Before the Glenn Beck "Common Sense" live simulcast at Point Cinemas started Thursday night, an ad ran proclaiming, "Tonight's attendance: sold out!" and thanking the audience for packing the house. Next it reminded us that a packed house could be a fire-safety hazard. Then it assured us that we probably weren't in danger, since the theater had been inspected... by the federal government. (Ba-dum-bump.)
The ad rambled amiably, blending sincerity with the sort of humor typically associated with 20th-century dads. And it wasn't very accurate, in Madison's case-the nearly 40 people in attendance were not about to be mistaken for a packed house. For a commercial, it was kinda weird.
But as a lead-in to Glenn Beck's routine, it was a pretty good indication of what to expect.
The Fox News personality, radio host, and author was in town Thursday night -- virtually. As part of his "Common Sense" comedy tour, he performed in Kansas City, Mo., and the show was simulcast live to 450 theaters, including Madison's Point UltraScreen Cinemas.
Beck is a fantastic showman, using his whole body and a legion of goofy voices, plus an abundance of natural charisma, to keep an audience engaged. He's easy to listen to, and comes off as an ordinary, decent, smart guy who's simply frustrated by the seemingly willful insanity native to politics.
"What he's saying is really the truth: We're in trouble, and people aren't noticing," said Donna Brown, a fan who came from Elroy to see the show.
And indeed, a lot of what Beck said last night was laudable. He advised the audience to "seek out people that you don't agree on everything with," and got applause when he told them, "We need to stop being Republicans and Democrats and be Americans again!" (While the lion's share of barbs were directed at liberals, Beck did take a fair number of shots at the GOP.) And he urged personal responsibility, blaming not just politicians and corporations for today's economy but also the American people ("We need to stand up and say, 'Hello, my name is America, and I have a spending problem.'"), and calling informed, active citizenship the only way to solve our problems. "We will buy or believe anything," he sighed. "We have to stop buying everything and stop believing bullcrap!"
There, though, was the rub. Because beneath the rants and slogans and panegyrics to the Founding Fathers, there wasn't a lot of substance to Beck's routine, just some mixed metaphors ("Common sense cannot exist in the darkness!"), an analogy about tater tots that was not actually an analogy, and exhortations to watch out for propaganda-followed by a speech about how great freedom is, which he gave while dressed as Thomas Paine. And despite his nods toward bipartisanship, a lot of his material centered on the contrast between "people like you and me" and weirdos who enjoy art and NPR. Also, he had a new book to promote. (Presumably, you should buy it and then stop buying everything.)
If Beck's fans in the audience noticed such inconsistencies, though, they didn't show it. Those who missed the live simulcast can catch an encore showing next Thursday, June 11.