Joel Pett began his stand-up comedy show by walking to the stage in a wig, suit jacket and long tie, impersonating President Donald Trump. He praised the “huge crowd,” complained about “fake news” and promised to “make Bloomington great again.”
“I bought the damn wig for Halloween, and I thought I’d only get to wear it once,” he said. “So I’m just trying to get my money’s worth.”
Pett, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist, performed at Thomas Gallery on Saturday, Sept. 2. He has created cartoons for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky since 1984. His work has appeared in newspapers like the Washington Post, the New York Times and USA Today.
Thomas Gallery is also displaying Pett’s cartoons. The opening reception was on Friday, Sept. 1, and the exhibit is open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Friday in September.
Pett was born in Bloomington, and he attended Indiana University. He worked for both the Indiana Daily Student and the Herald-Times before moving to Lexington.
One of his most famous cartoons was published in USA Today before the Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009. It shows a presentation listing the benefits of addressing climate change and an audience member saying, “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”
During part of the show, the audience listened to recordings of angry voicemail messages Pett has received in response to his political cartoons.
“Joel Pett, I am disgusted,” one woman said. “Absolutely disgusted by you.”
“You’re the reason I don’t read most newspapers anymore,” one man said.
During Pett's show, he discussed his time at Bloomington's Indiana University High School, where both driving lessons and sex ed were taught by the football coach.
"He was the football coach, so his real area of expertise was that high-speed violent collisions were not only inevitable but desirable," he said.
He talked about his 33 years of living in Kentucky, including his experiences of road rage and living in a conservative state.
"That doesn't make me a Kentuckian just by math, I hope," he said.
He also discussed aging and watching medicine commercials with the "rapid-fire list of side effects."
"Every organ in your body could turn on you, every orifice could ooze something awful, every little malady you thought of could spontaneously happen to you," he said. "And then they add, gratuitously, 'suicidal thoughts or actions.' Why didn't you lead with that? This shit could kill you."
He also focused on a variety of current events and issues, including Hurricane Harvey, immigration, terrorism and the opioid epidemic.
He described his experience returning to Bloomington, including his visit to the farmers’ market.
“I love being back here,” he said. “I really do. I don’t know if I’ve been in Kentucky too long, but Bloomington seems a little ‘Portlandia’ precious.”
Pett ended his show by sketching caricatures of Senator Mitch McConnell and each U.S. president since Ronald Reagan.
Tom Gallagher, who owns Thomas gallery, has been Pett’s friend since they worked together at the Herald-Times in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
He said he likes the ironic humor he brings to both his cartoons and stand-up.
“He has a way of wrapping his head around an idea that we don’t normally think about,” Gallagher said.
Beth Applegate, 55, said has known Pett for her whole life, because they both grew up in Bloomington and he is a family friend. She said she enjoyed his stand-up show.
“I’ve always enjoyed Joel’s dark and cutting satire about politics,” Applegate said. “I think he’s real.”
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The conference will focus on musical improvisation from the Middle Ages onward.
Tickets start at $35 and go on sale in August.
The group will make its way to Bloomington for a show at 9 p.m. tonight.