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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Dani Anguiano in Los Angeles

Biden jibes and the ‘scamdemic’: culture-war comedy on the menu at RFK Jr fundraiser

Man in blue shirt and tie as man in background looks on
Robert Kennedy Jr in January. Polls suggest Kennedy, running as an independent, could receive up to 15% of the vote in a general election. Photograph: Jonathan Drake/Reuters

Inside the Million Dollar Theatre in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday night, comedians cracked jokes about wokeness, the “scamdemic”, Joe Biden’s age and stumbles – and Robert F Kennedy Jr made his pitch, of sorts, to voters.

The 70-year-old, a member of the Kennedy political dynasty, with a long history of promoting conspiracy theories and vaccine skepticism, is running for president as an independent. Recent polling from Quinnipiac projected that in a race involving Biden and Trump, Kennedy, who has pledged to “end the forever wars, clean up government [and] increase wealth for all”, could receive as much as 15% of the vote.

Kennedy has been campaigning across the country for months, and on Wednesday he was on his home turf of Los Angeles, where his wife, Cheryl Hines, the Curb Your Enthusiasm star, hosted a fundraiser in the form of a comedy show. The event was open to anyone with $150 to spare and promised a “Night of Laughter” with standup from names such as Adam Carolla, Jeremy Piven and Rob Schneider – the one-time SNL star and now conservative influencer.

Hundreds of people lined up around the theater, eager to hear from Kennedy and excited about the possibility of a third-party candidate.

“This makes me think think he has a chance,” Burke Smith said as he pointed to the line. Smith, who drove up from San Diego, said he likes Donald Trump but would prefer Kennedy.

“We’ve been stuck in the two-party system for so long. He represents the embodiment of what the middle of the road is,” he said. “He speaks to the majority of the people.”

Kennedy has polled higher than expected and drawn support from both Democrats and Republicans, though a review by FiveThirtyEight of eight polls on his popularity found that he was better liked among Republicans, which some experts believe is due to his promotion of conspiracy theories and role as an anti-vaccine activist.

Kennedy, the son of the US attorney general and presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy, and the nephew of John F Kennedy, has been in the public eye for decades, and previously drew attention for his work as a bestselling author and environmental lawyer. But in recent years he has become a leading voice in the anti-vaccine movement, and started a non-profit that has promoted misinformation about vaccines and Covid public-health measures. Public health experts have described his work as misleading and harmful, as have family members.

His family has also expressed their opposition to his presidential campaign, with his siblings describing his decision to run as “dangerous to our country”.

Last year, he made comments linking antidepressants to school shootings; claimed that chemicals in water are causing more kids to identify as transgender; and promoted a conspiracy theory that Covid was “targeted” to Black and white people while Chinese and Jewish people were “most immune”.

Those in attendance at Wednesday’s event wanted to hear from Kennedy first-hand.

For his part, Smith said he liked that Kennedy had done his own research on vaccines, unlike Trump or Biden. Still, he described himself as on the fence about how he would vote, but said he was hopeful that, with enough support, Kennedy could provide the change he believes the country badly needs.

Aside from brief remarks from Kennedy at the end of the evening and pleas from Hines to vote and to help him get on the ballot, the evening was entirely focused on comedy – often with plenty of culture-war zingers.

The crowd was younger than expected and included no shortage of designer shoes and $2,000 handbags. The front row featured familiar faces such as Dr Drew Pinsky and Drea de Matteo, both ardent supporters of Kennedy.

Some comedians did not touch on politics at all, but jokes about Biden falling or the pandemic being “designed” drew rapturous applause, as did a line about Larry David’s support for Barack Obama. The creator of Curb Your Enthusiasm told the New York Times last year that he is not backing Kennedy’s candidacy. Mentions of California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, unsurprisingly also elicited boos.

The jokes included plenty of complaints about woke culture, reverse racism and a bit from Schneider comparing Mexican people to pests. Schneider, once known for his roles in Adam Sandler movies, has embraced conservative causes in recent years.

Schneider praised Kennedy for his “sacrifice” in trying to contribute to his country. The millionaire also got in digs at unhoused people in California as well as crime in the Golden State and complaints about the Democratic party.

Kennedy spoke for just a moment, thanking the crowd for their passion and intensity before heading off to an after-party (tickets to that event cost $1,000) where he was set to make a speech.

After the show, some guests praised the lineup, but said they didn’t know more about Kennedy than when they arrived.

“I was hoping to learn more about him,” Alec Borofv said.

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