Who's Old Now? | Comic Will Durst talking ’bout his generation.
Perhaps no group has tried harder to hold on to its youth than that huge demographic bubble born from 1946 to 1964 known as the baby boomer generation. Now that most boomers (including yours truly) find themselves firmly in the grasp of middle age, the natural inclination is to take stock. Comedian and razor-sharp political satirist Will Durst is no exception. His new one-man show Boomeraging: From LSD to OMG dissects the boomer experience with segments like “Racing From the Shadow of a Mushroom Cloud,” “The Blinking VCR,” and “Hey You Punks, Get Off My Wireless Router.” To put the post–World War II generation at ease, Durst illustrates his points using technology only a boomer could love—an overhead projector. Due to the archaic nature of this special effect, children under 40 will not be allowed in without a grown-up. I touched base with planet Durst recently as he prepped for the show’s debut this month at the Marsh San Francisco.
Paul Kilduff: Don’t all generations go through this process of being in denial about getting older?
Will Durst: Well, there are a lot of factors going on. One of them is we’re so self-aware. Baby boomers are responsible for creating the whole youth kind of quake and now we’re being hoisted on our own petard. We built the scaffolding of our own hanging because now everything is so youth-oriented that we’ve been phased out. When we were kids, everything was about experience and respect your elders. And now that we’re in that situation, everybody is saying screw it. So we were told, “Screw you from above” and now we’re being told, “Screw you from below.” But we are such a huge demographic bulge that we will still be listened to.
PK: Invest in adult diapers.
WD: Hey, in Japan next year they’re expected to sell more adult diapers than baby diapers.
PK: Wow. That’s kind of a depressing thought. I didn’t really need to know that, Will. It’s all going to be over basically when Mick Jagger hangs it up, right? I mean, is he sort of the walking litmus test for the baby boom generation?
WD: We’ve blown through so many membranes. [How about] when Paul McCartney sang “When I’m 64” when he was 65 and now he’s approaching 70?
PK: But he still looks great. With the economy the way it is now and people talking about how they can’t retire, it really fits in with this whole mindset of “I’m not getting older. I can’t really afford to get older.” Right?
WD: The mantra of the baby boomers is, “We are not as old as our parents were when they were our age.” And that’s kind of true, but I’m sure our parents said the same thing and it was probably true, too. And I’m sure Generation X, and the Millennials, and whatever they call the ones after that . . . will. They also said that one out of four babies born today will live to be 100. And the first person expected to live to a 150 years old was born in 2012. But what kind of life are you looking at?
PK: I did see a billboard in Oakland recently about how the first person who will live to be 150 is alive today. I thought to myself, “What is your quality of life going to be like at 143?”
WD: Probably what today’s quality of life is at 103.
PK: You’re just hooked up to stuff.
WD: But 130 will be a little better.
PK: How many friends are you going to have at 130?
WD: I did some interviews with some old people, [including] 90-year-olds. And they said that’s the biggest pain. That’s the hardest thing ’cause when you’re 60, there’s a lot of 60-year-olds around. When you’re 70, you still know a lot of 70-year-olds. When you’re 80, eeeh. And then when you’re 90? Now suddenly people are saying, “Oh, what a wonderful thing; you’re alive.”
PK: I heard somebody say that if you’re still walking when you’re 80, there’s a great chance that you’ll live to be 90.
WD: I’m from the Midwest and there were people who had done well and put money away, and I would see this all the time. A person would retire and just immediately decline. It was visible over a period of a month. You don’t work, you die.
PK: Compare that to the American way of overworking and then you’re going to retire. Maybe that’s backwards. Maybe you should enjoy some free time even when you’re younger but keep working so it’s not this either-or thing. Does that make any sense to you?
WD: It’s how I lived my life. I mean, I was a stand-up comic, and I caught the wave, the boom of comedy. So we got to travel. Work was get up at noon, write some stuff down if you wanted to or figure it out in stage. Go to a comedy club, which was in a bar or a theater. Go up on stage for 45 minutes. People are feeding you drinks and drugs and you’re in exotic locales, and then you go to bed and start all over again. So if you think about it, I was retired between the ages of 28 and 58, and now it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve had to work for a living.
PK: There are just not that many thriving comedy clubs, is that right?
WD: For me, it’s because I’m not famous and I’m too old for comedy clubs. I walk into a comedy club and the kids say, “Why is this bitter old man lecturing me?” The average age of a comedy club [patron] is 18 to 35, which was great when I was 18 to 35.
PK: In his time Mort Sahl would get up on stage with the newspaper and do kind of what you’re doing. Do you think people at that time were a little more interested in that than they are today?
WD: Well, remember that at the time when he got his picture on the cover of Time magazine there was nothing like him. Everybody else was doing mother-in-law jokes and “Take my wife, please.” And then suddenly he’s doing commentary on Eisenhower, and not the Bob Hope kind of commentary. He’s talking about Alger Hiss. It was like verbal jazz. I did a one-man show off Broadway a couple of years ago and one of the reviews I got from Time Out New York was, “I can watch Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart, why would I want to spend 15 bucks to come and see this?”
PK: Yeah, I guess really that’s the other thing, too—there are so many other opportunities to be entertained.
WD: Well, we don’t have to work that hard. We’re not exhausted from tilling the field. We don’t go to bed at 7 at night because we have to get up at 4 in the morning.
Birthplace: Milwaukee, Wis.
Astrological sign: Pisces
Mission Statement: Comedy for people who read or know someone who does.