Best Medicine with Eric Brown: Comedians propose strategies for higher voter turnout

NOT ANOTHER STICKER: Early voting is underway in Buncombe County for the 2024 primary. And while it's great to receive an "I voted" sticker, some local comedians say better incentives are needed. Pictured, clockwise from the top left, Eric Brown, Timothy Hearn, Petey Smith-McDowell and Stevie Ramirez. Photo of Brown by Cindy Kunst; all other photos courtesy of the comedians 

February, also known as Nobody’s Favorite Month, can be a rough time of year. The weather is usually nasty, studios dump their worst movies into theaters, and Valentine’s Day inevitably rears its ugly head (an especially unforgiving day for the single people among us).

Fortunately, the month is drawing to a close. OR IS IT? It’s one of life’s bitter ironies that presidential elections always fall on a leap year, which means we’ve got an extra day this month.

To combat this bad news, I’ve assembled three of the funniest people I know — local comedians Petey Smith-McDowell, Stevie Ramirez and Timothy Hearn — to bring a little humor to the end of another dreary February. This column won’t make the extra day go away, but hopefully it will make you laugh.

Eric: According to Facebook, Instagram and every dating app out there, the most popular and important social thing to do in Asheville is to go hiking. Spring is right around the corner, and soon all the trails will be chock-full of hikers. Unfortunately, I do not enjoy hiking. As fellow locals who may or may not feel the same way (for I do not know your lives or hiking preferences), what would you suggest I and others like me do to make hiking more enjoyable? 

Petey Smith-McDowell: The fact is Asheville is a town in the valley of mountains and half of the city is on an incline. Technically, you are hiking anytime you walk outside. So hike a lap or two around downtown. There will definitely be a brewery at the top or bottom of any hill. And the people-watching will never let you down. Is that a street performer or a drunk tourist? Either way, they’re entertaining.

Stevie Ramirez: Don’t be afraid to go full-on goblin mode in public (and especially on hiking trails). Wear your sunglasses and a baggy groutfit. Keep your headphones on. Become imperceivable. Nobody will know what the hell your vibe is, and they certainly won’t ask. Also, I’ve heard trekking poles are sick and can make hiking feel easier. So there are your two options: goblin mode and/or trekking poles.

Timothy Hearn: I would suggest what Nike has suggested all along: Just do it! You may not initially like it, but once you get to the top and see that sweet, sweet Blue Ridge skyline, you’ll feel the presence and gratitude that comes from a good day of hiking. Plus, in like five years, we’ll all have VR treadmills, so you won’t have to worry about any of this stupid “nature” stuff anymore. With that in mind, you could also just binge-watch the show “Yellowstone.”

Eric: So I have a confession. A considerable portion of my comedy career has been full of jokes about how dumb I think hiking is. You know — “As a civilization we have evolved to the point where we wouldn’t have to walk around the woods all damn day” and “It’s amazing there’s any room for the animals out there with all the people in North Face gear tromping around out there.”  I don’t like to brag, but I was pretty good at hating hiking.

However, I recently went on a hike, and it was OK. (I know, I was shocked too.) I won’t say I liked it, but as far as exercise goes you could do a lot worse. The problem I face now is how do I continue to be a cranky contrarian in town when I think hiking is OK? I guess that’s between me, my family and my pastor. I ask that you all please respect my privacy while I spend this time figuring out who I am in a world where I think hiking is fine.

Eric: When I think about spring, my mind goes to flowers in bloom, birds singing and tourists taking ill-advised tubing trips down the French Broad River. In broader terms, spring is about growth and change. Which has me wondering: What growth and change would you like to see in Asheville this year?

Petey: I’d like to see a bigger civic center. Hollow out one of these malls and build up. The fact that Asheville’s population is bigger than Greenville, S.C., yet Greenville has a bigger arena is disrespectful to North Carolinians and big eventgoers. They get monster trucks and professional wrestling in Greenville; we get classic “Antiques Roadshow” (no disrespect). We in Asheville deserve a wrestler jumping off a monster truck into one of those antique tables.

