Waging Laughter Against Atlantic Yards

Michael Showalter knows there’s little hope left for opponents of Bruce Ratner’s 22-acre Atlantic Yards project.

“Clearly, we’re in a losing battle, short of shackling ourselves to the fence,” the comedian told The Real Estate. “That doesn’t mean we should stop ourselves from trying.”

Tuesday night, he’ll be performing in Park Slope’s tweedy hangout Union Hall for Laugh Don’t Destroy, a comedy benefit for the anti-Atlantic Yards coalition, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB).

showalter Waging Laughter Against Atlantic YardsMr. Showalter, the son of feminist writer Elaine Showalter and a fixture on the New York comedy scene (one-third of comedy troupe Stella and co-writer of the movie Wet Hot American Summer) sat down last week to coffee at The Flying Saucer Cafe on Atlantic Avenue, a favorite spot of his in the four years he’s lived in downtown Brooklyn.

Dressed warmly in jeans and a collared shirt under a blue sweater, with a red and blue scarf, he talked of his hopes that his comedy will aid the opposition. Mr. Showalter is on DDDB’s advisory board–basically, a list of well-known supporters, from bespectacled author Jonathan Safran Foer to firecracker actress Rosie Perez.

“I’m probably number 50 on the list of names,” Mr. Showalter says with a shrug. “But, you know, if Heath Ledger and Steve Buscemi can’t help out, then I can help.”

Mr. Showalter recruited some of his friends for the comedy night, including fellow Brooklyn comedian Eugene Mirman. Kristen Shaal, one of New York magazine’s Ten Funniest New Yorkers You’ve Never Heard Of, and Boston transplant Baron Vaughn will also perform.

Mr. Showalter’s apartment is just blocks from the area at Atlantic and Flatbush avenues where a sports arena, train station and five new towers (up to 511 feet high) will most likely be built over the next decade. “I’m appalled by what’s happening and I feel very helpless about it,” he says, nudging his stubbled chin with a knuckle.

DDDB spokesman Daniel Goldstein says the group will make a short presentation about its opposition to Atlantic Yards, and, at $20 a ticket, Mr. Goldstein hopes the event will raise about $2,000 for lawyers’ fees. DDDB is involved in a federal lawsuit that’s likely the last gasp to preventing Mr. Ratner’s project.

Mr. Showalter will be in familiar territory at Union Hall, where he does stand-up every Sunday night.

“I’m not a very politically active type person. This is the most I get involved in anything,” Mr. Showalter said. “But Brooklyn has a certain charm, an aesthetic that the community really believes in, and [this development] is going to be a tough pill to swallow. Right now, I can park my car on the street and that’s never going to happen again. There’s also a sense that I live in a borough, and that’s going to change once these monstrous skyscrapers get put into place.”

- Gillian Reagan