Edinburgh Fringe 2022
Improv comedian and comedy writer Jeff Ahern creates a satirical political campaign through audience suggestions.
In the U.S., politicians are already queuing for key positions in the 2024 elections. The highest spot is President. Comedian Jeff Ahern has created the character Sylus Rothchild as a potential candidate. The show explores his promises, his influencers, and his outcomes.
Dressed in a red and white stripped jacket with a blue tie emblazoned with white stars, Ahern portrays the ideal presidential candidate – loyal to the red, white and blue that symbolizes the U.S. and one who cares about the interests of his conservative constituents. He will outlaw unisex bathrooms, clipping nails on the train, and putting up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. No matter that he was voted Time Magazine’s “most evil man in the world”. He’s running, he wants you to overlook that designation, and he solicits your vote. “I want to be the one you come to to make this country better.” That is his campaign kick-off pledge, delivered with a bit of a Southern drawl.
The show is a fully improvised comedy. Ahern sets the framework but elicits suggestions from the audience for the details. On the day that I saw the show, he asked the audience to shout out an historical figure. The winning idea was Abraham Lincoln. Ahern handily waxed on about Lincoln, all of his accomplishments and details of his life – with no preparation or idea that Lincoln would be the subject. Then he asked for an animal, and the suggestion was a chimpanzee. Now we have Abraham Lincoln and a chimpanzee in a story composed on the spot and it was side-splittingly funny. Other story characters suggested by the crowd were a nurse and a steelworker who is a clown. Ahern asked for a theme for the campaign and one woman shouted “sing’. So the show became a bit of a musical; when the song choice suggested was Yankee Doodle, apropos to the political campaign, Ahern led the entire audience in a rousing chorus of Yankee Doodle Dandy. The pièce de resistance was Ahern’s request to the audience for a recommended Vice-Presidential running mate. Trump won out. Ahern tried his best to humanize Trump and find something positive in giving him the VP position: “at least there is no way he could then run for President” then led the audience in singing the suggested song, Send in the Clowns.
Sylus has a dragon puppet as his campaign manager. They have continual conversations throughout the show. In creeps the hint of sponsorship and selling out to a product company that supports Sylus’ campaign. The puppet tries to keep Sylus on a respectable path but Sylus takes a turn in Manchurian-candidate style. The story is a satire on the broken US political system, with a serious message about control of politicians by special interest groups. This control leads the Sylus character to negate what he originally promised, doing anything he can to get elected.
This show is smart comedy and quick wit at its very best. Ahern remembers every detail from the audience suggestions and handily weaves those details into the full story. The one-liners are created on the spot and adapted to the improvised story, for example, declaring war on Lincoln’s chimpanzees because they brought in monkey pox. As much as the show is timely and thought-provoking, it is very, very funny. There is a new show every day because it is based on audience participation and suggestions, so I recommend seeing the show more than once. But bring a tissue – the laughter will bring you to tears!
Ahern is a seasoned comedy writer who has written for The Tonight Show and US Weekly’s Fashion Police. He is a frequent audience warm-up comic for television shows, and has appeared in commercials and films. He has performed with the Second City in Detroit as a member of their Tour Co, as well as the house team Inside Vladimir with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey at the legendary Improv Olympic in Chicago. His numerous commercial credits include a 7-Up spot directed by Ridley Scott. Sylus 2024 is a debut production for the Edinburgh Fringe.