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At a table by the bar, the five comics toy with punchlines.
Shrini Kalwad tests out a Leo Varadkar joke. “One is, ‘I know what you’re thinking, not another Indian-origin Taoiseach …,” he says.
Jim Elliott sips from a can of white Monster energy drink. “You gotta be like, ‘that guy ruined it’.”
Kalwad muttered variations. Unsure of the phrasing, he says.
Under the soaring ceiling of Smock Alley Theatre’s banquet hall, small groups huddle at long wooden tables. Performers for the Scene and Heard festival’s evening shows, waiting for their time on stage. Ice cubes clack into glasses at the bar.
Daniel Lukas double-checks the themes settled on by performers for his production this evening: Immigrants Ruin This Country LIVE. He reminds them of their places in the running order.
“You’re talking about manners and politeness, right?” Lukas asked James Surgeoner.
His eyes disappear into laughter when Surgeoner whips out a bottle of maple syrup he plans to use as a prop.
In Immigrants Ruin This Country LIVE, Lukas, born in Germany, has five migrant comics pitch ideas for how to run the country better, drawing from their experiences of growing up elsewhere.
The conceit is to vie for audience votes as the most suitable Taoiseach.
Migrants are invisible among Ireland’s political ranks, Lukas said. He makes fun of the underrepresentation by implying that the government is seeking out ideas for governance from migrants out of desperation, he says.
“The Irish government has tasked five immigrants with saving a country in ruins, this show is the result,” reads the show’s synopsis.
Lukas says that, at a time of hateful protests and anti-immigrant sentiment online, he hopes the show humanises immigrants, that it displays the extent of their belonging to Ireland and understanding of its dominant cultural themes.
“I definitely think it can have an educating effect without being preachy,” he said.
Lukas’s show ran for one night last Sunday as part of Scene + Heard: The Festival of New Work. He hopes to take it elsewhere, he says.
“If it goes well, we can take it to Dublin Fringe and other places,” he said.
Elliott, born in Washington DC, who started stand-up in the United States two years before moving to Ireland in 2005 – “this is my second housing crisis” – warmed up before the show by dancing near the stage.
Audience members whispered in different tongues.
Comics sat in a line next to the podium. Lukas invited them one after the next into the spotlight.
Surgeoner sported a ponytail that he later undid, in service to the punchline of a Jesus joke. But that was later.
“Three years ago, I moved from Canada to Cork,” he opened. He paused and waited as a wave of laughter gradually surged.
His idea for running Ireland was copying Canadian policies to reverse trends of Irish emigration to the country. The satirical policy pitch involved legalising cannabis use.
“You know what the Canadian secret is?” he asked the crowd. “I’m stoned.”
“We’re both known for receiving American visitors for very different purposes,” said Nghia Mai, of Ireland and Vietnam, where he was born.
He’s wearing the national rugby team’s green jersey and holding a rugby ball.
“For example, we have Americans come to Ireland to look for their grandfathers, and then we have Americans coming over to Vietnam to look for my grandfather,” he said.
His pitch? To segregate all American tourists in Killarney as a way to manage growing numbers. “It’s very disorganised at the moment,” he said.
He would have “the entire Temple Bar area” moved to the County Kerry town and set up casinos, amusement parks and a Disneyland for them.
“And it’s gonna be called Ireland-land,” he said, as Lukas, the host, initiated a round of applause.
Lesly Martínez, born in Venezuela, is currently grappling with the Irish citizenship process and bureaucratic hurdles, the comic told the audience.
People who’ve done everything they could to integrate, as she has, must have their cases processed sharpish, she said.
She took the mic off the stand and looked straight at two men sitting in front of her near the stage.
She complimented one of them, born in Israel, on his jumper. “Thanks! Penneys!” he said, earning a pass in this impromptu test of integration.
“How are you?” she asked the man’s friend, born in Serbia.
“Fine, grand,” he said.
The correct answer is “not too bad”, Martínez said. The Irish ode to perpetual sadness. “Deported!” she roared.
When Martínez gets her citizenship, she will prove her Irishness by “doing the most Irish thing ever”: emigrating to Australia, she said, wrapping up her set.
Elliott rested his hands on his hips. It’s futile searching for pride in randomly assigned things, he says. Like places of birth and nationality. Unearned, meaningless achievements.
“Like that wasn’t up to you, you didn’t do anything to earn that,” he said.
“It’s like having a lot of pride in the hospital you were born in, like, that’s me, baby, I’m Rotunda for life!” he said.
The comics whipped through their five-minute sets and the audience voted with rounds of loud and louder applause and cheers, and Kalwad stood up and bowed.
Ireland’s new Taoiseach, sporting a wide smile.
His pitch had three elaborate steps for making Ireland better: banning Irish weather, a creative solution to combat bullying, and bringing Indian road rage to Ireland so that people can blow off some steam.
“Reclaim Ireland’s mental health,” said Kalwad, as the audience clapped.
Later, friends circled Kalwad in the theatre’s lobby. He hoped shows like this bring people closer to each other at a time of division, he said.
Said Kalwad: “Laughing at it is the best way to get there.”
The audience’s approval, said Elliott, shows that migrant comics are prized assets. Their cultural imprint can be deep, he said.
Plus, “I think Irish people love hearing material about Ireland from somebody who’s not from here,” he said.
“And the whole point of comedy is to take a look at something familiar but do it with fresh eyes.”