Where are all the right-wing stand-ups?
April 17, 2013 6:59 AM   Subscribe

Stewart Lee asks "Where are all the right-wing stand-ups?" after BBC Radio 4's commisioning editor Caroline Raphael recently admitted they struggle to "find comedians from the right" on shows such as The News Quiz.
posted by dng (166 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
This can be answered by watching a single episode of the failure that was "Half Hour News Hour". They aren't funny and on the rare occasion when they are it's because we're laughing at them not with them.
posted by Talez at 7:06 AM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Not sure why this is still a question that confuses people (see also: "why was Fox's 1/2 Hour News Hour so bad?")

Because the conservative position tends to be in defense of power. And the better part of humor is to reveal different ways of looking at things, not reinforcing the same ones.
posted by spinn at 7:07 AM on April 17, 2013 [97 favorites]


Simon Evans
posted by 445supermag at 7:08 AM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


It might be less that they don't exist and more that they don't fit the type of show that The News Quiz is - can you imagine Chubby Brown, Jethro or Jim Davidson (the man who was investigated by a 'female taxman') on a current affairs panel show?

The leftiest comics I can think of come from a strong politics-with-a-big-P background - Mark Steel (Trot activist) Jeremy Hardy (came out of the 80s university circuit), Alexei Sayle (working-class and honest-to-goodness Communist). The right-wing people who make a living from being funny, as Lee says, are doing so through journalism, rather than a mic and a living audience.
posted by mippy at 7:10 AM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Now there's a straight line that goes all the way back to Mark Twain, or at least Will Rogers.

The answer of course is that they're all in positions of power within the government.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:12 AM on April 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


I remember Miles Jupp taking on a kind of posh toff persona when he started out, making jokes about the working class - though that may have been an effort to distance himself from Balamory.
posted by mippy at 7:12 AM on April 17, 2013


Who needs comedians when you can just stare at your pile of money and laugh and laugh and laugh.
posted by gwint at 7:16 AM on April 17, 2013 [19 favorites]


Essex Man•2 hours ago

The reason that there are no right wing stand ups is THE BBC WON'T ALLOW EM ONTO THE AIR ANY MORE. It would be virtually impossible for any unPC comedian to make a living any more because of the peecee censorship which has become such a massive factor of UK life over the last decade or three. The likes of Frank Carson, Bernard Manning, Jim Davidson, Benny Hill etc could simply not survive in the current climate of witch hunting anyone who says anything vaguely un PC: there are lots of non leftist comedians: tyhey just let em on the TV.


Well, three of them are dead; they haven't, in a sense, survived the current climate.
posted by mippy at 7:17 AM on April 17, 2013 [14 favorites]


Simon Evans
posted by 445supermag at 3:08 PM on April 17


Have to hand it to him... that was pretty good.
posted by Decani at 7:25 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Come to think of it, see also: "how come black people can say X, but white people can't?"

The answer's similar. Because when you're in the dominant position and make a joke about the group with less power, it starts to feel more like bullying than humor.
posted by spinn at 7:27 AM on April 17, 2013 [24 favorites]


The thing is, comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are not "left-wing comedians," rather they are comedians who just happen to be left wing. Their primary goal is to tell jokes and make the audience laugh. That's why they often poke fun at Democrats and liberals, as well as Republicans and conservatives; if there is an opportunity for comedy, Stewart and Colbert will take it.

The few right-wing comedians that I've seen, such as those from the short-lived Half-Hour News Hour show are, by contrast, not comedians who happen to be right-wing, but "right-wing comedians." As a result, their primary goal is not to tell jokes, but to insult Democrats and liberals, and to attempt to do this in a funny way. So they do indeed accomplish their primary goal, but completely fail at being funny.
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 7:28 AM on April 17, 2013 [54 favorites]


Ultimately, the left will lose. Big business will pollute the planet, capitalist culture will kill off the arts and humanities, schools will all be privatised, libraries will all close, social mobility will cease, the gulf between rich and poor will grow and everything beautiful will die. The left may note little human rights victories – gay marriage and the odd bit of better pay – but the machine is rolling inexorably forwards to crush it.

ouch.
posted by Mchelly at 7:30 AM on April 17, 2013 [12 favorites]


Conservative jokes often take a predictable form. The most common:

You know that stereotype/generalization about women/ethnic minority/underrepresented group? Well, it's ... kinda true!

What's predictable isn't funny.

Conservatism has also become less ideological and more tribal - conservatives are defined by the out-group they vilify more than any particular positions, many of which Labor or Democrats have already adopted. So identifiably conservative humor is often just attacking prominent liberal personalities, which is more suited for a talk radio than a stand-up audience.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 7:32 AM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Remember what happened to Dennis Miller after 9/11?
posted by smcameron at 7:33 AM on April 17, 2013 [16 favorites]


Another voice of love for Simon Evans here - first saw him as a student at a student night some ten years back (sob), and as might be expected he laid into the liberal-left crown for all he was worth, to great success. He pulls off the trick of being right-wing without really punching downwards quite deftly; I think the audience is half laughing at their own dippy foibles and half at his slightly ridiculous prejudices, or those of the character he plays.
posted by ominous_paws at 7:35 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Andrew Dice Clay
posted by stbalbach at 7:35 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Where are all the right-wing stand-ups?

Congress, state governments, the right-wing media; you know, the usual places.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:36 AM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think the reason why there are no right-wing comedians is because the standard these people set in order to be "right-wing" is largely inconsistent with comedy. They want their comedians only make fun of things/causes/people that are neutral to or enemies of the right while leaving all things right-wing free of ridicule and that is simply not something that any self-respecting comedian will do, even if they do vote Republican. Self-described comedians that do fill this role are typically trolls and not comedians and therefore are usually not very funny.
posted by Pseudology at 7:38 AM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Usa-ian right-wing folks tend to punch down (or at least sideways), and punching up is what is funny.
posted by mfu at 7:44 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd say Pub Landlord, but of course he's a caricature.

