I'm good enough, and gosh darn it, some people like me.' "

Anyone left out? They got lampooned in a Shadow Convention-produced parody of the Los Angeles Times.

"Drug Czar [Barry] McCaffrey Declares Total Victory Over Bill of Rights," trumpets one headline.

"Democrats Smile Awkwardly at Loews Hotel Maids," says a story about how party members, "champions of common people, watch queasily as non-unionized single mothers pick up their towels."

The edition also mocks limousine liberals: "White Folks to Sing 'We Shall Overcome': Self-satisfied whites plan to sing, sway back and forth at some point during the convention," says one headline.

"Political comics are the canary in the coal mine," said San Francisco-based satirist Durst. "We are able to sniff out the smoke of hypocrisy."

Emily Levine, who bills herself as a stand-up commentator, said civic leaders should give up and turn the whole electoral process over to the producers of "Survivor."

"On 'Survivor' you start with two tribes, and each week someone is voted off," she said. "In the campaign you start with two parties, and during the primaries people keep getting voted off."

While the Shadow Convention was advertised as a sort of political VIP lounge, it was the real convention that produced the Hollywood parade, from the much-vaunted Warren Beatty--who also flirted with running for president--to Jerry Springer, the king of tabloid television. And some of the thorniest issues were hashed out at the Shadow Convention, while the real convention was a whirl of parties thrown by big party donors.

At one point the Shadow Convention took to the streets, though not by choice. And it produced some of the lighter moments.

When police cleared the hall on what turned out to be false bomb scare, British journalist Christopher Hitchens compared the scene to El Salvador or Guatemala.

"If there was a general election tomorrow, which general would you vote for? Now you can get a general taste of what it's like to live in a banana republic."

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