We need to elect more women. And I say this as a man running against some women in this race for president. But we also need to elect more men who stand up for women. It can’t continue being just women who advance their causes. We need kind hearted men in office too. Men who fight beside the women in our society to advance their causes, because they are our causes. For it is not morality if you only stand for it when it directly affects you. But in this particular election, our country is at a point of no return. And things will get worse for everyone, women and men, if this monster gets to cause damage to us for four more years. And so, man or woman, what we need most urgently right now is the person who can best beat Trump. And I believe that person is not a cautious politician, but a fearless comedian. It is the only sure fire way to take down the biggest heckler we have ever seen.
I had the pleasure to interview stand-up comedian and presidential candidate candidate Ben Gleib. Ben has dedicated much of his life to making politics more accessible to all of us, and speaking truth to power.He is an honors thesis graduate of one of the top universities in the country. For over a decade, he’s been a political contributor to places like CNN, NPR, Huffington Post, the Young Turks, ABC News and more. Ben created the Telethon for America, a first-of-its-kind, non-partisan event powered by Michelle Obama’s “When We All Vote” that played a significant role in last year’s record-setting voter turnout. Ben has been the host of the CNN Headline News social impact program ASPIREist. Among volunteering for and donating to causes like All Hands And Hearts, LA Family Housing, The World Food Programme, Generosity Water, F Cancer, being a member of the UNICEF NextGen Guardian’s Circle, and others, he also serves on the Advisory Board of The Harold Robinson Foundation, which sends underserved children from Watts and surrounding areas to camp for the first time. Each year he hosts their Pedal On The Pier event, where they raise around a million dollars annually.
Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What can you share your “backstory” with us?
My pleasure. My backstory is an odd one I think. I grew up with a pretty serious speech problem that I dealt with my whole childhood through college. Which was tough because I always had a lot to say. I was always a comedian at heart, and also very passionate about the world around me. I finally conquered the difficulty with my speech, as I was finishing college. The timing of that worked out because I then I became a stand-up comedian and TV host, both my lifelong dreams. I had a short-lived show on NBC, then became a regular on the show “Chelsea Lately.” I also started becoming very dismayed with the way our nation was headed, and started becoming more and more interested in politics. I started a comedy podcast called “Last Week on Earth” to get people interested in politics who had always hated it. I also started appearing on KPCC the SoCal NPR affiliate, and appearing on places like CNN, ABC News and the “Today Show” on NBC. I then became host and head writer of a TV show called “Idiotest” which is on Netflix right now. But the state of our country kept keeping me up at night, and with trump in office, I felt I had no choice but to get more involved. I created the “Telethon for America” partnered with Michelle Obama’s “When We All Vote” which helped create the historic voter turnout we just had in the midterms. And I realized even more so that I could do big things that have an impact. But it still didn’t feel impactful enough. And so I decided to attempt the biggest, and run for President of the United States.
Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you in the course of your career or campaign?
My campaign has only been going for less than two months, so I’m sure it will get weirder and funnier. So far it has just been a lot of inspiring moments of people who have been moved by our message and have been volunteering to help us, sharing their personal stories, or donating their hard earned money. I have been so touched by the outpouring of support from people across the entire country. But the most interesting moment from my career was probably when I was on Chelsea Handler’s show and one day my speech problem came back live on air. No matter what I tried I couldn’t make the words come out right. Luckily it only lasted like thirty seconds and I recovered with a joke that brought the room down. But for a minute there I wasn’t sure what I was gonna do. You can’t be a comedian on TV if you can’t talk. That’s one of the basic rules.
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story of a particular person that you helped?
When I was a kid my mom started a food pantry for the homeless at our temple. I would help her serve food to people in need and it was so moving to see the impact just giving them some food caused. It’s also why every year for thanksgiving I serve the homeless at the Laugh Factory, and then perform for them. I love that my job has always been to make people laugh. People are in a state of pure joy when they are laughing. But directly helping their lives more long term feels good to a whole other level. Many years ago I got to do a comedy show that built a water well for people in a small village in Africa. When I saw the picture of the water coming through that well it was incredible. So I started trying to do that kind of thing more. I host every year an event for the Harold Robinson Foundation called “Pedal on the Pier” which raises around a million dollars to send kids from underserved communities in LA to camp for the first time, which helps give them confidence and changes the way they see their lives. I also serve on their advisory board, and the best part is when I get to visit the camp, and hang with the kids. I teach them improv, dance with them, or just hang out. I love seeing them light up. I am also in the Guardian’s Circle of UNICEF NextGen and last year had everyone who came to my birthday party donate to UNICEF at the door. Little things like that, if many more of us did them, would really help accelerate change. Also last year I got to volunteer in South Texas with All Hands and Hearts, rebuilding a home and re-opening a school destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. That was an amazing experience. It’s awkward to answer questions like this but I think that’s something we have to shift in our society. In a culture where everybody overshares, we need to start sharing about our charity work too, so hopefully that becomes the behavior that people try to emulate.
