Former Michiganders Are Getting Politically Active in Their Home State All the Way From L.A.

Comedy, Coney dogs, and an end to feeling useless in a Midterm election year

For young progressives, moving from a right-leaning hometown nestled somewhere between the coasts to a big bastion of liberal politics like L.A. can be a double-edged sword. Being surrounded by like-minded people kind of rules, but then there’s the niggling feeling you’ve become a political vestigial tail in deep-blue California, especially as a massively important Midterm election approaches.

L.A.-based writer and comedian Brooke Van Poppelen hails from a Detroit suburb with a Congressional seat up for grabs that could very well flip to blue in November. She’s inviting fellow former Michiganders (and other former Midwesterners and friends of former Midwesterners) to say to hell with feeling futile from afar—and she’s plying them with comedy and hot dogs. 

“Meat ‘n’ Greet: Comedy, Hot Dogs & a Blue Wave” on Tuesday, June 12, is a special edition of Persistent Comedy with comedians Vince Averill and Brent Sullivan, and a yet-to-be-announced “very special guest from Michigan.” Van Poppelen and comedian Kyle June Williams founded Persistent Comedy in early 2017, “absolutely [in] response to Trump’s inauguration,” Van Poppelen says. Every month, the show raises money and awareness for organizations that have been jeopardized by the current administration’s policies, from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights L.A. to Planned Parenthood and Meals on Wheels. “It’s crazy to think it’s coming up on midterms already, so Persistent Comedy has pivoted to raise money and awareness for exciting primaries happening around the country that need attention,” Van Poppelen says.

She answered some questions via email about being useful from 2,000 miles away and how to make a legit Coney-style hot dog.

How can people who live in California still make a difference in their more conservative home states?

Overall, if you are progressive leaning, you can start by paying attention to smaller elections happening around the country where a Republican-held seat in Congress is going to be challenged. As Californians we are all registered to vote in an overwhelmingly blue state so we need to reach out and let friends, family, and others we know from those districts that important elections are coming up where they can really make their vote count. We can also volunteer back in our hometowns, put together fundraisers, or just donate what we can to candidates in these areas.

I voted in the California primaries last week and it was my first time doing that. I’m guilty of being a general election voter only—not anymore! I truly hope that like me, more people wake up to the fact that there is so much power in voting in primaries. I heard a statistic that last Tuesday in California, only 18 percent of registered voters turned out for these major elections. That was bonkers to me to know I had previously been part of that 80 percent of indifferent slugs. Shame!

In your estimation, what’s at stake in the November midterms?

In Michigan, there are some really great candidates running for Congress that have solid chances of flipping some seats blue. The races in Michigan’s 8th and 11th districts are particularly of interest and there are strong female candidates gaining a lot of momentum and excitement leading up to the primaries – as a matter of fact, the race in the 8th district was just proclaimed to be a bellwether for control of the U.S. house. Did I just learn what a bellwether means a few moments ago? Sure did. And you should look it up too because it’s exciting. 

It’s seems to me that comedy feels extra important at this moment in time. How can comedians in particular help in this political climate?

I feel like stand-up is, in many ways, basically a stump speech. Right off the bat we are trying to get people to like us and then tell them about our agenda. The major difference is it seems like comedians get held more accountable than politicians these days.

But truly, we need unfiltered comic voices right now to stand up to all the hypocrisy and outright hatred being spewed on a daily basis. It’s such an organic form of entertainment and connection that only requires a microphone. When I connect with political candidates it’s because they give me the feeling of someone with a defined purpose and great presence—they can work the room. You just know when you’re dealing with a funny person or a potential leader. There’s so much truth telling (well, hopefully) that makes politics and comedy great bed partners. The event will hopefully be representative of that.

OH. And what’s a Detroit-style Coney dog? You must explain.

First thing’s first: It is NOT a chili dog. It’s a grilled, natural-casing beef hot dog served on a steamed bun and topped with a chili sauce, raw chopped white onion, and a stripe of yellow mustard. So, yes, I did just say chili sauce but let’s be clear there are NO BEANS. The legend of Detroit-style Coney sauce dates back to the early 1900s and only recently have I found a recipe online that cracked the code of the mysterious ingredients and process that makes for a magical elixir. I just tested a homemade batch yesterday and I am giddy with excitement over how legitimate it is. I had several revelations about coney sauce. 1.) It always tasted sort of exotic and that’s because there’s cumin, turmeric, clove, paprika, and chili powder in it. 2.) The combo of pureeing the sauce and the cumin and chili seasoning flavor is why people think there are beans in it. 3.) The texture of coney sauce always gave you a slight nostalgia for saltines disintegrating into a bowl of chili and guess what—you make a roux out of lard and crackers to thicken the beef. I’m only making about 100 Coneys tomorrow so be sure to arrive by 7 p.m.!

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