An article we ran on June 12th entitled "The Federal Employee As Comedian" described a contest for federal employees who want to be a comedian. The contestants participate in a show in Arlington, Virginia at the Drafthouse called the "Funniest Fed" contest.
The semi-finals for the funniest fed competitors was scheduled for June 13th, the day after the article was published. Apparently there are a number of people who want to hear federal employees with a sense of humor. According to Naomi Johnson, the creator and executive producer of the show, the line to see the show went around the block and people had to be turned away due to seating limitations of the theatre. That was good news for the participants and the producer, but, in an unexpected, twisted humor sort of way, the show did not go on.
Because of the large crowd, the show started a little late and was forced to end about 15 minutes later. Mother Nature played a joke of her own. A thunderstorm in the DC area took out the power and the emergency lights did not come on. As a result, the crowd had to be escorted out of the theatre with flashlights and cell phone power lighting the way.
Johnson says that "My emergency preparedness plan is quite simple. Loot. When the power went out at the Funniest Fed Competition…, the 300 or so audience members revealed that their plans are much more civilized than mine…Let no pitcher of beer go unfinished." It was all consumed, mostly in the dark, by the time the crowd was escorted back on to the street.
The show has been rescheduled for June 21st and the finals will be held on June 22nd. Those who paid cash were given a refund or a ticket to the next show. Those paying by credit card will have to contact the theatre as the electricity blackout knocked out the credit card machines.
With the federal government as the nation’s largest bureaucracy, it may not too surprising that a couple of readers questioned the ethical proprietary of federal employees being allowed to participate in a contest featuring federal employees as comedians. Most of us would not want to stand up in front of several hundred people trying to make people laugh for a potential financial windfall of $250 (along with earning the designation of the "funniest fed" in the Washington, DC area). If you view this prospect as attractive but are worried about a potential ethics violation, you can now feel a sense of relief. According to the show’s producer, The Office of Government Ethics has officially approved the ethical propriety of the event.
There are, of course, the usual ethical restrictions. The contestants cannot normally be using their talent as a comedian if they do that as part of their regular government job (my guess is that cracking jokes at staff meetings does not disqualify a person from entering the contest); the contestants cannot use their official government title and the contestants cannot solicit for the charity at the workplace. (A portion of the proceeds goes to the Meals on Wheels charity.)
The finalists in the contest are: Scott Muschett (Senate), Sam Beamon (Justice), Jimmy Vickers (GSA), Jeff Maurer (EPA), Marshall Henry (Treasury), Joey Maranto (Treasury), Donna Lewis (DHS), Freddi Vernell (FAA), Shahryar Rizvi (Census) and Donal Heitman (CFTC). You can read more about some of the participants at this site.