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“When we first started, we charged $50 a head. The year [former South Dakota] Sen.] Tom Daschle headlined we moved it up to $250 and raised $110,000 for our charity,” Siegel said.
In recent years, the event has seen an increase in participation by practicing politicians, including Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), Reps. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), and Republican strategist Ed Gillespie.
“The year when Kucinich and Gillespie did a ventriloquist dummy debate, they were both so self-deprecating,” Siegel said. “They [were] always willing to laugh at themselves.”
That recipe of humility and humor continues to bring in lawmakers willing to play the jester and an audience eager to enjoy the spectacle.
In his third year as a contestant, Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) sees the show as an opportunity for personal reflection.
“Humor lets me step outside politics once in a while and gain some perspective on the seriousness and absurdity that exists in politics,” said Larsen, the 2010 runner-up to Jon Lovett, a former White House speechwriter.
For Norquist, who took third place in last year’s competition, participating year after year helps him hone a practical skill he can use. “If you’re giving a speech, one of the ways to get people to participate is to tell a joke and make them laugh,” he said. “It’s their way of saying I’m listening.”
This year’s lineup of contestants includes Reps. Allen West (R-Fla.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Daily Caller columnist Jamie Weinstein, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Clarence Page and Lanny Davis, former counsel to President Bill Clinton.
Hosted by NPR anchor and former CNN Pentagon correspondent Jamie Mcintyre, the night will kick off with Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) throwing out the ceremonial first joke. Brown’s daughter Ayla, a former American Idol contestant, is scheduled as the evening’s musical guest.