Yitzi: Which specific things do you plan to do to help the vulnerable in our society?
We are all vulnerable. Anyone who is not incredibly wealthy is very vulnerable right now because our society keeps getting harder if you are not super wealthy. So I would make as many moves as possible to change this. That means immediately rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, pushing for a more stringent agreement, implementing the principles of the Green New Deal, and with a much greater sense of urgency stopping the use of fossil fuels. It means ratifying an amendment to the Constitution to protect a woman’s right to choose. It means passing a Cost of Living Tax Refund to help people who work full time be able to pay their bills and save some money for retirement. It means re-instituting humanity into our immigration policies, and respecting all human beings. Finally making sure all Americans have affordable health care by combining the private market with a massive expansion of Medicare. It is passing common sense gun control that can make our children feel safe in school. It is ensuring American workers have a safe landing if their jobs are replaced by automation, and incentivizing companies to keep people employed. And there is no way to protect all of those vulnerable if we don’t take our democracy back from all of the forces that have been taking away our voice. That includes making partisan gerrymandering illegal, overturning Citizens United, stopping foreign interference in our elections, returning to paper ballots only, and getting rid of the electoral college so each person’s vote counts the same. These issues are so important to me because I am a regular person who experiences these issues firsthand, not just on paper like many of the career politicians running do. And none of this at all will be possible if we don’t stop the monster in the White House who is taking us backwards on all of these things.
Yitzi: Only one in five members of Congress is a woman. This manifests itself in laws that do not always take women’s needs into account. What needs to be done to create greater parity in our representation?
We need to elect more women. And I say this as a man running against some women in this race for president. But we also need to elect more men who stand up for women. It can’t continue being just women who advance their causes. We need kind hearted men in office too. Men who fight beside the women in our society to advance their causes, because they are our causes. For it is not morality if you only stand for it when it directly affects you. But in this particular election, our country is at a point of no return. And things will get worse for everyone, women and men, if this monster gets to cause damage to us for four more years. And so, man or woman, what we need most urgently right now is the person who can best beat trump. And I believe that person is not a cautious politician, but a fearless comedian. It is the only sure fire way to take down the biggest heckler we have ever seen.
Yitzi: This is clearly not an easy job. What drives you?
The nation I grew up loving drives me. The values we stand for that are now being challenged. The amazing, lovely people I have met over two decades of performing in cities and towns everywhere across America. I want to help them. I want to try to change the problems that keep getting worse, because the people in power are further and further out of touch, and more and more corrupted by money. I want to fight for real Americans because I am one myself, and I know how hard it can be to succeed in our society. I am driven by my desire to see the people I perform for have easier lives. So when they go out for a night of comedy it’s just because they want to laugh for an evening, not because they need to.
Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first ran for office” and why?
1. How little sleep I would get. I am already someone who stays up very late and works long hours, but this is a non-stop, around-the-clock mission, often requiring 18–22 hour work days. Luckily, I love it, and operate well on no sleep 🙂
2. How much the mainstream media is not interested in bringing a true outside voice on their air. It seems they are afraid of people who will bring brutal honesty to the air.
3. How expensive it truly is to mount a true grassroots campaign if you come from outside Washington or aren’t able to self-finance your own campaign.
4. How many stickers you have to print. People really love stickers.
5. How when you are a comedian running the first question everyone asks is if you are serious. Hopefully after reading this, it’s very clear I am. If not, then I have a joke for you: “Knock Knock.” “Who’s there?” “Ben Gleib” “Ben Gleib who?” “Ben Gleib who is the best candidate to stop the orange monster eroding our values.” That wasn’t funny? See? I’m serious now.