UPDATE: Comedian Rhea Butcher's show, originally scheduled for Sunday at the Hanna Theatre in Cleveland, has been cancelled, according to Playhouse Square. For ticket refund information, go to http://www.playhousesquare.org/events/detail/rhea-butcher.
With Donald Trump dominating volatile news cycles, and polarizing issues like abortion and immigration igniting Twitter wars and cable news screeching, comedians need to decide where to draw the line.
Rhea Butcher has a strategy.
“This tour is all about getting out there and giving people 60 minutes to not think about what’s going on in the world. I want to take their minds off all the negative stuff and laugh for an hour,” Butcher said.
The comedian and Akron native had been scheduled to perform at Playhouse Square in Cleveland next Sunday (see above).
“I just don’t bring up the political climate. I’m not ignoring it. I know it exists. But the amount that I am angry about something on stage and the amount that it then makes somebody in the audience angry, is really just making people angry.”
Butcher has been an advocate for LGBTQ folks, including penning an op-ed in The New York Times about pioneering gay rights advocate Edie Windsor. Butcher wants to be referred to by the gender-neutral plural pronouns they/them/their.
“I’m a queer person who is also white, so I have like the privilege of being white,” Butcher said on the phone from Los Angeles. “But the people who come to my shows are a diverse group of people who may be experiencing mental and emotional oppression on a daily basis. I feel like if I bring that stuff up, I’m just adding to it.”
Butcher’s latest tour stops have included Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Tennessee and Alabama.
Alabama was one of several states to pass restrictive abortion laws in recent months.
“People coming to see me have a certain expectation. But something that really struck me in Alabama was that so many people came up to me afterwards, and they were like: ‘Thank you so much for still coming. Thank you for not boycotting us.’ They also said, 'Thank you so much for not making fun of us.’
“My feeling was, I would never come to your house and make fun of you. There’s an argument to be made for bringing a lot of attention to an issue. If you’re the NBA or the NCAA, you can leverage that and maybe have an effect on the legislature. But am I going to take one night of comedy away from 500 people? I don’t think that does anything for anyone.”
Butcher grew up in Kenmore where their primary interest was skateboarding. Theygraduated from Archbishop Hoban High School (2001) and the University of Akron (2005) and remain an Akron booster.
Butcher worked on the TV series “Take My Wife” for two seasons, had a recurring role on “Adam Ruins Everything, and was named one of Variety’s Top Ten Comics To Watch in 2017. In addition to standup, Butcher also hosts a podcast that honors an obsession with baseball: “Three Swings with Rhea Butcher.”
“It’s not just about baseball,” Butcher said. “It’s about life, too.”
A recent guest was Nick Francona, son of Cleveland Indians Manager Terry Francona. Nick is a former ballplayer and Marine.
“It was just two people who have a lot of differing views politically,” Butcher said. “We kept saying, 'We probably don’t agree on this,' and then we would agree on everything. It’s a great example of the conversations we should be having, and finding common ground.”
Butcher, who now lives in Los Angeles, returned to Akron last September to host the inaugural Highland Square Film Festival, and has performed at Playhouse Square several times
“It’s always great to come back to Northeastern Ohio, and it’s during All-Star weekend. It’s really cool that Cleveland has the All-Star Game this year.”
If Butcher avoids Trump and politics on standup stages, what are the staples of the act?
“I talk about tampons, KitKats, potbelly pigs, airplanes. Yes, folks, I’m the brave comedian tackling airplanes.”
Clint O’Connor can be reached at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ClintOMovies.