Anyone who knows Al Murray's work outside of that character would know that he doesn't seem to be anything like Pub in real life, and if he's right wing it's with a very small 'r.'
posted by GallonOfAlan at 7:45 AM on April 17, 2013


Because they all draw op-ed cartoons for your local paper. Once you get hooked on the non-stop sex and drugs lifestyle of the modern editorial cartoonist, it's hard to do anything else. I mean, "Global Warming! In Winter!" jokes don't just write themselves.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:46 AM on April 17, 2013 [33 favorites]


I once wrote for an online comedy site that was nearly all leftists and liberals. As a conservative, the dynamic that affected me most and eventually ended my tenure there was my objections to the otherwise unexamined notion that any jabbing at conservatives, however weak, is funny because LOLRepublicansAmIRite, whereas even very similar material aimed at liberals generated a great deal of huffing and puffing. It's hard having entire joke formats closed off to one. The best-received conservative writers on that site dealt mostly in profane or goofy cultural observations and relationship humor, surrounded by acres and acres of "George W. Bush so stupid" japes.

I did manage to pull of a "fully armored Hillary Rodham Clinton" gag though.

Mark Steyn is one of the wittiest people of any stripe writing. His outrage shines through even when he conjures up imagery worthy of Monty Python. I wouldn't say he's a humor writer per se, rather that he's not afraid to be funny even when heaping contumely on his political opponents.
posted by Infinity_8 at 7:46 AM on April 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


Simon Evans should probably be considered left wing, with a right wing comic persona. Follow his twitter feed, and he's definitely not right wing.

I would say that it is difficult to find right wing comedians, as comedy requires a level of empathy. In my opinion, right-wingers tend to lack this emotion.
posted by the_epicurean at 7:47 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Adam Carolla, Jim Norton, Colin Quinn and Nick DiPaolo are four comedians that are unabashedly right wing.
posted by any major dude at 7:47 AM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


I recall an editor of The Onion saying years ago something along the lines of, "We're not anti-Republican, we're anti-Stupid."

It's usually the people in power who are the most visible. As such, their foibles are also the most visible. Since those in power tend to be (or become) conservative (a function of wanting to prevent change to the circumstances that gave them their opportunities), it's natural that humor that derives from opposition or mockery of them is naturally going to sound like it comes from the left.
posted by ardgedee at 7:50 AM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Larry the Cable Guy and Michael J Nelson (MST3K) are two more social or politically conservative comedians.
posted by ardgedee at 7:52 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


"It would be virtually impossible for any unPC comedian to make a living any more because of the peecee censorship which has become such a massive factor of UK life over the last decade or three."
Does "PC" mean something different in the UK than in the US? Granted this is a sitcom not stand-up, but the first episode of BBC3's Mongrels had the line, "Most people have to fly a plane into a building before they're surrounded by this many virgins."

Oh, here's a stand-up one. Jimmy Carr - "Pedophilia's wrong. (pause) It's paedophilia.".

I think this guy is just using PC/unPC to mean "things I like/don't like."
posted by CrayDrygu at 7:56 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Larry the Cable Guy? I'm not that familiar with his jokes but as far as I know he is staunchly apolitical, as are all the Blue Collar guys. Am I wrong?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:57 AM on April 17, 2013


Mark Steyn is one of the wittiest people of any stripe writing.

Yeah, sorry, but that invalidates any opinion on humour you might have.

In the context of Radio 4, that whole handwringing about marxist comedians is annoying precisily because Radio 4 as a whole is far from leftwing and rather more inclined to be in line with establishment politics in its news reporting and opinion programmes. It's focused on the Westminster bubble, stays within the confines of acceptable debate (as in, more inclined to have people on complaining about how people are celebrating Thatcher's death than having the actual celebrants on) and tends to have a fairly narrow range of guest on opinion programmes like the Moral Maze or Any Questions, more right of centre than extreme leftwing (who still thinks Kelvin MacKenzie has anything new to say, farfan.)

But no, the Now Show has Jeremy Hardy and Mark Steel (really the only two real leftwing comedians), so the BBC is communist.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:58 AM on April 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


surrounded by acres and acres of "George W. Bush so stupid" japes.

To be fair, though, GWB was acres and acres of stupid.
posted by Legomancer at 7:58 AM on April 17, 2013 [11 favorites]


It's been a while since I've heard any of Larry's material, but it struck me as very socially conservative -- not overtly political, but definitely coming from a blue-collar conservative mindset.

Just thought of P.J. O'Rourke as somebody else to add to the list. Like the others, I'm not a fan, but they all have their moments where the material works without regard to how much I agree to the premises underlying it.
posted by ardgedee at 8:00 AM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Jeff Dunham


...also, Larry the Cable Guy? I'm not that familiar with his jokes but as far as I know he is staunchly apolitical, as are all the Blue Collar guys. Am I wrong?

Yes. The blue collar guys become cheerleaders whenever the powers-that-be decide we need to invade someplace.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:00 AM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


As noted above, there is a difference between "comedian who holds conservative beliefs" and "conservative comedian". The former may have his comedy guided by his ideology to some degree, but rule #1 is to be funny. Because the comedy often just reinforces the status quo it can be hard to identify as "conservative". On the other hand, a "conservative comedian" is actively trying to balance the scales because people aren't poking enough fun at the Democrats. They're political before they're funny and therefore they fail.
posted by charred husk at 8:01 AM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think this guy is just using PC/unPC to mean "things I like/don't like."

Oh go on then, any excuse to link Stewart Lee on Political Correctness.
posted by ominous_paws at 8:01 AM on April 17, 2013 [33 favorites]


It doesn't really help to talk about American standups in the context of Radio 4.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:02 AM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Gallagher.
posted by Rat Spatula at 8:03 AM on April 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


See also: Dennis Miller, Gallagher, PJ O'Rourke.
posted by humanfont at 8:05 AM on April 17, 2013


There are two kinds of people worth making fun of: the powerful and the stupid. When the powerful are also stupid then its a double-whammy. Its not a right-wing or left-wing issue. There was great anti-Communist humor in Communist countries.