Stevie: I’d like to see local grassroots organizations like BeLoved, Asheville Community Care Collective (AC3), Southside Community Farm and many others receive more financial and community bolstering. These organizations are run by community members who are closely connected to the problems in our communities that most of us have the privilege to ignore. At the very least, we should all be following them on social media and helping amplify their missions. … With that said, a comedy club would also be nice. How do we not have a comedy club yet?

Timothy: I’d honestly like to see higher ticket prices for the Biltmore Estate and lower living wages for restaurant folks and teachers. They have ENOUGH, if you ask me. Furthermore, I think it would behoove us to raise the price of rent while decreasing the average income for employees. Lastly, I think we should have someone start walking around downtown listening to a boombox and dancing. In college, we had a boombox guy, and he really lightened the mood and helped set the vibes.

Eric: I realize now that this is a hard question to answer while also being funny, which is my fault in that I write the questions. So as far as real answers go, I am deeply concerned with how we treat the unhoused in this town, and I’m personally impacted by the unstable job market and impossibly high rents around town. So as you can see, not exactly a laugh riot.

My more fun answer, which is something I truly believe we should do in this town, is to have some sort of bullet train situation to Trader Joe’s. It is a universal truth that there is no parking at any Trader Joe’s in the world, and when you’re broke like me, the promise of affordable and decent food is usually enough to make me brave that hellish parking lot, and worse still, Merrimon Avenue. There has to be a better way. Imagine the community we’d all build riding that bullet train to great values. Think of the jobs the bullet train would create in town. Now I know what you’re thinking: Why don’t you just park at Harris Teeter?  Where’s the fun in that, I ask? I say this town deserves and needs a hyperspecific bullet train to Trader Joe’s — not tomorrow but today. And since I’m the one who thought of it, I think it’s only fair that one of the train stops should be at my house. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

Speaking of change, 2024 is an election year. Early voting for the Tuesday, March 5 primary is underway. I know it’s short notice, but using your powers and influences as comedians, how would you encourage people to get out and vote, a la Rock the Vote?  

Petey: We need to make voting as cool as the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras. In the past, voting day was like a big party. I think we need to bring that back. Half-off on alcohol with proof of vote. Maybe mix in a little Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales with proof of vote. Or vote and get Apple Music free for a year. We need something more than just a sticker.

Stevie: If you benefit in any way from this local community and you are someone who is qualified to vote, you should vote. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with rewarding yourself with a little local pastry and cup of Joe afterward. Or find your own motivation to leave the house and vote (if for some reason the current state of the world and Asheville isn’t already motivating enough). You can do it, I believe in you.

Timothy: See? This is why we need a boombox guy bringing the vibes to downtown Asheville! The job would be easy. Basically, you hold a boombox directly against your ear and blast music for everyone to hear while you slowly walk/dance your way to the polls and bring the voters … and the vibes … with you. The vibes are important. The boombox vibes would change with the seasons, as they should. Plus, we would finally have an equal counterpart to our beloved Guitar Hero Guy. Just think about it.

Eric: Voting is a necessary and vital tool of democracy, especially at the local level. Unfortunately, voter turnout is never as high as I’d like. I have a solution. So this may be a little unorthodox, but hear me out. I propose that rather than Rock the Vote, we Brock the Vote. How it works is if I find out you didn’t vote, this guy Brock that I know will show up at your house and in excruciating detail give you the play-by-play of every single Asheville Smoke hockey game he went to — and, let me tell you, he went to most of them. You might not remember or even know that Asheville had a hockey team, but believe me when I tell you Brock does, and he will not leave your house until you know it too. It will take hours, I promise you. He is very thorough, and he doesn’t have anything else going on (not back when the Smoke played and certainly not now). Even as a hockey fan, I can’t deal with Brock for more than 30 minutes. Is that a risk you’re willing to take? Trust me, your answer should be no. I promise you’re not ready for Brock. So Brock the Vote. It’ll be way better for you.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

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About Eric Brown
Eric Brown is a comedian, writer, and most importantly, very cool.

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