By J. Freedom du Lac
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Heard the one about sequestration?
“We had our sequester talk earlier in the week,” Shahryar Rizvi said 90 seconds into his stand-up set, a few hours after getting off work at the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.
It was Thursday night — Sequester Eve — and Rizvi, a 32-year-old IT project planner who moonlights as a comedian, was at an open-mike night in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood, mining the increasing disquiet of his day job for laughs.
“Our head of our division sat us down and told us how many furlough days we’re going to have, what the plan is if it all goes down,” Rizvi said of the looming $85 billion in across-the-board federal budget cuts. “And I was so [ticked] that he did this. ‘Cause he did this during the meeting when we as a division were going to make our ‘Harlem Shake’ video.”
The small crowd in the Topaz Hotel’s basement bar, a few blocks from the White House, erupted in laughter. Rizvi paused a beat, then continued: “Nobody’s going to dance with a keyboard shirtless now.”
Turns out that there’s comedy gold in unpaid leave days and other mandatory cuts — even in federal Washington, where beleaguered bureaucrats, anxious government contractors and ripple-effect worriers are in dire need of a little levity.
“We all get it,” Rizvi said offstage. “You have to be able to make jokes and laugh about this situation we’re in.”
More than 300,000 federal workers live in the Washington region, but workplace humor isn’t particularly popular among comics based in a company town. Even Funniest Fed, the annual comedy competition for amateur and experienced stand-ups with agency or military day jobs, features far more material about standard tropes (race, sex, family dysfunction, airplane food) than jokes about official Washington.