The problem is that the right-wing has associated itself with power and with mockery of the weak. The points out: "Who could be on a stage, crowing about their victory and ridiculing those less fortunate than them without any sense of irony, shame or self-knowledge? That’s not a stand-up comedian. That’s just a cunt."
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 8:06 AM on April 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


I believe Michael Graham, radio host around the Boston area, used to be a stand-up.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:09 AM on April 17, 2013


Did Kelsey Grammer not have a right-wing comedy show/channel or something similar?
posted by ominous_paws at 8:11 AM on April 17, 2013


You don't see the humour in the most recent UK budget?
posted by srboisvert at 8:12 AM on April 17, 2013


Many of the examples presented above are about the comedians themselves, but I feel like the implicit question is more about the comedians' acts. Like sure, there are a number of comedians with personal right-wing views, but I don't think they're hiding or difficult to find. I'm a big MST3K fan, but only found out about Nelson's (unfortunate) views recently. But, I mean, there he is.
posted by spinn at 8:14 AM on April 17, 2013


John Stuart Mill once wrote: Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives. Conservatives think in terms of black and white, good and bad. Good comedy thrives on questioning established beliefs and the status quo. To the conservative nuance, sarcasm and shades of gray gives rise to uncertainty and uncertainty quickly devolves into fear and fear equals weakness. Therefore conservatives want their entertainment to shroud their fears and liberals want their entertainment to explain them.
posted by any major dude at 8:18 AM on April 17, 2013 [15 favorites]


A lot of good comedy relies on insight. Examining a topic, breaking down the implicit assumptions in a topic and recontextualizing the result. (Plus there's the talent for language. Timing, wordplay, all that good stuff. Not easy work.) Surprising people. Making art.

I wouldn't say this is universal, but that people who do that kind of examination, and spend time making that sort of art, tend to drift leftward over time. A good comic can make you think about something from an angle you'd never considered before. (Even if it's just Victor Borge doing phonetic punctuation or working "happy birthday" into a classical piece)

Which isn't to say that being "left" makes you insightful, but that exercise of critical thinking skills can help push people "left".

But you still got your Larry the Cable Guy, Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall -type comedians out there, who seem to be going for the right/conservative audience. Their comedy tends to fall flat to me, but they get laughs, so that counts. Jeff Dunham seems pretty right-wing. But not a lot of their comedy is surprising or new. Foxworthy's been coasting on telling the same formula joke fifty times a night for years and years.

Adam Carolla, Jim Norton, Colin Quinn and Nick DiPaolo are four comedians that are unabashedly right wing.

On the other hand, I don't even know what to say about that. "Comedians".
posted by mrgoat at 8:18 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mark Steyn is one of the wittiest people of any stripe writing.

And yet I can't recall him ever writing anything that I actually found funny. To be fair, I tuned him out as I do with most people who focus too much on LOLMuslimsAmIRite.

Of course, if you have a great example of his humor, please share.
posted by Pseudology at 8:24 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


There was great anti-Communist humor in Communist countries.

There, to most intents and purposes, left and right were the other way around. Those standing against privilege and authority were nominally right-wing, and the despots left-wing.

The dissidents and gadflies happened to be backed by authoritarian right-wing entities such as the Catholic Church and the Reagan administration, but then again, the USSR reportedly channelled funds into pacifist and protest groups in the west, in the interest of stirring shit up, even if said groups weren't considered ideologically reliable.
posted by acb at 8:24 AM on April 17, 2013


"Where are all the right-wing stand-ups?"

Fox News
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:29 AM on April 17, 2013


Yakov Smirnoff
posted by orme at 8:33 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


mrgoat, I assure you that you would be hard pressed to be more liberal or bigger comedy snob than I am, but if you do not consider those four "comedians" comedians then you are operating under the same faulty premise as Mr. Lee.
posted by any major dude at 8:35 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've just never seen anyone laugh at their acts.
posted by mrgoat at 8:41 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suppose it's not really that surprising that the answer to "Where are all the right wing standups" seemingly turns out to be "In America".
posted by dng at 8:41 AM on April 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


As a television comedy writer, I follow a basic philosophy when writing jokes: laughter is a response to that which surprises but does not frighten. (This is also why I believe that people laugh after they're scared in a horror movie; the danger, which seemed real moments earlier, has dissipated.)

But it follows that there are fewer right-wing comedians. Because studies have shown a correlation between brain structures that are associated with fear and conservative ideology.

It's harder to make a conservative joke, because it's likely to scare as it surprises, and generate less laughter. Treading the line between what scares you and what surprises you is what makes great comedy -- and that line is drawn in a different place for the right-wing.
posted by Faithless327 at 8:42 AM on April 17, 2013 [24 favorites]


I've said it before and I'll say it again, Colin Quinn is Gaia's way of saying she hates us all.
posted by cloeburner at 8:42 AM on April 17, 2013


Mark Steyn is one of the wittiest people of any stripe writing. His outrage shines through even when he conjures up imagery worthy of Monty Python. I wouldn't say he's a humor writer per se, rather that he's not afraid to be funny even when heaping contumely on his political opponents.

Eh. He's a solid writer, and he has his moments, but I generally find it hard to get past how much of an asshole he seems to be and see to the humour.

To be fair, I tuned him out as I do with most people who focus too much on LOLMuslimsAmIRite.

I'm glad that he no longer had a regular column in Maclean's by the time he started to really go down this road (though, the sentiment had long been there).
posted by asnider at 8:42 AM on April 17, 2013


It's because when right-wingers tell jokes, they're all along the lines of "There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy."

You can punch at yourself, or you can punch up. And right-wingery, especially what right-wingery has become in the last couple of decades, is premised on unreflective punching down forever.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:44 AM on April 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah the only reason British conservatives are upset about The News Quiz, is because it airs on the network the listen too.

And to be fair, Labour enjoys a healthy skewering on that show too and I have and Scottish nationalism comes in for a really fun ride from time to time. Even jeremy Harding can ape regionalism with the best of the oak panelled brandy crowd.

The point is that all of these folks know they are doing comedy. Right wingers will do chuckles until you cross a line and they they become Tucker Carlson, which is to say, you really hope they don't have a gun on them because otherwise you will die looking at a smug grin and the echo of a chuckle from when times were once more fun.

So conservatives? Don't poison the well and then demand to drink from it.
posted by salishsea at 8:46 AM on April 17, 2013


Also Jeremy Clarkson has his own show, so I dunno what right-wing comedians are whining about.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:47 AM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


PJ O'Rourke is one of the few intentionally funny conservatives. But he didn't do stand-up, and he fell victim to the problem faced by many conservatives which was to start taking himself seriously and writing philosophical texts about Adam Smith.

Conservatives tend to be conservative because they believe themselves to be, on some level, a member of "the rich and powerful." And while it's funny to hear a poor person find the humor in the absurdity of his upbringing, it's really weird and uncomfortable for someone whose persona is caught up in being a "conservative gentleman" make fun of poor people and calling women ugly.
posted by deanc at 8:47 AM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Foxworthy's been coasting on telling the same formula joke fifty times a night for years and years.

