Reason to Be Optimistic: The People Behind

Have your employers ever had any issues with your actions? 

AB: I was hired by the New School  and NYU as a result of the actions. For ten years, I taught how to make an impact on the media and how to think about social movements as things that are speaking to large numbers of people. 

MB: What about Monsanto? 

AB: There’s one exception. We did an action in Mexico, pretending to be Monsanto. They were applying for a permit to grow genetically modified corn. They were eventually denied it by the government, but we sent out a press release as Monsanto promising great things and saying we were preserving Mexican culture from destruction. Monsanto complained directly to the president of NYU and said “You can’t do this. You have to crack down.” They demanded a private apology from NYU that they could send to the government of Mexico. I don’t know if it had any effect, since the permit was eventually denied. I don’t know if NYU apologized, because it was private. Also, the second-in-command at NYU was working at Monsanto before she came to the university. If they publicly apologized, so many people at NYU would’ve been up in arms.

The film reveals that you’re both Jewish. Although you’re not exactly comics, there’s a long tradition of socially critical Jewish comedy. Do you feel part of it? 

MB: I don’t think we went into this thinking that we were, but over the years you realize you’re part of a tradition, including socially conscious Jewish comedy. It’s pretty hard to throw a stone in New York without hitting a Jewish comic. There’s definitely a lot of inspiration from people who have confronted the system pretty publicly  and vocally. Other comics in general, like George Carlin[1], have done it in a much straightforward way, knowing they were doing comedy. At first, we didn’t realize that. We figured out we were doing theater. 

AB: I think we fit into the tradition of Abbie Hoffman[2] more. He’s also a Jewish comic, in a way. His audience was social movements and he tried to rouse them. 

MB: Paul Krassner, who worked with him, was an actual stand-up comic. Some of the Yippies were. It was a pretty fluid  boundary. ‘

How’d you split up the work of direction?

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