BY JACKIE DEMALINE
Joe Raiola has a bone to pick with God.
Alteractive series opener Almost Obscene at Playhouse in the Park will find the monologist and MAD Magazine Senior Editor railing against the Almighty, although he’s not too happy about politics, war, intolerance, civil liberties and censorship, either. Raiola will discuss all of the above at 7 p.m. Monday in the Playhouse’s Rosenthal Plaza.
“There’s not a man alive more looking forward to coming to Cincinnati than me,” Raiola says gleefully.
Almost Obscene debuted at the NYC International Fringe Festival last year, and the New York Times called it “a ruefully amusing lament for the ineradicable hypocrisy of humanity.”
“The show deals with the First Amendment,” Raiola explains by phone from MAD, where he is easing into his work day.
This is his first out-of-town performance of Almost Obscene, “which is why I’m so glad I’m doing it in Ohio, which is not a state with a great record on First Amendment issues.”
Raiola had been a solo performer in New York for 10 years “playing to full houses and not making any money” when – eureka! – “A librarian called MAD looking for a speak.”
He grabbed the gig and soon began marketing “a show that didn’t exist” to libraries and conferences. Calls started coming in from around the country and The Joy Of Censorship was born.
“I found it was a subject I was deeply passionate about.” But. “After a while I started censoring myself in my show about censorship.” Raiola was appalled but knew he couldn’t push the envelope any further on the lecture circuit.
So he returned to the theater, decided to “let it all hang out” and developed Almost Obscene.
“It clearly struck a nerve here in New York. That was so great,” Raiola says.
Do not misunderstand. He questions extreme views on both ends of the political spectrum. “I think of myself as an equal opportunity offender,” he quips.
Almost Obscene finds Raiola’s serrating humor aimed at everyone “who is terrified of a view opposing theirs. If we had an instrument to measure the fear-level in this country it would be off the charts.”
To Raiola, the great obscenity is war. He goes off on a recent speech by President Bush. “He called American ‘a peaceful nation,’ but history doesn’t show that. Ever since Manifest Destiny we’ve been prone to war. The heart of the matter is we have a violent God and waging war is our way of honoring him.
It should be noted that Raiola confesses to spending three years in Catholic school and that as a second-grader “nothing in the world frightened me more than Jesus.”
For now, Raiola plots how to lure political and religious conservatives to the Playhouse Monday night. “This isn’t a show ‘for liberals.” It’s fine to play to and audience predisposed to my way of thinking, but I want to reach the people who really need to see me.”