"I saw an interview with a woman who said, 'My husband and I planned it perfectly. We are going to run out of money for our family budget right on May 21 when the world ends,'" USAID employee Jonathan Shepard told a crowd of nearly 300 federal workers. "I don't know about you but I can't think of anything more American then spending all of your money because you think the world is going to end."
Shepherd and 11 other federal employees took to the Arlington Cinema n' Drafthouse stage on Wednesday night to poke fun of the government and themselves as part of the 2011 Funniest Fed Competition, produced by Naomi Johnson and Misunderestimated Productions, LLC.
Johnson, who's been a fed for 10 years, first came up with the idea for the competition in 2003 while she was at the State Department. However, she says she "didn't get the guts to actually do it until 2007."
Why the lack of guts?
"I didn't know if I was even allowed to do it or if anyone would participate," she said.
In 2006, Johnson went directly to the Office of Government Ethics and was told that as long as the contestants didn't use their specific titles and only the agencies they worked for, they could participate.
Both the first competition in 2007 and the second, in 2009, have had the slogan "Go ahead, make a federal case out of it." This year, Johnson changed it up with the slogan "They can freeze our pay, but not our sense of humor."
She says that this year especially, feds need a laugh because "it's been a tough year all around."
35 signed up for the competition this year, compared with 30 in 2007. On Thursday night, the semifinals, 12 comics remained; half considered novice and the other six experienced comics.
Johnson herself is an experienced comic. From 1991 to 1996, she regularly performed stand-up in comedy clubs in and around Philadelphia and hoped to launch a career in comedy. Instead, she joined the government, moving to D.C. in 1998 to work as a presidential management fellow.
The final show will take place at the Arlington Cinema n' Drafthouse on Friday, June 24 at 7:30 p.m. One novice and one experienced contestant will be selected as winners by the combination of votes from three judges and the audience.
The next bi-annual competition is slated for 2013. Johnson has already received 15 applications.