I don't watch much comedy and even less Foxworthy/Cable Guy, but from what I recall of "conservative" comedy of the Foxworthy/Larry the Cable Guy-type it employs the old notion of a household or a shared status quo which is threatened by outsiders, but ultimately triumphant over them. At the end of the joke or the routine, there's a reassertion of the status quo. A very old notion, since that kind of household comedy goes back to the Romans. It's not an original observation to note that the real difference between so-called "liberal" and "conservative" tastes in comedy is that one tends to prefer satire and the other comedy, that is a happy ending, a reassurance that all is well and that all will be well.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:49 AM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I saw Ann Coulter perform in Calgary a few years ago (it was free...) and it struck me that her format was closer to stand-up comedy than anything else I'm familiar with. Her timing and the dense integration of jokes within her monologue reminded me of Andrew Dice Clay. Her jokes were of course cruel and stupid, but I went in uncertain about what kind of cultural role she played and left convinced she was a stand-up passing as a pundit. The most common reaction to her comments was laughter, often nervous or spiteful, among an audience mostly made up of rubberneckers like myself and a few actual conservatives. I don't think the latter were there for political enlightenment and I don't think any of them would argue that she delivered it - she was there to riff, and they were there to laugh at her "skewering" her targets.
posted by metaman livingblog at 8:51 AM on April 17, 2013 [15 favorites]


American sitcoms (or at least the few they show in Britain) all seem pretty conservative to me.
posted by dng at 8:51 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Remember what happened to Dennis Miller after 9/11?

Yes, Miller never was that funny, but I remember the exact moment he definitively stopped being funny. I remember the exact joke he was doing on his show. "America has the First Amendment, freedom of speech, so we can say whatever we want. But we also have the Second Amendment, so you better watch what you say, asshole!"
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:53 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't watch much comedy and even less Foxworthy/Cable Guy, but from what I recall of "conservative" comedy of the Foxworthy/Larry the Cable Guy-type it employs the old notion of a household or a shared status quo which is threatened by outsiders, but ultimately triumphant over them.

At least 75% of King of the Hill episodes can be summarized as "Hank meets and triumphs over a liberal."
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:53 AM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's a good point about Jeremy Clarkson actually. His xenophobic anti-environmental policy rants are pretty solid...he believes in them much as the panelists on the News Quiz believes their tenets and he actually makes me laugh, partly at his buffoonery, partly that he does "incredulous outrage" so well and seems to be able to target people with his humour without getting personal or without inducing fear.

Faithless327 puts a really nice rationale out there, and I think Clarkson, FWIW seems to play that line fairly instinctively.
posted by salishsea at 8:53 AM on April 17, 2013


At the end of the joke or the routine, there's a reassertion of the status quo.

Which could help explain why there's fewer conservative comics - there's just not as much ground to explore if you have to end up where you started.
posted by mrgoat at 8:54 AM on April 17, 2013


I thought Bill O'Reilly was the right wing stand u...

OH WAIT YOU MEAN HE'S ACTUALLY NOT JOKING!!!???
posted by TomStampy at 8:56 AM on April 17, 2013


That's not entirely true mrgoat. I mean it all comes down to how much you are WILLING to travel. It can be funny to see someone struggle and struggle to get back home again. The Odyssey is a story entirely based on getting back to where you started. Lots of improv comedy uses this structure. The journey gives the laughs, the ending gives a certain reassuring denoument.

But unfunny comics tend to start one place, step out, turn around and take a step right back to where they began. All you do there is go "huh."

And that don't make for funny much.
posted by salishsea at 8:58 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I saw Ann Coulter perform in Calgary a few years ago (it was free...) and it struck me that her format was closer to stand-up comedy than anything else I'm familiar with.

Yeah, isn't this what Rush Limbaugh does as well? People listen to him because they like to get riled up and hear him make fun of liberals and get away with his delightful unPCness. There's some pretense at espousing ideology, but nobody's showing up for that. Coulter and Limbaugh and a lot more like them earn their living by making their audience snicker at the stupidity of their ideological enemies.
posted by skewed at 9:01 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


No comedians...but plenty of clowns.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:05 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember Miles Jupp taking on a kind of posh toff persona when he started out, making jokes about the working class

They were always jokes at his clueless posho character's expense, though. The fact he's probably best known nowadays for playing a gay foodie and skewering middle class left wing pretentions in the process pretty much rules him out, in any case. (If you haven't heard In And Out of the Kitchen, do track it down - very funny, and the recipes are great.)

Marcus Brigstocke does similar 'right wing' material, in the sense of saying awful things about poor people, but again the joke rests on his exaggerated poshness and the audience's knowledge that he doesn't believe what he's saying.

I think Lee's right that Henning Wehn is the closest we have - he seems to genuinely hold beliefs you might consider right wing, and makes wonderful comedy out of them. But he's already on The News Quiz all the time.

Clarkson on the News Quiz would be interesting, at least - Jeremy Hardy or Mark Steele would relish demolishing him with truth and facts, I imagine. Plus I'd really like to hear him try a crack about lefty lesbians in the presence of Susan Calman, though I doubt he's brave enough for that.

[Clarkson] seems to be able to target people with his humour without getting personal

Stewart Lee does a very good bit challenging that idea, centred around a mean Clarkson quip about Gordon Brown's blindness.
posted by jack_mo at 9:08 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


> clowns

Yup. Lawrence Solomon posted this graph under "Trending"

Right wing comedians laugh _at _you_.
posted by hank at 9:10 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Faithless: because it's likely to scare as it surprises, and generate less laughter.

V.S. Ramachadran: "I suggest that the rhythmic staccato sound of laughter evolved to inform our kin who share our genes; don’t waste your precious resources on this situation; it’s a false alarm. Laughter is nature’s OK signal." Scary stories can be hilarious.
posted by saber_taylor at 9:11 AM on April 17, 2013


Stewart Lee does a very good bit challenging that idea, centred around a mean Clarkson quip

Er, so this is my second comment just linking a Stewart Lee video, but his bit on Clarkson and Top Gear is genuinely magnificent. Just amazing to watch as he rolls it all together.

