Don’t Miss the Phoenix Bill of Rights Comedy Show
It’s a Once in a Lifetime Comedy Lineup

By Mariah Fleming

The United States Bill of Rights is not a laughing matter…except on this Sunday, May 13th, at 7pm at Phoenix Symphony Hall. That’s when presents a star-studded comedy benefit. It boasts a once in a lifetime lineup of comedians. The show will raise funds for completion of the Arizona Bill of Rights Monument sculpture in Wesley Bolin Park.Bill of Rights Plaques The distinguished Newman’s Own Foundation learned about the project and donated $50,000 to start work on the $400,000 monument, and give the project a stamp of credibility. “There is only one constitution plaque at the Capital, and it’s hidden away under a tree, very small, and not kept up. It’s a sad sight.” Says Chris Bliss, founder of the movement.

The monument won bipartisan approval from the Arizona State Legislature in 2006. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton declared Sunday May 13th Bill of Rights Comedy Day. Comedians Lewis Black, Bill Engvall, Bobcat Goldthwait, Dick Gregory, Kathleen Madigan, Fr. Guido Sarducci, Tommy Smothers and Steven Wright are donating their time. And so are Little Feat musicians Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett, who will add a little music to the program. Tickets for the event range from $58 up. If you want to hang out with the stars of the show before the event, you can purchase a tax deductible VIP “Founders Circle” ticket for an exclusive VIP “Meet and Greet” before the show.

America’s Bill of Rights is the bright light of our democracy but it has had a cloud hanging over it. “The thing about America is, the sun is always on the horizon; we’re not quite sure yet whether it’s rising or setting.” said Dick Gregory. And to many on all sides of the political spectrum, nationally our Bill of Rights seems to be turning into a relic of democracy, not its touchstone. Arizona is one of many states that, in recent years, passed bills that fly in the face of the Bill of Rights. The Arizona Bill of Rights Monument is being built to remind us how fortunate America is to have the Bill of Rights. It will also serve as a reminder about the responsibilities the Bill of Rights demands from those of us lucky enough to be US citizens. The monument will be educational as well as being a beautiful tourist attraction.

Lewis Black, whose assistance has been integral to helping project founder Chris Bliss get it all off the ground, says: "I am doing this because from what I have seen in the news from time to time, it seems that some of the folks in Arizona, and the rest of America, need a little bit of a reminder of what our founding fathers really said. Because those words in The Bill of Rights are important.” Black went on to say: “It's going to be nice to see the cornerstone of our democracy on real stone. It also seems like a good idea to put this monument someplace prominent like the state capitol, where the politicians can go read it again when necessary."

Bliss, who is an entertainer himself, has been consumed with every aspect of the project since he started it about six years ago. Putting it together has required him to juggle many balls in the air. It’s a fitting analogy, because comedian Bliss is also a juggler. His fanciful, rhythmic juggling to the Beatles tune “Golden Slumbers” seems to be a perfect visual representation of what it has taken to put this all together. His highly entertaining juggling video is an internet smash with over 50 million views thus far.

Last week, in an exclusive interview with comedy legend and activist Tommy Smothers I asked Smothers why he got involved in this project. “I wanted to get motivated again, and Chris Bliss, I love that man. I’m a fan of Chris as a person,” he said. “As a juggler and an entertainer he’s supreme! And in comedy you can say things you can’t possibly say in other areas!” Smothers added: “Chris’s interest in rights, and his sense of goodness and fairness is just powerful. He’s working so hard on this event and it’s such a great thing!”

When I asked Bliss about the logistics of a show like this, he told me that Danny Zelisko, renowned Arizona concert promoter, has been a tremendous help. “I called Danny and said ‘How do we do this?’ Bliss told me, “and Danny said ‘First, find out what dates are available, go to Lewis and say can you do either of these dates. And then you go to everyone.’ “ Bliss went on to say: “Lewis Black is really charming and generous, and he’s done everything he’s been asked. He’s one of the nicest men you’re ever going to meet. There’s kindness there, and passion.” Bliss got to know Tommy Smothers when he opened for the Smothers Brothers in Phoenix in around 2006. Zelisko had seen Bliss perform and given him the opening spot for the show.

I asked Bliss how difficult it was to get all the comedians together for the show. “Everybody has been really sweet. Tommy Smothers has been very inspiring and funny,” he told me. “I said ‘Tommy, can I use your name?’ and he said ‘use it however you want.’ He told me ‘I’m at the point where I only do things I really want to do,’ and he’s sent me some really sweet emails saying things like ‘I’m inspired by your commitment to this!’ and I thought, wow, I’m inspiring Tommy Smothers?”

Getting a line up of such great comedians on the same day is unusual, to say the least. Bliss knew a lot of comics through his own work in comedy, and that opened the door. And Danny Zelisko stepped up to get some of the acts. “We asked a ton of people,” Bliss explained. “I knew Bill Engvall, he’s a great guy, and I did a favor for him once, and he said he owed me one. So I called Bill and he said yes. Kathleen came along ‘cause she’s good buddies with Lewis. And Dick Gregory was Danny’s great idea, and I went after him ‘cause he’s…well, he’s Dick f--ing Gregory!!”

Bliss tried to get Latino acts for the show too, like Gabriel Eglesias and Paul Rodriquez. “It’s difficult to find people who are available on the same date!” he said. “The list of people we asked is long and wide and deep. I wanted some music and asked Paul Barrere of Little Feat. He is passionate about the Bill of Rights, so he wanted to do it. Then Bobcat Goldthwait heard about the show and volunteered.” Bliss went on to explain: “And Tommy was talking to Don Novello (Fr. Guido Sarducci of SNL fame) and Don said, ‘Hey, do you think they could find a spot for me on that show?’ And Danny went out and got Steven Wright. Craig Ferguson came really close to doing the show too, but May 13th is his son’s birthday. We tried to get Dennis Miller, and someone asked me why we asked Dennis Miller, and I said, “Because we’re non partisan!”

This Bill of Rights Comedy show won’t ever happen again, anywhere. The spotlight is on Arizona. People all over the nation are paying attention to this event. It’s guaranteed to be sensational and you can be a part of it. Tickets are going fast, so why not do something good for your funny bone, and for Arizona?

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