Just two months before midterm elections, Ithaca College students gathered for a night of stand-up comedy — and voter registration — led by actor and comedian Mike Birbiglia on the first stop of his “Stand Up & Vote” tour.
This was no ordinary comedy show. As attendees entered the Athletics and Events Center on Sept. 7, they were encouraged by student volunteers to stop and register to vote at tables before the show began. The event was sponsored by the Center for Student Engagement, the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Life, and School of Humanities and Social Sciences.
A Tufts University study found that college student voter turnout in the United States was 48.3 percent in 2016. Birbiglia aims to increase this percentage through his comedy tour. He spoke with regret as he opened the show, remembering how he didn’t vote when he was young.
“I didn’t even used to vote,” Birbiglia said. “I have to admit, I didn’t care. Now I’m like, ‘When can we vote again’?”
The show included four additional stand-up comedians who strayed away from Birbiglia’s theme of voter registration. The first was Seaton Smith, who gave his personal thoughts on current politics for most of his performance.
“Who’s from Florida? You going to vote for governor? Which one you going to vote for, the black guy or the racist?” he asked the audience.
Smith’s set also included joking jabs at President Donald Trump.
“My problem with Trump is that he just doesn’t lie … good,” Smith said. “Now, I want my president to lie better than that clown. Obama, he was a good liar.”
Next up was Jo Firestone. Sounding as though she was on the verge of tears, she asked audience members about their lunch choices.
“Roast beef on rye bread? That’s like a poem,” she said.
Freshman Lindsay Grubb said that Firestone was her favorite comedian of the night.
“She’s the one who asked everyone what they had for lunch,” she said. “She was so out there, but it was really funny.”
Nick Griffin took the stage after Firestone. His dreary middle-aged persona drew laughs from the audience as he lamented about the misery of being old.
“It’s hard to enjoy ice cream as an adult,” Griffin said. “Every bite’s a violation. … Ever finished a whole pint in one sitting? It’s like you killed a guy — Oh God, what have I done?”
He explained that his sister tries to keep his spirits up, telling him that he has plenty of time to find his true love. He disagreed, comparing finding love at an old age to buying an iPhone 4 in 2018.
Emmy Blotnick was the last guest performer. She told stories of her dating mishaps, like when she dated a man who took her to movies she hated.
“I wished I could just beam it into his head and tell him that when you make your girlfriend watch comic book movies, you’re giving her two and a half hours to think about who else she could be dating,” Blotnick said.
Her best pickup lines, Blotnick explained, come to her when she’s high.
“Just roll up a blunt and start a conversation like, ‘Do you think Danny Devito is happy right now? If he’s a cool guy, he’ll write you back, you know,’” she said.
Grubb enjoyed the comedians but felt there was not enough emphasis on voting. Birbiglia was the only comedian to directly address the subject in his set.
“I had never been to a stand-up comedy show before, so it was definitely a new experience, but we were laughing the whole time,” said Grubb. “Honestly, if I had gone to that event and I wasn’t registered to vote, I would register, but the event itself did not make me feel like I really want to vote now.”
Freshman Erin Pedersen agreed with Grubb.
“They didn’t even really talk about voting, except in the very beginning,” she said.
Freshman Guinevere Fullerton thought the show would have been more effective if it had been performed by a student.
“I think the show should’ve been hosted by an Ithaca College student to make it more relevant for the audience,” she said.
Birbiglia ended the show with another set. He said he has a three-year-old daughter, who is the reason he votes. He said he wants to fix the country for her. He asked the audience to vote while they are young.
“I was you 20 years ago,” Birbiglia said. “I didn’t vote. … Just go and vote, because you are voting for what your country’s going to be when you’re me.”
The “Stand Up & Vote” tour will continue at Rider University, Hamilton College, Princeton University and other colleges in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.