I'll stop doing this now.
posted by ominous_paws at 9:14 AM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's an issue of willing self-reflection. This is something that's been especially apparent over the last fortnight here, with Thatcher's death. Much of the right have, it seems, been acting as though she walked on water, with the left attacking her legacy. Our current PM has even adopted the phrase 'the woman who saved Britain'. When Blair dies, no way will the left engage with his premiership as uncritically, despite the three election victories and a whole lot of good stuff alongside the very very bad. The right has no desire to examine itself, the left arguably does it far too much. Comedy is all reflection, whether it's politics or airline food. So political comedy tends to be left-wing.

Having said that, there are lots of comics that indulge in the whole 'laughing at chavs' thing. Is that right wing? I have difficulty separating right-wing ideas and just plain unpleasantness sometimes.
posted by liquidindian at 9:14 AM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


"America has the First Amendment, freedom of speech, so we can say whatever we want. But we also have the Second Amendment, so you better watch what you say, asshole!"

OK, here's why conservative humor doesn't work.

Have a Canadian or a Brit tell the same joke: "Those Americans have their First Amendment, freedom of speech, so they can say whatever they want. But they also have the Second Amendment, so you better watch what you say!"

Now it's funny.
posted by straight at 9:16 AM on April 17, 2013 [15 favorites]


Interesting to see about a dozen (often fairly high profile) names quickly jump out as conservative comedians, only to be shot down because their jokes aren't conservative, or they're just not funny.

The former is strange, because I don't really see "left-wing" comedians telling "liberal" jokes. Sure, they attack Bush and the power elite sometimes, but those same (US) comedians attacked Clinton and Carter, too, and the power elite get attacked no matter what their political stripe, as others have noted.

As for the latter, you can't really say Jeff Foxworthy and his ilk aren't funny, because they've built very successful careers making people laugh. Just because you don't laugh with the rest of the audience doesn't mean it's not funny.

There's a lot of "conservative" or "right-wing" humour out there if you know where to look. If you're a lefty, look for a big crowd of people laughing at jokes you don't get. Congrats, you've just found right-wing humour.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:16 AM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


metaman livingblog: [Ann Coulter's] jokes were of course cruel and stupid, but I went in uncertain about what kind of cultural role she played and left convinced she was a stand-up passing as a pundit.

Or, as Andrew Sullivan put it, she's "a drag queen impersonating a fascist".
posted by ibmcginty at 9:16 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


All the punching-up-isn't-funny insistence is stupid. Comedy has been based on making fun of those below for millennia, and that doesn't stop because you get huffy. The fact is that there are lots of conservative comedians, but most of them work print or radio, rather than stand up. The only interesting question is why do print and radio attract righties, and stand-up and sketch attract lefties? I'd say because the former is linked to theater, and theater is still considered slightly lavender.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:27 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


ominous_paws...I actually think that Lee bit makes the case for WHY Clarkson would be an interesting panelist on The News Quiz. Because if indeed, he holds those opinions of his only for money, only for laughs, it means he'd be able to sit with the others and banter, rather than dropping a bombshell and have everyone squirm for 28 minutes. Of course, his ego may be too big for such a things - he's not REALLY an ensemble player - but he strikes me as the most interesting name so far. Non attachment and the ability to brook mockery of self - which I HAVE seen Clarkson take with a bemused smirk - is a useful skill for satirists.
posted by salishsea at 9:27 AM on April 17, 2013


Fascists, in general, aren't very funny.
posted by Chuffy at 9:28 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


From one of the links:

"Last month, Peter Hitchens used his Mail on Sunday column to claim the ‘blatantly biased’ News Quiz’s derision of Conservative politicians was the first step to ‘the torture cellar, the re-education camp and the firing squad’.

He took issue with a ‘purported comedian’ who said Education Secretary Michael Gove had ‘a face that makes even the most pacifist of people reach for the shovel in anticipation of reshaping it’.

The said that a BBC programme ‘publicly discussing smashing a man’s face with a shovel’ was not a joke but ‘a symptom of a raging sickness of the soul that has the modern left in its grip’.

Hitchens added: ‘They are so sure that they are right that they no longer think their opponents are human.’"


One problem with what the right is calling for is that they want to see more right wing comics (who excel at what Hitchens is talking about here) but they don't want the left wing comics to use the same tools (even if, in the end, the analysis is completely wrong). It's a disingenuous call at best.
posted by salishsea at 9:29 AM on April 17, 2013


Representative example of an Ann Coulter "joke".

What's the deal with liberals? I mean, we should kill them, amirite?
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 9:30 AM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ultimately, the left will lose. Big business will pollute the planet, capitalist culture will kill off the arts and humanities, schools will all be privatised, libraries will all close, social mobility will cease, the gulf between rich and poor will grow and everything beautiful will die. The left may note little human rights victories – gay marriage and the odd bit of better pay – but the machine is rolling inexorably forwards to crush it.

I'm no optimist, but the entire arc of human history has been slowing moving in the opposite direction.
posted by spaltavian at 9:30 AM on April 17, 2013


At least 75% of King of the Hill episodes can be summarized as "Hank meets and triumphs over a liberal."

That is not actually true. Hank doesn't "win" even 50% of the time no matter who he's against, if by "win" you mean "win by his standards at the start of the episode".

I think a more accurate statement would be that in most episodes Hank has to deal with something outside his comfort zone, and comes to an accommodation with it. The humor derives from the fact that Hank's comfort zone is even smaller than his urethra.

My family has been watching KotH together on Netflix, and I've been explaining the humor to my daughter. It is thus fresh in my mind.
posted by BeeDo at 9:32 AM on April 17, 2013 [21 favorites]


Its not a surprise to me at all that someone as vile as Andrew Sullivan would resort directly to misogyny when attacking Anne Coulter.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:38 AM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's a reason the Marx Brothers shorts included stuffy rich people as their foils, you know.
posted by emjaybee at 9:40 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


As for the latter, you can't really say Jeff Foxworthy and his ilk aren't funny, because they've built very successful careers making people laugh. Just because you don't laugh with the rest of the audience doesn't mean it's not funny.

