My First Political Caricature

Two weeks ago, a friend asked me to tag along to an event at the Harris Theater downtown. An evening of political satire, he said, “made me the natural choice to come along.” It was a joint appearance by the Second City and “Kal”, the editorial cartoonist for The Economist. An intriguing combination like this could not be passed over.

The evening turned out to be a bit of a mish-mash, though its heart was in the right place. The actors from Second City did their best to add some theatricality to what otherwise would be a panel discussion. On the massive stage at the Harris, though, many of their attempts at political humor (Hillary hiring an assassin for Obama, then getting lectured on why no one likes her, eg.) were unconvincing and hollow. Maybe they needed the intimacy of the old cabaret space. Then again, the actors were undoubtedly touring company players and not as skilled at characterization and impersonation as they thought they were.

The panel discussion was interesting, if brief. I don’t remember much of what was said between WBEZ’s Gabriel Spitzer, Kirk Hanley and Matt Hovde of Second City, and Kal, aka Kevin Kallaugher. Kal was the most engaging person on stage, the most passionate–as it should be, since this was an evening to salute him. After explaining how he thought his cartoon is another type of magazine column (and thus is driven by the idea and the outrage, and not the gag), Kal showed us the evolution of a complete cartoon. Quite fascinating to go from idea to doodle to scribble to ink. (To see a gallery of his work for the magazine, go here.)

Later he led the entire audience in a group exercise in creating our own cartoon of the Venal Dubya, on space provided inside our programs. We started with the nose, then the lines around the mouth, the seagull shape of the upper lip, the ears, the beady eyes, the overgrown eyebrows, and the furrowed brow (“as many lines as possible,” Kal encouraged).

Here’s what I came up with. Looks like I won’t be putting Edward Sorel out of work anytime soon.

Whatever the artistic outcome, everyone was quite pleased to be led along the path of creation by Kal. He also showed himself to be at least as skillful in improv comedy as the Second City-ers later, as a screen came down above the stage and an electronic image of Dubya appeared, taking questions from the audience like it was a press conference. The electronic image was controlled offstage by a head rig worn by Kal, who answered all the questions with his best impersonation of a defensive, shit-headed, arrogant Texan wannabe. ( I just discovered it online, if you want to see it.) It was very entertaining, though the huge caricature head gave me dizzy spells as I waited for its heft to snap the neck of the cartoon president. If only, oh, if only….