There isn’t much that’s amusing about politics these days. Senate Republicans in Washington are promoting a bill that will throw millions of Americans off health care. A shutdown of state government just ended in Maine. Every day brings a new candidate for governor, most of whom will scatter if Susan Collins announces that she’s running.

If it weren’t for the brilliant work of Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and “Saturday Night Live,” this would be a tough time to keep your sense of humor.

Fortunately, over the last few weeks, we all got some much-needed comic relief in the form of a victory lap from the governor and the state’s House Republicans, after they shut down government and then reopened it by defeating their own idea.

This is comedy on par with Monty Python’s merry band traveling across the back lawn on imaginary horses, producing the sounds of hooves with clapping shells. Or the escape scenes from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

How all this happened, and how it ended with the wild dancing by LePage and company, is worth retelling. As Larry the Cable Guy likes to say, “I don’t care who you are, that’s funny!”

The casting: Aside from hundreds of extras playing legislators, demonstrators and the worried public, this comedy troupe has four main characters, all of whom apparently have long careers in improvisational comedy and stand-up.

The first is Gov. Paul LePage, who works under the stage name of Vinny Veto. His main sidekick is Minority Leader Kenny Fredette, who leads the crazy uncle chorus in the state House of Representatives. Senate President Mike Thibodeau plays the straight guy, regularly reminding Veto and Kenny that they aren’t actually riding horses. Finally, there’s the earnest and determined Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, who somehow fell through a hole into this bizarre world.

Prologue: Governors, like presidents, have two kinds of power. One is the power to move their agenda forward. The other is the power to stop others from getting anything done. When they can’t do the first, they are left with the second. And so it is with Veto. In his first two years in office, he accomplished some things. Since then, almost none of his ideas have been supported by the Legislature. Angry and frustrated, he’s looking for a signature moment of triumph. At whatever cost.

Act 1: LePage and company demand that a recently enacted tax hike on the rich, which was supposed to increase funding for schools, be eliminated. Democrats say, “OK, but give us a lot of money for education.” After the obligatory mud wrestling and taunting, leaders in the Legislature agree to increase school funding by $162 million dollars over the next two years. A small portion of the increased costs would be paid by adding a penny and a half to the lodging tax.

The first scene closes with a round of glass-clinking celebrations in the Legislature.

Act 2: Enter Vinny Veto to the sounds of furious winds, flashing lightning and deep organ chords, his imaginary sword flashing. “I will shut down government unless the poor downtrodden tourists are saved from this great burden. I have spoken!” All the uncles repeat the chorus three times: “Gonna shut down government to save the tourists a penny!”

Democrats are in shock. “But Mr. Veto, sir,” says Speaker Gideon, politely, “raising the tax on lodging was your idea. Don’t you remember, it was in your budget?”

“Nonsense,” replies Veto. “Fake news!”

And so it comes to pass that the state government is shut down. State employees get an extended July 4th holiday with their families and still got paid, so it isn’t all bad for them. Taxpayers, as usual, pick up the tab.

Just after the holiday ends, to nobody’s surprise, a new deal is struck and government reopens. Democrats keep the $162 million in new school funding that they wanted. Veto and the uncles get rid of the lodging tax, which they first proposed and then opposed. Republicans declare a great victory. Democrats smile quietly.

Act 3: Veto and the uncles go wild. In the aftermath of the shutdown, it is as though Monty Python’s Flying Circus has won its first make-believe battle.

“We kicked butt,” giddy Republicans proclaim, to high fives. The crazy uncles even work up a catchy acappella version of the seven dwarfs’ “Heigh Ho” from “Snow White.”

Epilogue: As the stage clears, the audience sits in stunned silence at the absurdity of it all, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

Alan Caron is the owner of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” and “Reinventing Maine Government.” He can be contacted at:

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