Imagine if on The Daily Show that John Stewart acted out Jeff Foxworthy's routine regularly. Funny? Or does Stewart suddenly become not-funny? Because conservatives who attempt comedy basically trying to do that: mock people who are weaker than them. And that fails pretty badly.
posted by deanc at 9:45 AM on April 17, 2013


There are 4 or 5 comments in this very thread that are wittier than anything Mark Steyn or Ann Coulter have said or written in their entire wretched careers.
posted by Eyebeams at 9:53 AM on April 17, 2013


I am not ready to congratulate myself on liberals having all the comics just yet. While many explicitly political comedians are liberal, once you tackle the overwhelming majority of comedians who do not do political material, you find a breathtaking amount of conservativism, and it comes out in their comedy, which can run the gamut from homophobic to misogynistic to anti-immigrant. If anything, many comedians skew toward privilege, which plays out whenever one of them is called out for telling mean-spirited jokes that punch down, and then a chorus of comedians rise up to claim they are being censored by unfunny pearl-clutchers who don't understand that comedy is all about being out there on the edge, man.

Seriously, if you regularly habituate comedy clubs in the Midwest, it can be intensely depressing. I stopped going after a night of nothing but rape jokes and jokes about Mexicans.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:54 AM on April 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


> At least 75% of King of the Hill episodes can be summarized as "Hank meets and triumphs over a liberal."

True, but Hank's conservatism was also the butt of a lot of jokes.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:56 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Isn't Portlandia basically conservative comedy?
posted by ennui.bz at 9:56 AM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


A lot of conservatives are willfully blind to National Socialism sitting a few units to their right on the political spectrum. Disregarding Godwin's Law for the sake of this discussion, the related question would be: where were all the stand-up comedians in the Third Reich?
posted by Rash at 9:57 AM on April 17, 2013


obscure simpsons reference: The thing is, comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are not "left-wing comedians," rather they are comedians who just happen to be left wing....The few right-wing comedians that I've seen, such as those from the short-lived Half-Hour News Hour show are, by contrast, not comedians who happen to be right-wing, but "right-wing comedians."

Exactly this, and I think this true for more than just comedy. To give another example, there is great music that is Christian (e.g. a lot of classical music), but most "Christian music" is dreck. I tend to avoid anything with unnecessary ideological/cultural/demographic labels because it's probably second-rate.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 9:58 AM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think Bill Burr should be considered a conservative comic.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:00 AM on April 17, 2013


Isn't Portlandia basically conservative comedy?

The brilliance of Portlandia is that it is liberals making fun of themselves in a way that conservatives could never make fun of their own selves.
posted by deanc at 10:00 AM on April 17, 2013 [16 favorites]


Good humor has a measure of truth to it, but the truth included in the jokes is funnier when there's dissonance. Right-wing humor lacks dissonance. A racist joke about black people told by Richard Pryor is different from a racist joke about black people told by Ann Coulter (if she's considered a comedienne).
posted by Chuffy at 10:01 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


In an imaginary world where we had exactly one comedian for every political position, I think that we would still think that the vast majority of those comedians are left-wing. False dichotomies will always leave you with people who don't fit your notions, and 'leftist' factionalism (and, I'd argue, the wider range of leftist thought) makes that an easy place to dump all your non-categoricals.

Continuing with the News Quiz/Now Show as an example, I doubt if they've had a single episode in the last year that didn't make fun of Nick Clegg and a Miliband or two (and Cameron, naturally). Is it possible to have a conservative show that makes fun of Cameron every week? Yes, but no one would call it conservative.
posted by forgetful snow at 10:05 AM on April 17, 2013


The brilliance of Portlandia is that it is liberals making fun of themselves in a way that conservatives could never make fun of their own selves.

But what makes it liberal, other than cultural identification with the female lead? I can imagine a left-wing take on hipsters, poseurs, identity politics, and prius driving pet obsessives, but Portlandia isn't it.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:08 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually, now that I think about it... I think it's the Peter Principle at work in the right-wing media. Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Jonah Goldberg, Mark Steyn and John Podheretz are all perfectly adequate comic writers; with practice, they might even become good comic writers. But as soon as they appeared, they were treated as Important Thinkers (which they are decidedly not; Richard Brookheiser, who is a serious conservative thinker, can hardly conceal his teeth-gritting when he has to acknowledge Goldberg's presence on the same blog). On the liberal side, someone like Jon Stewart has to spend a decade doing in-depth interviews and research-heavy jokes before he gets that bump up in rank. Since much conservative ideology is no deeper than jokes of slight dissonance ("The government spent money on snails, people! Snails!"), conservative comedians get immediately promoted to Thinker status, and few things are as deadly to comedy as being taken seriously.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:12 AM on April 17, 2013 [15 favorites]


Mefites need to open their minds more.

The funniest Conservative prop comic is probably Colin Powell; who could forget his legendary set at the UN 10 years ago, especially the bit with the fuzzy photos about "The Iraqi weapons of mass destruction"?

The best wordsmith is Rumsfeld with his bit about "known knowns and unknown knowns". He gives Stephen Wright a run for his money.

Condoleeza Rice is a great straight-man (sorry, lady). I was is tears the way she read the "Bin Laden determined to strike the United States memo", written well before 9/11.

Finally, Cheney is probably one of the greatest ventriloquists of all-time with his dummy, "Dubya"

They literally killed!
posted by Renoroc at 10:18 AM on April 17, 2013 [13 favorites]


We consider most of today's comedians to be left-wing only because the centre has been shifted so far to the right over the last 40 years.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:23 AM on April 17, 2013 [14 favorites]


I've spent years with a group of right-wing people - right-wing men, to be precise - who considered themselves very funny, and who at least felt comfortable enough with my presence that they could let loose with whatever they felt like. And when they were at the top of their game, when they were genuinely not holding back, it was comedy derived from a big middle finger to the "PC brigade" - they were going to say outrageous things, the sorts of things that would get you kicked out of a comedy club for life - and they were in a safe crowd of other right-wing types who understood that the joke was outrageousness, but also understood that maybe the outrageous jokes were things they sorta believed in but no one ever explicitly said that. So always comedy from a place of arrogance and privilege, always the unspoken "it's funny because it's true" combined with absolutely shocking statements. That's what right-wing comedy at its funniest is about. It's no wonder these people don't even try to be stand up comics. They'd be (rightfully) picketed and protested for miles if they got any fame, which would never happen, because any halfway decent crowd would boo them off stage in minutes.
posted by naju at 10:24 AM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Jonah Goldberg, Mark Steyn and John Podheretz are all perfectly adequate comic writers; with practice, they might even become good comic writers. But as soon as they appeared, they were treated as Important Thinkers

James Lileks was like this, too. Pre-September 11th, things like his Gallery of Regrettable Food had a certain following. But suddenly post 9/11 he became a "conservative personality" and a go-to conservative person for humorous observations that he, quite honestly, just wasn't ready for.

