A comedy show where RFK Jr. was not the butt of the joke

Cheryl Hines holds a piece of paper high as she speaks into a mic, sharing a spotlight with a clapping Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Actor Cheryl Hines introduces her husband, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., at the end of “A Night of Laughter With RFK Jr. & Friends” at the Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Prominent anti-vaxxer and misinformation disseminator Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has been the butt of many late-night jokes since announcing his bid for the presidency last spring. But this week the son of the late Robert Kennedy finally found an audience to laugh with him, not at him.

The Kennedy campaign hosted “A Night of Laughter with RFK Jr. & Friends,” a fundraiser at downtown L.A.’s Million Dollar Theater, with RFK Jr. himself in attendance. The two-hour-plus show attracted a sold-out crowd of supporters who paid upward of $150 a ticket for the rare opportunity to watch their Democrat-turned-independent candidate championed by comedians rather than lampooned.

Billed as “the first of several comedy shows around the country as we forge our way to the White House,” the show featured sets from seven stand-up comics, and was emceed by RFK Jr’s wife, Cheryl Hines, the actor who plays Larry David’s ex-wife on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Ticket holders clad in “Kennedy 2024” hats and “Declare your independence” promotional garb lined up around 2½ city blocks near Grand Central Market to attend.

Elle Fanning (“The Great”), Tiffany Haddish (“The Afterparty”), Keegan-Michael Key (“Schmigadoon!”)

June 3, 2022

Adam Carolla onstage with his eyes closed, one hand clenched as the other holds a microphone
Adam Carolla reached back in time Wednesday night to joke about the journalist who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush in Iraq.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The majority of Wednesday night’s audience appeared to skew younger than the typical crowds at former President Trump‘s rallies and President Biden‘s pressers. The RFK Jr. devotees, mostly white men and women in their 30s and 40s, packed into the small lobby of the historic venue, talking selfies next to cleverly designed reimaginations of classic movie posters with Kennedy’s image. There he was in a leather jacket for “Rebel with a Cause,” on a rearing stallion for “The Lone Ranger,” and so on.

Folks willing to speak to the mainstream media (one of many nefarious enemies on Kennedy’s list) said they were registered Republicans who’d voted for Trump in the last election, but were seeking change — and someone younger. And Bobby, as they call him, is 70, so he’s a mere pup next to Biden and Trump.

But aside from the oddball positioning of the fundraising event itself, was it actually funny? Not particularly.

Openers Tre Stewart, Dustin Ybarra and Erica Rhodes fared better than the older, top-billed veterans simply because they delivered material that wasn’t based in the G.H.W. Bush/Clinton/G.W. Bush era. Otherwise, it was radio talk show host and podcaster Adam Carolla joking about the “Iraqi guy” who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush — in 2008.

Rob Schneider, the ’90s “Saturday Night Live” cast member, made jokes about Mexicans (It’s OK. His wife is one). Surprise guest Jeremy Piven reminded the crowd that 20 years ago he starred in the HBO series “Entourage,” and how a show about four white guys now would be mistaken for Jan. 6 insurrection footage.

Mike Binder repeated several times that he was going to get in trouble for what he said about gays, women, Jews and other perennial targets of American comedy since the dawn of stand-up. Maybe in 2000, but not now, when entire media ecosystems are fueled by outrage against woke, liberal, pronoun-obsessed Pelosi Nazis. Wednesday’s analogue jokes about “little people,” “African American Blacks” and “all the gays” felt more like callbacks than controversial zingers.


Comedians have never been more willing to get political at the mic.

Dec. 9, 2018

People stand outside a theater, its marquee reading "A Night of Laughter With Robert F. Kennedy Jr / Hosted by Cheryl Hines"
Kennedy supporters who were willing to speak with the mainstream media at Wednesday’s show said they were Republicans and had voted for Trump in 2020.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

So what got the crowd going? Jokes about lockdown masking, Biden’s age, the pathetic Democrats — and more masking. Isn’t it funny how you had to mask when walking in a restaurant, but not at the table? How about on a plane? Or when visiting your elderly mom? It was as if the dark days of the pandemic, replete with the fear that our constitutional rights were under attacks by N95s, never ended.

RFK Jr.’s staunch anti-vaxxer stance has been an effective rallying cry for the presidential hopeful, and a central hub that tethers many of his other baseless beliefs together. They include HIV/AIDS denialism, the CIA’s supposed involvement in his uncle’s assassination, linking the increase in mass shootings to antidepressants and 5G cell service speeds to the population’s diminishing health. The latter warning did not stop many in Wednesday night’s crowd from sending selfies of themselves from the event, but perhaps they were using 4G.

Kennedy appeared in a short campaign clip that opened the festivities. The son of American political royalty lamented the “partisan elite” before rallying the crowd to “go take back our country!” He waited until the close of the event to climb onstage and thank the night’s talent and the crowd, some of whom he’d be meeting in person at the after-party — if they paid the $1,000 to $1,500 ticket price.

Hines wrapped up the evening by urging folks to register with the We the People Party of California. Kennedy, who hasn’t made it on any one party’s ticket, announced Monday that he’d launched the new political party to get on the California ballot. The We the People Party hopes to register 75,000 people in the state and get his name before voters in November. If successful, he’ll prove once and for all that RFK Jr. is no joke. Or at least he wasn’t at his own comedy show.