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Local Filmmaker Captures Politicians Actually Being Funny


John DeBello (third one from the left) at a Top Gun themed shoot

A few years ago, former San Diego police chief Bill Lansdowne did what many folks have only dreamed of doing: He shot a Taser at Carl DeMaio’s groin.

Well sort of.

The gag was part of a video—and the Taser courtesy of special effects—for the San Diego County Taxpayers Association’s annual Golden Watchdog and Fleece Awards, which celebrates its 20th year on May 21. It was a memorable moment for the fundraiser that honors taxpayer watchdogs and shames spendthrifts. Aside from the scene being funny on its face, there were some deeper elements at work: Here were two guys, political foes—DeMaio, gearing up for a run for mayor, wanted to ax police pensions—willing to play along for a laugh.

Credit John DeBello for so perfectly capturing that scene. DeBello, though, tips his hat to the skit’s star.

“I give credit to Carl because he went for it,” he laughs.

Since 2005, DeBello’s directed the video skits—starring mayors, city council members, police chiefs, lobbyists, county supervisors—that have become the centerpiece of the event. If you’re a fan of B movies, you might know DeBello’s name. He directed the 1978 cult classic Attack of the Killer Tomatoesas well as its three sequels—and went on to found the production company Loma Media. 

Each year’s videos are built around a theme; past themes include Survivor, The Hangover, Star Wars, Wizard of Oz. This year’s theme, “Totally ’90s,” riffed on Baywatch for a save-the-date video.

Making the videos means DeBello often has to corral folks on opposite ends of the political spectrum, asking them not only to perform for the camera, but also have a sense of humor about it

“All of them have been friendly and positive and very funny,” he says. “It’s always made me feel better about the whole political process.”

The Singing Fleece

For people who don’t follow local politics, some of the videos might be a little wonky and the punchlines not as punchy. At the end of the Baywatch spoof, for instance, the team of lifeguards, led by Mayor Kevin Faulconer, shrugs off a rescue of attorney Cory Briggs, whose lawsuits have delayed or derailed a number of city projects. “I’ll let you have the Convention Center,” Briggs yells, a reference to one of those lawsuits..

“It’s a constant battle between Is it too inside? How sensible is it?,” DeBello says, “But most of the time, we try to catch a theme the public is aware of and play off of it. You have to be conscious of the fact that people who do go to the event, most get the gags.”

What’s DeBello’s favorite skit? In 2008, after Mayor Jerry Sanders was caught, as Voice of San Diego put it, “issuing a command to an opponent that included a piquant four-letter word,” DeBello and his team made good use of it. The dinner’s opening video featured a welcome from Sanders with some well-placed bleeps. 

“It received a standing ovation,” DeBello recalls. “It was absolute hilarity. Everyone understood the pressure of politics and it resonated.”

His favorite actor(s)? County Supervisor Greg and his wife Cheryl Cox, who was mayor of Chula Vista from 2006 to 2014. The two always appear in skits together, including 2013’s “House of Cox,” in which the supervisor hatches a scheme to build a new Chargers stadium in Chula Vista.

“They could have a network sitcom and it would be first-rate,” DeBello says.

And what about the Singing Fleece? Up until 2011, County CEO Walt Ekard, whose voice rivals any Broadway Jean Valjean, hosted (and sung) the awards dinner dressed as a sheep.

“Bring back the Singing Fleece,” DeBello says. “Bring back the Fleece.”

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