It's not that liberals are inherently funnier. There are masses of mediocre and even unfunny liberal comedians out there. The thing is that they don't get any attention, whereas mediocre-to-poor conservative humor is the only game in town.
posted by deanc at 10:25 AM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Portlandia strikes me as less political comedian than as something we don't see much anymore -- regional satire. While many of the characters are liberal, or lefty, they are made fun of less for their beliefs than the regional specificity of their behavior -- pickling things, having mustaches, putting birds on things, the independent music scene. I suspect if the two leads in the show had set the show in a conservative Texas town, rather than Portland, the regional targets would be mostly conservative, but the humor would still be about the particular cultural details of the community, and not so much about their politics.

That being said, Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen are liberal, and I suspect they feel on firmer ground addressing liberals, since they are making fun of characters they know so well.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:25 AM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Of the Portlandia sketches that I remember, most of the humor comes from reductio ad absurdium anyway - they take some (stereotypically liberal) affectation and amplify it beyond all reason. Local/humane food restaurants, aggressive bike messengers, overprotective parents, retro fashion, "artisanal" crafts, etc.
posted by LionIndex at 10:32 AM on April 17, 2013


Well, three of them are dead; they haven't, in a sense, survived the current climate.

The BBC won't let dead right-wing comedians on the air because of political correctness - that, and their act stinks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:39 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


When your act is only relevant to 1% of the population there will be a limited market for it.
posted by Cookiebastard at 10:40 AM on April 17, 2013


The few right-wing comedians that I've seen, such as those from the short-lived Half-Hour News Hour show are, by contrast, not comedians who happen to be right-wing, but "right-wing comedians." As a result, their primary goal is not to tell jokes, but to insult Democrats and liberals, and to attempt to do this in a funny way. So they do indeed accomplish their primary goal, but completely fail at being funny.

Which, adjusting for his political orientation, is exactly why I never found Al Franken funny.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:47 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't know about "right wing," but most comedy is based off of mocking the weak and less fortunate. That's not ALL comedy, but there's very little I can enjoy, as convenient targets - transgender people, people on welfare, disabled people - almost inevitably become targets. So in some ways you could say that all comedy is conservative.
posted by LukeLockhart at 10:48 AM on April 17, 2013


The powerful making fun of the powerless is not funny. The powerless making fun of the powerful can be funny. People making fun of themselves is always funny. Conservatives have all the power, and never make fun of themselves.
posted by davejay at 10:54 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, that Gallagher article - I had no idea.

I grew up watching his stuff back in the 80s - It was dumb smashing most of the time, but it seemed just rather silly and harmless... Jokes like "Why do you call them apartments if they are stuck all together?"

I would have never guessed at the time that someone who made a living with harmless and not particularly inspired humor would have ended up spewing that sort of hateful rhetoric, with that completely jaw-dropping level of fury, racism, and anger. The performance in that linked article is nothing but hate-speech.
posted by MysticMCJ at 11:06 AM on April 17, 2013


Of the Portlandia sketches that I remember, most of the humor comes from reductio ad absurdium anyway - they take some (stereotypically liberal) affectation and amplify it beyond all reason.

The take away being that actually believing in animal rights, feminism, or biking to work would be absurd. The feminist book store sketches are particularly pointed. But the same message gets repeated over and over: liberals are shallow, fashion obsessed, privileged and prone to ridiculous beliefs, also effeminate. If you did the same thing for some Babbitville in Ohio or Texas it would look pretty political...

Maybe it's some form of Stockholm syndrome left over from the 70's because, you know, actually radically changing society is pretty absurd, right?
posted by ennui.bz at 11:13 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I recently got the newly released DVD of the Australian TV show DAAS Kapital, by late-80s comedy trio the Doug Anthony Allstars. They got their name from a somewhat bumbling right-wing politician (I think he was the one who said in parliament “But I'm a country member...”, which Gough Whitlam immediately interrupted with “We remember”, to massed laughter), though a lot of their act was poking fun at student-union leftist politics (the character of Troy The Invincible, the self-annihilating Marxist superman, was one case in point, as well as references to increasingly fine gradations of identity politics). I don't think they were right-wing per se, except in the sense of using left-wing politics as a comedic foil.

Tim Ferguson from the group is now on Twitter, and is running for the Australian Senate as a joke. Occasionally, he reels of a round of tweeted jokes at the various parties, though the targets are evenly distributed. The shtick is: the Coalition are reactionary/authoritarian/clueless, Labor are hapless/hopeless/desperate, the Greens are idealistic and/or Stalinists-like-the-Murdoch-papers-say-they-are. I'd place him as a centrist of sorts.
posted by acb at 11:22 AM on April 17, 2013


Just thought of P.J. O'Rourke as somebody else to add to the list. Like the others, I'm not a fan, but they all have their moments where the material works without regard to how much I agree to the premises underlying it.

O'Rourke isn't really a right-winger as much as he is a guy who can be pretty funny when taking down liberals. But the problem for the humorist who only mocks liberals is that the jokes basically write themselves and are endlessly redundant.
posted by three blind mice at 11:38 AM on April 17, 2013


The take away being that actually believing in animal rights, feminism, or biking to work would be absurd.

This is one interpretation, but not one I share. I don't think the show is mocking the beliefs, per say, so much as the specific expression of the beliefs, and almost all the lefties I know -- and almost everybody I know is a left-leaning liberal or further to the left -- sees the show as an affectionate send-up, and not as something that mocks their worldview.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:43 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Conservatives have all the power, and never make fun of themselves.

Oh, I don't know about that.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:46 AM on April 17, 2013


Late at night, we cruise from the news channels up towards TCM. It's a barren stretch of music channels and often the country channel has "comedians". So Foxworthy, Bill E., Larry will always get a half second of air before the channel is switched. Ron White is a different story. Yeah, he's a bit of a pig when it comes to women but oddly pro-gay. Those of you who have seen the routine that ends with him questioning his brother-in-law about what he likes in porn will know what I mean.
posted by Ber at 11:53 AM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm with Bunny Ultramod on this one. I haven't been to Portland, but the humor seems more about the way people act in Portland than about the things they believe. I guess it could also be making fun of outsiders' amorphous ideal Portland, which would be a necessary evil for a show that gets broadcast nationally. A comedy's jokes have to reach more than a fraction of its potential audience.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:55 AM on April 17, 2013


Mort Sahl was shrewd: he made fun of both sides of the spectrum...why turn away half your potential audience?

