The tagline for Bar Politics with Josh Kumler says it best:
Fake News. Real Issues. Kinda Drunk.
The show at its heart is a Dallas-centric fake news talk show in the vein of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Created by Joshua Kumler, a Southern Methodist University graduate originally from South Florida, the idea for the show was conceived when Kumler realized how little he knew about local politics.
A copy of The Oak Cliff Advocate landed on Kumler's doorstep earlier this year and inside was an article outlining the debate about the Trinity River toll-road project as well as the City Council election held on May 9. Kumler read through a column bemoaning the fact that voter turn out for municipal elections is abysmally low and that citizens don't seem to care enough to vote.
(Voter turnout for the mayoral race this year between Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Marcos Ronquillo totaled 7.2 percent of registered voters. For comparison, 60.42 percent of registered voters in Dallas County cast their vote at the polls during the 2012 presidential election.)
But Kumler knew how to make people care — he'd bring the politics to a bar.
He assembled a crack team of local correspondents, soaked up ideas from his muse, Jon Stewart, and began to research the first issue they would tackle: transportation.
"As you're going through years and years of this ridiculous saga, you're making jokes in your head and the material just writes itself, especially when you see all of the blatant hypocrisy," Kumler said.
In Episode 1: Transportation, Kumler hosted Scott Griggs, Dallas City Council member for District 1, to discuss the proposed Trinity River toll-road. Griggs, who was running for re-election for a third term at the time, epitomized the adage about being able to have beer with your politician as he spoke to the Oak Cliff crowd that he represents on the Council.
Kumler had a hit on his hands.
"People have really responded to it, which is really heartening, and I also didn't realize that it was going to turn into this thing where we have 300 people show up," Kumler said.
For Episode 2, the team set its sight on the May 9 Dallas City Council election.
"There is this hilarious cast of characters," Kumler said about the candidates.
Each member of the team was assigned to a different district race, then it was up to that correspondent to bring those candidates to life. The result showed just how eclectic and varied the candidates and their political views were. (A highlight at 1:49 is local actress Alia Tavakolian's rendition of District 6 candidates "DC" Daniel Caldwell and Ozumba Lnuk-X.)
The election theme continued for Episode 3, but this time was focused on the run-off elections. Unlike the previous two events, Episode 3 was sponsored by the Coalition for a New Dallas, a local political action committee that seeks to tear down Interstate 345, which separates Deep Ellum from downtown.
The group provided the Hickory Street Annex as a performance space, beer and tacos. The sponsorship quickly became part of Kumler's shtick for the evening leading to a discussion of the influence of money in politics and an analysis of local PACs.
Kumler said there is no shortage of ideas for episodes, but the challenge lies in doing each topic justice in both the humor and the facts. Despite having no journalistic training, Kumler is dedicated to the presenting the truth to his audience so they may decide for themselves who to vote for or what issues to support.
"As a citizen trying to be informed, that is some of the best investigative journalism there is right now," Kumler said about the influence of fake news programs.
Just like live television, live bar political humor is unpredictable, but Kumler said that audience members can look forward to musical interludes by local band Surprising Flavor, crazy dance moves and open carry of water guns.
As for future shows, Kumler will continue to ask audience members what they want to know more about. He relies on his own ignorance to push him and the correspondent team into digging deeper into issues that need to be explained and made more real for audiences.
The team is aiming for one live show per month and are working out the best way to publish shorter bits, especially featuring the correspondents, online in between live episodes.
Kumler said that he hopes that each episode creates a visceral experience for understanding the hard to talk about issues that they cover.
"If you feel it," Kumler said, "then doing something about it becomes that much more worth it."