Julianna Forlano wants to show us how ridiculous this whole thing is.
“If you look around your life, in the neighborhood, in other people’s lives, in politics, wherever– there’s a lot of stuff that’s totally absurd going on,” the Park Slope based comedian tells me over coffee. “But we need to keep our mind in a laughing space, a lighter space, to help us stay away from things like rage and depression, right? You’re not going to be very active in a solution if you’re just fighting or too sad to get out from bed and do something positive.”
It’s sound logic, and she’s doing her part in keeping us in that place of non-defeatist awareness with Absurdity Today, her online satire series. It is essentially Julianna’s one-woman show, an online social and political commentary which she writes, produces, edits, and performs. It began as a radio series on Fearless Radio as well as NPR/Chicago Public Radio’s Vocalo Project, and moved online about two years ago. Today it’s run on The Young Turks online network, the largest online news network in the world.
“It’s kind of exciting,” Julianna says. “From here in Park Slope, we’re being seen in South Africa, Australia, all over.”
People from around the world are tuning in to see Julianna’s piercing criticism of social, political, and corporate hypocrisy. The humor with which she exposes these absurdities has earned her comparisons to Jon Stewart and The Daily Show.
For Julianna, though, it isn’t enough to simply laugh at these issues.
“One of the things about the series that I love is that it has sort of an activist connotation. It’s not like, ‘Laugh at this and then go back to your regularly scheduled life.’ It’s more of, ‘Laugh at this and then look at the information section underneath and then if you want to learn more about these stories, here are some links, and if you want to get involved, here are some ways.’”
The active involvement of the audience is one of the perks of the show’s being internet-based. Julianna welcomes feedback and regularly engages it.
“I hate to say this publicly but I read all the comments. I write back. Some of the other people who are involved will occasionally write back, but usually it’s me. So when people write a comment like, ‘This crazy woman…’ they don’t realize they’re actually talking to me. So I write back like, ‘Well this crazy woman thanks you for your comment!’”
But do the negative responses get her down?
“I don’t mind. I prefer it, when people say what about this issue, and what about that issue. Because I think it’s important to have criticism. The point of the series is kind of a jumping off place for a discussion. Of course, if the discussion is just, ‘You’re a crazy person’ it’s like, ‘Well I’m sorry if you don’t like my views on corporate policy but perhaps a well-timed argument would be better.’ But we do get mostly positive comments.”
When I ask her about her own personal passion– which sociopolitical issues really strike a chord in her– she springs into energized speech on the environment and specifically hydrofracking.
“I did a nine-minute segment about hydraulic fracturing and the advertising you see on TV about it. They’re spending I dont know how many millions of dollars trying to convince us, in the psychological and neurolinguistic ways that are used to convince people, that what they’re doing is okay. And I dont think it is. It really just flies in the face of anything that has to do with human rights– people having the right to clean air, clean water, a non-polluted home environment.”
Her experience with the controversial drilling method is personal. Having been raised upstate in Syracuse, Julianna has seen the devastating results firsthand.
“The production of the fracking is just as bad as the actual extraction process on the local land. It destroys the entire way of life. It’s really not a safe process and it’s sad. Animals die, people die, and you don’t hear about it. And that leads into these other areas of energy. We have the technology. You know, in the media they say things like, ‘Oh maybe in 30 years we’ll come up with something.’ No, we have the something. It’s actually quite upsetting.”
(She suggests the 2008 documentary Fuel by Joshua Tickell.)
It becomes apparent that the common theme in Julianna’s work is a passionate fight for transparency in politics and media. It’s a struggle for facts and rationality, and a refusal to accept the biases that too often are delivered as truths. It’s an attempt to expose the sources of these truths and the interests that guide them.
“Six corporations own 90% of the mainsteam media that you’re going to see on the big outlets,” she explains. “And they’re all corporations so that’s basically one interest: a corporate interest. Then you have PBS, of course, and you have your Democracy Now, and those kinds of things are great, thank God, but it’s important to have a marketplace of ideas. And the internet provides that. I am able to take a stand because I don’t have any network oversight.”
When I ask Julianna about her own activism, she talks about her involvement in the Movement to Amend, an organization that is working to get a limit on campaign spending.
“We’re trying to repeal Citizens United, which was a court case that said that a corporation can give as much money as they want to any candidate because it falls under free speech. We want to get it that money is actually property and not speech. Because if I have five dollars to give and you have five million, whose voice– in this media system– is going to be heard? Yours.”
“And I’m going to look like a jerk. Me and my five dollar commercial spot playing on weird Manhattan cable at 2 a.m.”
Luckily for us, Julianna is far from relegated to the dark corners of public access. Absurdity Today’s accessibility has recently increased, with its addition to the Progressive Voices Radio network (listen here). And, beginning Sunday, March 3, Julianna will be performing and hosting a comedy cabaret with some of today’s best comics right in the neighborhood at Beauty Bar, which will continue on the first Sunday of every month at 8 p.m.
We can’t wait.