Fun Lovers and Gun Sense

It’s not often that anti-gun violence rallies and laughter go hand-in-hand, but that combination was exactly what Dan Gross, president of the pro-gun regulation group, the Brady Campaign to prevent Gun Violence, was looking for.

“We have limited capacity to cry, to argue, to scream, but our capacity to have fun is unlimited,” Gross said. “It gives us stamina to fight and stick it to those craven politicians.”

Fun Lovers Unite: Music, Comedy and Gun Sense, a benefit with proceeds going to the Manhattan chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, entertained guests in a packed Highline Ballroom on a Wednesday night. The line-up included music acts Tammy Faye Starlite, Bambi Kino, and Yo La Tengo; comedians Janeane Garofalo, John Hodgman, and Jon Glaser; and actresses Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells.

Gross stood on stage next to his brother, who survived being shot in the head 19 years ago during a terrorist attack on the observation deck of the Empire State Building that wounded six and killed one. Gross explained that the Brady Campaign is not anti-second amendment, but rather pro-sensible gun laws, advocating for universal background checks and more efficient gun policies to stop trafficking and sales of illegal firearms.

One of the producers of the event, Maccabee Montandon, lost his brother in 1992 to gun violence during a botched robbery on South Detroit Street in Los Angeles. A Tweet from January 2016 by Montandon said that he didn’t believe having a gun would have saved his brother’s life.

Tammy Faye Starlite, who opened her act with the iconic Nancy Sinatra version of “Bang Bang,” transitioned seamlessly into a caricature of white supremacy and right-wing conservatism, engaging front-row audience members with bold jokes about Jews and Asians. She described the character as a spin-off of the Christian televangelist Tammy Faye Messner, who was married for a period to televangelist turned convicted felon Jim Bakker, but also ended up becoming one of the first televangelists to embrace AIDS patients in the church.

“In the same way that certain shows, like Good Times or The Jeffersons, opened up the path to being more accepting of black people in the 70’s, I think art in the form of TV, film, and celebrities speaking out can have an impact culturally, the way that music, theatre, and film of the 60’s had a certain impact on the consciousness of the people to essentially end the Vietnam war,” said Starlite. “I do think that the protests, and music in particular, helped formulate the anti-war consciousness and give it shape.”

Raised in an Upper West Side Jewish liberal family, Starlite said the extent of her personal experience with guns was seeing them carried by police officers, but she feels strongly that the world be better off without them in general.

She added, “I would be thrilled if there were no more guns, though if they weren’t allowed of course then there would be the black market and more smuggling, but ideally – that would be lovely.”

Lana Lee