When Brett Hamil moved from Florida to Seattle in 2000, he felt it as soon as he landed: Politics here are weird. He tried to bury that realization while establishing a career in standup comedy, but the city council’s backroom dealing and death-by-a-thousand-studies approach to governance kept gnawing at him. Finally in fall 2015 he channeled his frustration into Seattle Process with Brett Hamil, a live political talk show at Northwest Film Forum. It didn’t take long for him to find an audience, and later this summer, after state senator Pramila Jayapal joins him for the June 17 “episode,” Hamil takes the show to Bumbershoot. Discussions of zoning and transit at a music festival? Politics in Seattle are getting even weirder. —Matthew Halverson
My father was a fundamentalist evangelical preacher. When you grow up in a situation like that, you either adopt that line of thinking or you run in another direction and move as far across the country as you can.
People think Florida isn’t the south, like it’s this other thing. But where I was from, it was Confederate flags and NASCAR. I knew a guy who hunted alligators with a drywall hammer because his wife was worried about him having a gun. It’s real shit.
There are so many things to love about standup. You get immediate audience feedback, so you automatically know if you’re doing all right. You’ve thought about something, you put a lot of time into thinking about it and making it funny, and then, boom, you drop it on an unexpecting audience’s head and they can’t help but laugh. It’s a magical thing.
If you’ve been doing it long enough, you know what’s funny. If you go in front of an audience and they don’t laugh the way you thought they would, that just means you’re not telling the joke right.
What does it take to sell a joke? Juice, man. Charisma or stage presence or self-confidence. But when you see someone who has it or it’s firing for them and they can do no wrong, you’re like, He’s got it. Sometimes I feel like I have it, sometimes I feel like it’s left me forever.
You have to prove it every night. That’s why comedy is different from so many other things. The Guns ’N Roses reunion tour is going to suck, and everyone already knows it going in. Axl has a shred of his voice left, yet people are going to leave that arena like, “Oh my god, it was great!” You don’t get to do that in comedy, because it’s based on novelty and surprise. You can dance to shitty music. You can’t laugh at shitty comedy.
Laughter disarms power in a way that almost nothing else does. When something becomes ludicrous, it loses its power. I knew in the waning years of the Bush administration that he was the lamest of lame ducks when I could tell my Bush jokes in redneck bars and they laughed just as hard as liberals on Capitol Hill. We comics did that to him.
Around the time of the last city council elections, I was looking to do something different than just standup shows. I’d been making these political videos on YouTube, and I was hearing—either directly or through back channels—that candidates either wanted me to do one about them or didn’t want me to do one. That was empowering. So I thought, Hmm…I should do a political talk show.
Tim Burgess will probably never be on the show. Sorry, Tim. [The veteran city council member] already has a huge platform. My platform is for the cool people who I think are awesome. It’s not for people who already call the shots. It’s this leftist enclave where we can all have fun and laugh at the things that infuriate us.
The city council does everything so sneakily. They hide the real knifing they’re doing under layers and layers of committees. You never actually see the vote that’s like “Kill all puppies.” It’s like, “We’re going to conduct a study to see about the feasibility of maybe murdering all of the puppies in Seattle.” But that’s under like five feet of paperwork that no one has the time to pore through.
I’d rather not take myself too seriously. I’m poking fun at all of these self-serious politicians, so I don’t want to fall into that. I’d rather be the crackpot leftist guy. I’m okay having that space. And then, let’s keep the expectations low. I guess that’s all. Let’s keep the expectations as low as possible. Then if I happen to drop some truth on you, that’s a bonus. But you didn’t sign up to get lectured at. You didn’t come to a comedy show to feel bad about things.
I actually don’t think that Trump is good for comedy. People think he’s this preposterous asshole tycoon, but that preposterous nature is allowing him to do some very wicked and damaging things that are actually going to reverberate for years to come in our political landscape. A lot of liberals are at the point where they think, “Wait, fun time’s over. This guy is actually scary and we laugh at him at our own peril.”
You’re catching me at a point where the talk show is kind of taking off. It’s been doing well. People are responding to it. Someone’s more likely to know me from that than they are from standup, which is fucking sad, because I’ve been doing standup around here for almost a decade.
In comedy they say it takes eight years to find your voice and 10 years to be really funny. I’m like nine years in.