Municipal Mirth: Brett Hamil Explains His New Political Stage Show

And yes, he’s still mad about Bertha.

When Brett Hamil first took to stand-up comedy nine years ago, he wasn’t doing anything special. Jokes about his wife and his dogs showed up on a regular basis. Politics weren’t really part of the act, the 40-year-old tells me on a recent afternoon at a Beacon Hill coffee shop. But now, on the eve of his new live talk show at Northwest Film Forum, Hamil stands as the city’s premier political comic, likely the only person ever to ring a laugh out of municipal broadband policy. The Seattle Process, as the semimonthly show is called, is an extension of Hamil’s YouTube channel, which has developed a modest but engaged audience of leftist wonks attracted to his detailed parsing of policy and infectious outrage. Hamil’s new show expands on that model, bringing in fellow comedian Emmett Montgomery, who will warm up the room; “politically uninformed sidekick” Travis Vogt; and, for this first show, an impressive roster of like-minded guests: socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant, writer and activist Ijeoma Olou, and the women who run the Seattlish blog. Just don’t expect any jokes about his dogs.

SW: When did politics first appear in your comedy?
Hamil: My comedy has always been informed by a very leftist, anti-corporate attitude, but I don’t know if that shows through a lot. When it started to branch is when I started to make the YouTube videos. So, I said, let me take this comic sensibility and apply it to current events. And the first big one was about the organizers of the Hempfest and how they opposed the legalization initiative. I was so infuriated that these fucking hypocrites, these burnout assholes, would oppose their own cause just to protect their market share in the medical market that I just had to say something about it.

There is an element of outrage in your commentary, but you also have a fine-tuned political acumen. Where does that come from?
The reason that the videos are fine-tuned is that I want to be right about it. So I research [them] as voraciously as I can and then take a week or a couple weeks to gestate and figure out what my take is. I know from the gut level that my take is anti-corporate, anti-establishment Seattle politics, which are just an insane mockery of civic politics.

What’s missing from the dialogue about politics in Seattle, and is this show going to attempt to fill some void?
A lot of our politicians thrive in a lack of awareness of what’s going on. No one who voted for Bertha should be in public office. I do believe that the viaduct doom portal is a great metaphor for the money, the status quo, and the delusion that fuels our entire political process. And then you see someone like Kshama come in and just blow that apart.

Do you think humor is an important part of the dialogue when it comes to city politics?
Oh, yeah. Comedy is like a force multiplier. If you can paint someone accurately as a stooge or a toady of the developers, that absolutely leaves a mark in a way that shoving a donors list in someone’s face and saying “Look at the assholes that support this guy” can’t. That doesn’t move people.

The format for The Seattle Process is the talk show, but that format is dominated by white men. Do you feel self-conscious at all being just another white male talk-show host? And how do you navigate that?
If you look at all the white male talk-show hosts, they exist in a corporate-network, mainstream-media milieu where they are a product of the privilege inherent in how those systems work. I’m just a self-appointed big, important guy. No one gave me any credibility; this is just what I’m doing. And I do feel that one of the very integral parts of what I do is informed by Black Lives Matter and just the post-Ferguson reality we live in. After Ferguson, any way I can get those voices and those causes more bandwidth, I will. For example, all the guests on this first show are women and women of color.

This first show seems like a dream in that regard. What’s your dream lineup for show #2?
I would love to have [outgoing Councilmember] Nick Licata on the show to burn bridges and give us the real scoop. Ijeoma this month is doing the Internet-troll hall of fame, so I’d love to have Lindy West, the ultimate troll magnet of Seattle, break down one of her interactions. [Former Mayor Mike] McGinn would be great too. He and I have joked about doing a bit where I’m his anger translator, like the bit on Key & Peele where Obama gets an anger translator. It would be like, “YOU CAN NOT DIG THIS BIG FUCKING HOLE!!!”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Mark Baumgarten is Editor in Chief for Seattle Weekly. He can be reached at mbaumgarten@seattleweekly.com or 206-467-4374. Follow him on Twitter at @markbaumgarten.

 
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