If a good impresario is always updating his act, Eric Peterkofsky must have a pretty decent idea what he's doing. Take what happened about a year ago, when the veteran Hollywood TV writer, a closet political conservative, was listening to a favorite talk-radio show one afternoon.
The host, syndicated pundit Larry Elder, invited his listeners to come to a Los Angeles nightclub that evening, where a passel of comedians would spend several hours lambasting ultra-liberal filmmaker and conservative bane Michael Moore.
Peterkofsky, a native of Columbia, liked the idea.
"When you're a conservative out [in L.A.], you end up downplaying your beliefs more or less out of self-preservation," he says. "But if you ask me - and if you ask millions of Americans who think the way I do - nothing's funnier, or more ripe for satire, than the way liberals like Moore claim one thing and do the opposite."
The evening of standup inspired an idea: Why not, Peterkofsky thought, assemble a troupe of like-minded comics to play clubs across the country? Tomorrow night, Baltimore audiences will have the chance to experience the result when the 37-year-old gives The Right Stuff its local debut.
If the past year is any indication, the four-performer program will more than satisfy lovers of comedy who have, like the producer, tired of what he calls the entertainment industry's ground-level assumption that questioning George Bush's intellect is the height of hilarity.
"Not all comedians are angry, bomb-throwing, left-wing types, like Moore, Bill Maher or Janeane Garofalo," he says. "That's a myth. Lots of intelligent, educated Americans respect President Bush as a man of strong values and above-average smarts who has dedicated himself to protecting them.
"And what's funnier, anyway, than [Democratic presidential candidate] John Kerry saying, in that self-important voice, 'I voted for the $87 billion [in support of the Iraq war] before I voted against it?' Liberals are hilarious. Sometimes they just skewer themselves. You don't have to write their material."
Peterkofsky speaks with the rapid-fire delivery of a stand-up comic and has a jokester's knack for turning a phrase. For example: "Liberals don't let the facts interfere with a good emotion, while conservatives don't let emotions interfere with the facts." The skill has proved useful in a career spent writing, so far, for game and reality shows and sitcoms such as Murphy Brown.
For The Right Stuff, though, he confines himself to promotion, management and the online sale of merchandise such as the group's line of "John Kerry Flip-Flops," rubberized footwear ($17.95 a pair) that memorializes some of the Democrat's more infamous reversals of position. (They are available on the troupe's Web site, www.rightstuffcomedy.com.)
The producer leaves the stage work to a team of 10 comics he has assembled from across the country, including Chris Warren, a standup artist from Eugene, Ore., who has performed for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The show's emcee, Kentucky-born "Big Daddy" Jeff Wayne, a frequent performer on HBO's Comic Relief, tackles issues such as gun control and "the media's insensitivity to the plight of white males."
The two share billing tomorrow night with another former Baltimore-area resident, Julia Gorin, a 33-year-old sometime contributor to the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal. The Right Stuff Web site describes Gorin as "the Democratic Party's worst nightmare. ... She's Jewish, a Russian immigrant, Republican, female and lives in Manhattan."
In many ways, Gorin's resistance to stereotyping epitomizes a troupe some might consider oxymoronic.
"People have been brainwashed to think conservatives can't be funny," says Gorin, who has always felt like a contradiction in terms. Her father, a violinist, moved the family to Pikesville when she was 3 to take a job with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, part of what she calls "the first wave" of Russian emigration to the United States. "Democrats pander to immigrants," she says, "but our experience of the extreme results of left-wing politics made us conservative. The welfare state is totalitarian by nature. We hated anything socialistic."
She spent years reassessing her dad's belief in the virtues of small government and free enterprise, only to find his views confirmed, she says. Today she has a regular standup act, "Republican Riot," at a New York cabaret that prominently features a bust of Ronald Reagan.
A review of the show caught Peterkofsky's eye, and he recruited her. "She has an incredible gift with language, both in her columns and in her act," he says. "She's insightful."
She made a name for herself in the Journal not long after Bill Clinton left office. When the ex-president's dog was run over and killed outside his Chappaqua, N.Y., home, Gorin's piece, "Buddy's Dead; Is Anyone Surprised?" outraged Clinton supporters.
Gorin, an animal lover, admits to mixed feelings about Clinton - "when I first saw the guy, I didn't know whether to laugh or take my clothes off," she says - but his "antics in the White House" turned her even more conservative. "He was irresponsible in every way, so why would he be a good dog owner?"
In her stage act, Gorin skewers Clinton; his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton; the liberal reluctance to question the tenets of Islam, which violate liberal orthodoxy such as women's rights; and critics of Bush, whom she calls unimaginative: "They hear him mispronounce a word and say, 'Hey, I can say 'nuclear,' not 'nukular,' so I should be president.'"
"It used to be that liberals were the progressive ones," she says, "but today, political correctness is so establishment. It's no risk anymore to make middle-class whites squirm in their seats. Edginess comes from the right."
Gorin and Peterkofsky are enjoying their returns to Baltimore, where each is busy looking up old friends and relations and marveling at changes in the landscape. And in their act, they hope to make their audience feel, in many ways, at home.
"It's a PG-rated show," says Peterkofsky, "which our fans enjoy, and it's a place where folks who don't compare the president to Hitler can find some solace and entertainment."
And both keep updating their stuff. Gorin is working on a bit about Hillary Clinton's remark that Bush lacks "intellectual curiosity." "She's just parroting what all her comrades say," says Gorin. "I'll nail her on that."
And Peterkofsky managed a trip down to Washington, where he found himself picking through the leftovers of Sunday's much-publicized abortion-rights march. "Those placards were all over the place," he says. "I put a bunch in my car. It was a mess.
"I mean, liberals' motto is 'we care.' If they care so much, how come they leave so much garbage? Who's going to clean up after them?
"That's just what our show is about."
What: The Right Stuff comedy troupe
Where: The Comedy Factory, 36 Light St. (corner of Light and Lombard streets, above Burke's restaurant)
When: Tomorrow, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Tickets: $15 (reservations recommended; must be 18 or older)