WATERTOWN - While some political campaigns are unintentionally laughable, Cambridge-based comedian Jimmy Tingle is determined to inject humor into the process. Tingle launched his presidential campaign Thursday night at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, laying out his Tingle Manifesto to give voters the opportunity to see where he stands on the issues.
Over a quick 40 minutes, Tingle mixed political rhetoric with anecdotes and examples, drawing on what he described as 25 years of insights as a comedian in a campaign he called Humor for Humanity. Tingle's charm has always been rooted in his working-class background, so his promise to "redistribute energy" by having prisoners generate electricity by riding stationary bikes in their cells, or revamp education by hiring tutors to read to parents, sounded reasonable enough to be almost believable.
Tingle pointed out the irony of health insurance companies that insure only healthy people (imagine, he said, if the police only responded to the well-behaved) and complained about the Pentagon's insistence on "outsourcing" torture. "We need those jobs," he said. Some of Tingle's solutions were so outlandish they didn't even work as jokes (public transportation as a line of cars linked together, and a 50 percent tax deduction for meals for every working American), but no matter what he seemed to be advocating, Tingle always wore his liberal politics on his sleeve.
The second half of the evening offered an opportunity for the candidate to take questions from the audience. Like any good politician, Tingle dodged questions he didn't like (terrorism and Israel versus Palestine), while offering clever retorts to queries about why he wasn't wearing an American flag pin, how to deal with high-priced home heating oil, and why only three Trader Joe's in Massachusetts are allowed to sell alcohol. ("What, you can't get over to Kappy's Liquors?" he asked.)
As Thursday was the first performance, Tingle's delivery wasn't as polished as it might be later in the run, but his off-the-cuff comments only added to his charm. The question-and-answer period lasted longer than scheduled, perhaps because there were lots of hands raised, but also because Tingle seemed to enjoy using the questions as a way to riff on other topics he finds funny (commercials for Viagra, changing attitudes toward gays in the military). Throughout, Tingle's self-deprecating sense of humor, Everyman approach, and optimistic attitude about life in general kept the mood upbeat. That's really "the Tingle difference" he keeps touting as part of his tagline.
He opened and closed the evening silhouetted behind a huge American flag, playing a plaintive version of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" on harmonica. When he shouted out to the audience to sing along, few people in the crowd hesitated.