When Karl Xie recently came up with a new bit about the Boston mayoral race for his comedic routine, he never imagined he’d deliver the joke face-to-face with one of the candidates.
Xie, a data analyst from Allston who moonlights as a comedian, was on stage Saturday at a fundraiser hosted by the Latino Law Enforcement Group of Boston when he told the crowd that he was excited that City Councilor Michelle Wu was running for office in November.
But unbeknownst to Xie, Wu’s opponent, City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, was sitting in the crowd, enjoying an evening that featured several other standup comedians to raise money for the group’s annual scholarship fund.
“I didn’t know Annissa was going to be there, going into this routine about Michelle Wu,” said Xie, 27. “I had no idea.”
The surprise moment led to Essaibi George jokingly asking for her money back and then walking to the stage and introducing herself to Xie. The lighthearted exchange was captured on video by one of Xie’s friends. Xie posted it to his social media accounts on Monday.
In the clip, Xie is on stage as he transitions into his new material, which, he later told the Globe, was actually about not knowing anything about politics in the first place.
“Michelle Wu is running for the mayor of Boston. Good news — for us,” says Xie, who moved to the US from China in 2012. Wu is Asian American.
Xie then looked to the subdued crowd and says, “None of you are on board. I was looking at the white people over there; where is the white guilt? I was like ‘Nobody.’ Nobody reacted.”
It’s at that point that someone in the crowd points out that Wu’s political opponent is present, saying “Annissa’s running for mayor!”
Xie, adjusting quickly to the situation, addressed Essaibi George directly.
“You’re running for mayor? Sorry, I’m not voting for you this time,” he says, drawing raucous laughter from the crowd.
As the audience — and Xie — continues to laugh at the unexpected encounter, the camera pans over to Essaibi George. The mayoral candidate can be seen cupping her hands over her mouth and playfully shouting, “Refund! Refund!”
But the hits kept coming. Xie, trying to move forward and get to the punchline, said “Michelle Wu is like Obama for us” — but is drowned out by people bursting into laughter.
From the crowd, someone yells, “I want to hear this!” and so Xie continues.
“When I saw her, I said ‘That’s who I’m voting for, I’m not voting for anyone else.’ Here’s the thing — Michelle, she looks reliable, right,” he says.
Essaibi George then gets up from her seat and walks to the stage, where she stands next to Xie, her arms crossed in mock anger. She then extends one hand and makes a gesture that seems to say “keep them coming,” or perhaps to ask for the microphone to offer a rejoinder.
Xie introduces himself and the two shake hands before Xie says, “Nice to meet you Annissa, I will see you whenever they vote for the next mayor, alright?”
Essaibi George stays by the stage for another few moments before she walks away. Xie quips that he knows “nothing about politics,” to which Essaibi George fans in the crowd reply “Obviously!”
In an interview Tuesday, Xie said he had to rely on improvisation to keep people laughing after he was alerted to Essaibi George’s presence.
“You can feel this — not like real tension, but they were excited to see where this [exchange was] going,” Xie said. “I was living in the moment, so I was having a lot of fun. You can see I was laughing the whole time. To me and everyone in the room, it was just a fun thing.”
Even when Essaibi George joined him near the stage, Xie said he had no plans to relinquish the microphone.
“As comedians, if you let the audience do whatever they want, you’re just inviting chaos,” he said. “But I love that she didn’t try to grab the microphone or anything like that. That was cool.”
Xie said he was impressed with how Essaibi George handled being put on the spot.
“She was cool and relaxed, and did it in a classy way,” he said. “She was laidback and able to take a joke and that was super cool. She had fun with it, and that made it a fun show.”
In a statement, Essaibi George said she’s wasn’t expecting to become “such a direct part of the show that night, but Karl gave me and others in attendance a good laugh — and for a good cause!”
“I’ve learned that when you’re in the middle of a campaign like this one, you have to maintain a sense of humor,” she said.
Xie, who is here on a work visa and can’t vote in the election, said he left the show right after his set and didn’t have a chance to speak with Essaibi George. But he did receive an e-mail from Wu, who saw the video clip he posted online and thanked him for the support.
“That was cool,” he said.
On Tuesday, Wu said while she didn’t get to hear the full punch line of his joke in the video, she’s “hoping to bring Karl some good news and new material after Nov. 2.”
Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.