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Getting the last laugh: Comedy group yuks it up to end AIDS


Washington Blade - October 28, 2005

There are some topics that no one should make jokes about. AIDS, for instance, is no laughing matter, but coordinators for the Campaign to End AIDS, a D.C.-based organization that assists people living with HIV/AIDS, have decided to use laughter to help raise money for their cause.

The Late Night Players, a Boston-based comedy troupe, volunteered to perform their improvisational act for a Campaign to End AIDS fund-raiser on Sunday, Oct. 30, at Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th St., NW.

Alex Lawson, a regular volunteer for the Campaign to End AIDS, organized the event because he says comedy will help reduce the persistent AIDS stigma.

"People still lower their voice when they say the word HIV or AIDS," Lawson says. "Everyone does it. You don't do it when you say, 'the flu.' But you do when you say, 'HIV/AIDS.' The subject became taboo or a dirty word. You need to throw that back in people's faces to change that." Comedy is an approach the Campaign to End AIDS has not used before, field organizer Kaytee Riek says.

"We've found that obviously there's no point in having a movement unless you can have fun while you do it," she says. "We thought it'd be a very effective way to get people to come out and support the cause." THE IDEA FOR a comedy show originated with the Late Night Players themselves, whom Lawson became friends with while doing karaoke, amusingly enough.

"They offered to do a show for me," Lawson says. "They knew I was working with the campaign, and they're amazing, so I definitely jumped at the offer." The Late Night Players formed in 2000 at Brandeis University, a Jewish school that member Andrew Slack says is also socially conscious. Promoting social causes has been a long-term goal of the Late Night Players, Slack says.

"We've traveled all over the country performing at colleges, theaters and clubs," Slack says. "But what we really want to do is use our comedy to make a difference. Basically, as we're performing across the country and getting a fan base of thousands, we're working to bring a sense of activism in it." Lawson, who also works as a health educator at Whitman-Walker Clinic, says the Late Night Players volunteered their time because they are interested in using comedy to promote social activism.

"The Late Night Players are a socially conscious traveling group of comedians," Lawson says. "We spent hours solving the world's problems over a few beers." Slack described AIDS as one of the world's problems the group is trying to help solve.

"AIDS is so key because it touches on so many different issues all at once," Slack says. "Our world is in great need of healing around the issue of AIDS. The issue needs to be addressed in a much more intelligent and sensitive way than it is now." THE LATE NIGHT Players has no gay members, a situation Slack regrets.

"I wish we did," Slack says. "It'd make us much more cutting edge." Slack's girlfriend dubbed the Late Night Players the Flaming Heteros.

"We were trying to find [a label] besides metrosexual," Slack says. "Because I'm not very clean and I don't like to shop, but I do enjoy feelings and Barbra Streisand." Slack says the Late Night Players customize their material for each show, but they usually include plenty of political material in their shows, which include skits, anagrams and, of course, musical numbers and dance battles. No wonder they're called flaming.

The Campaign to End AIDS will use the funds raised on Sunday night to support its Days of Action to End AIDS, a series of events Nov. 5-8 to encourage policies that work to end the AIDS epidemic.

The events will include a rally at Anacostia Park in Southeast D.C., Riek says, rather than "a typical rally on the Mall or Capitol, because it's a community so affected by AIDS." Riek says many people who are attending the events will be traveling to Washington, D.C., and don't have the income to pay for housing and food. Sunday's events will go toward that as well as other campaign needs.


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Information in this article was accurate in October 28, 2005. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.