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New Web series laughs at Detroit's "tragic comedy"

Paul Hitzelberger
United Photo Works

It just may be the first honest campaign ad.

A tall, broad-shouldered man in a gray suit speaks directly to camera as he strides through Detroit.

Charlie Brooks is running for mayor.

And he wants to be clear: even with an emergency manager in charge, Brooks still believes the mayor's office plays a crucial role.

“I’ll take long vacations, so I can be well-rested. And each day at 4 p.m., I’ll bring tea to our [emergency manager]. Tea time!”

OK, so the ad's not real. Unfortunately.

Brooks is a fictional character, played by an actor.  

It's part of a new, satirical web series called "Detroit Blank City."


Think a localized Onion News Network that takes on earnest, enthusiastic Detroit transplants, pop-up mania, and of course, the city’s political opera.

And that’s just the first episode.

Oren Goldenberg is the show's creator.

"We are laughing at ourselves, and the city, and the tragic comedy that is happening every day, in the newspaper and all around us,” says Goldenberg.

He’s also the filmmaker behind “Our School” (and if you haven’t seen “Our School,” stop reading this RIGHT NOW and watch it) and “Brewster Douglass, You’re My Brother.”

They’re the kind of serious documentaries that get written up as “raw,” “harrowing,” and “unblinking.”

So this web series is a bit of a … shift.

“I mean, laughter is this great catharsis,” says Goldenberg.

“And where before, I was doing a lot of documentary.

"But it seems like we have a much bigger need for actually dealing. Really having catharsis, with the transitions that are happening here.  

"Not necessarily opposing or protesting, or actually knowing where to put your energies, exactly.

"You get to the point where we need to ease the transition, in a spiritual way, actually.”

You can hear the full interview with Goldenberg, as well as actor Ari Urban, at the top of the page.

But here are a few excerpts.

Goldenberg on finding the balance between satire and people-bashing:

“That’s my fear. As a member of the community, yeah, I’m a little nervous. ‘Cause we even put ourselves up. There’s self-mockery. So for me, you just have to put everyone on the table. You can’t just serve up the hipsters. You got to go after everyone equally.”

On sending up the “Save Detroit” mantra:

“Just the concept, right, of saving Detroit? That’s an amazing concept. Who are you saving? What are you saving them from, exactly? And who are you?! And so all these ideas that just get wrapped into earnestness and just washed over because people truly do want to do what they deem as positive change. It’s not defined. And I haven’t met anyone yet who could define what Detroit needs, and how you’re going to do it.”

And last but not least, the satirical Kickstarter ad that started the whole thing. 


Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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