Might it be that liberals control the media, as right wingers are fond of saying...used to be Jews...unless they are one and the same.
Isn't or wasn't Don Imus conservative when he wasn't all caught up in schoolboy girly humor?
posted by Postroad at 12:07 PM on April 17, 2013


If anything, many comedians skew toward privilege, which plays out whenever one of them is called out for telling mean-spirited jokes that punch down, and then a chorus of comedians rise up to claim they are being censored by unfunny pearl-clutchers who don't understand that comedy is all about being out there on the edge, man.

Along these lines: the one time I tried to give Joe Rogan's podcast a chance it started with 40 minutes of him and three other straight comedians having a prolonged whine about how it's so unfair they can't say "faggot" on stage anymore.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:11 PM on April 17, 2013


and then a chorus of comedians rise up to claim they are being censored by unfunny pearl-clutchers who don't understand that comedy is all about being out there on the edge, man.

This is what happened on my Facebook feed after the Oscars. It was depressing.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:18 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ann Coulter was hilariously "outed" on The Boondocks a few years ago.

(I miss Huey Freeman way more than I miss most of the flesh-and-blood children* who have passed through my life.)

*off-spring and relatives excluded
posted by she's not there at 12:35 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ha. Just happy to see that this debate exists outside of my mind, as this is something I have long grumbled about myself. My politics are not right-wing - but at the same time, I sorely miss Alan Coren on News Quiz - it's just not the same, and not as funny, when everyone more or less agrees. Plus, you know, balance? I might not agree, but that's how society's made up.

It is a challenge for comedy producers, a real challenge, clearly...
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 12:37 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Adam Carolla, Jim Norton, Colin Quinn and Nick DiPaolo are four comedians that are unabashedly right wing.

And, to my ears at least, noticeably bitter and even a bit cruel. Maybe it's just coincidence, maybe not. But those qualities really, really take away from them coming off as funny to me. (shrug)
posted by CommonSense at 12:51 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


ennui.bz is entirely on the money with Portlandia -- or, at least, on the three episodes I saw, until there was a blatantly racist sketch, and I decided I was done with it.
posted by Casuistry at 1:01 PM on April 17, 2013


I notice most of the people brought forth here as "good" right-wing stand up comedians are actually hacks.

The best of the lot is probably Mike Nelson (who doesn't really do stand-up these days), but he's balanced out by his co-riffers who are pretty left-leaning. Also, politics only rarely comes into their riffing, and he manages to punch up by attacking bad movies. So he's found a way out of the right-wing hack comedy trap. Good for him.
posted by JHarris at 1:01 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Along the lines of Norton, Quinn, and DiPaolo group that a few people have mentioned, does anyone remember "Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn"? From what I recall, it was pretty much a revolving door of post-9/11, right-wing oriented, to the point that there would usually be a token left-leaning comedian or entertainer on seemingly just so they could take him or her down.
posted by coogerdark at 1:05 PM on April 17, 2013


I remember that show, coogerdark, and I remember liking it. I was a teenager at the time, and I didn't know from good comedy. It might have appealed to me for being Edgy and Politically Incorrect. I don't remember any specific jokes, though. If I saw it today, I probably wouldn't like it.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:08 PM on April 17, 2013


IndigoJones: Oh, I don't know about that.

Who know what else happened, I think it was, at the same conference? Contrast Bush's comments directed at himself with Colbert's. There's a reason Colbert's monologue has passed into comedy legend.
posted by JHarris at 1:09 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Which, adjusting for his political orientation, is exactly why I never found Al Franken funny.

You might have and not realized it. Don't forget he wrote for Saturday Night Live for a total of 15 years. Say what you want about him, but he knows comedy.
posted by JHarris at 1:11 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Beedo is correct on King of the Hill. It is overall pretty politically even-handed.
posted by JHarris at 1:16 PM on April 17, 2013


Portlandia is a remake of Seattle local comedy show Almost Live, shifted a couple decades forward and a few hundred miles south. It looks more superficially political than Almost Live did, since living in Portland today looks like a political act in a way that living in Seattle in 1990 didn't. But it's not a particularly political show.

FWIW, I think "punching up / punching down" isn't exactly the right frame for understanding why the likes of us don't recognize much conservative humor. Instead, I think it's better to think of humor as a way to puncture the lies that we have to believe in to function in human society. Left-wing humor is more immediately recognizable as humor, because for most people enjoy going to events about puncturing the illusion that privileged people are totally justified treating us like shit.

The lie/illusion that right wing comedians have to take target at is the lie that we can fix things — that if we work and hope and believe hard enough, we can end privilege and all live together as humans who recognize our mutual humanity and who treat each other with the diginity and respect that recognition of humanity necessarily entails.

This is a total lie and super easy to puncture, but I don't think it's possible to walk away from its demolition feeling good unless the comedian is themselves in some way mournful of the dream they're eulogizing. And in practice, this means that the comedian has to be coming from a left position. Crushing the lies of privilege and then, like, doing a touchdown dance over them, that's fun, but crushing the lie of decency and then dancing on it is just depressing.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:20 PM on April 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think that "right-wing comic" is to comedy what "Christian Rock" is to Rock.

If they were good enough to make it without the qualifier, they would. The niche label creates a smaller pool for them to compete in, and experience a small bit of success. They aren't really good enough to make it in the larger pool of competitors.
posted by ambrosia at 1:22 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just thought of P.J. O'Rourke as somebody else to add to the list. Like the others, I'm not a fan, but they all have their moments where the material works without regard to how much I agree to the premises underlying it.

Yeah, he used to be funny, but that was like 35 years ago. For example: How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Want Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink. I remember reading this in the National Lampoon back in 1978. NatLamp also hasn't been funny for about 35 years.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:24 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I seem to remember that at least two of the Blue Collar Comedy guys were actually funny. One guy who had a glass of whiskey in his hand as prop had me laughing pretty steadily, and another guy with a beard and a cowboy shirt had a funny riff on cheap toilet paper.
posted by jonmc at 2:07 PM on April 17, 2013


I always think of it this way: with comedy--namely, satire--you mock up. You mock the people with power, the institutions with power. Comedy is about revealing the man behind the curtain and pointing out absurdities. It's kind of risky and scary and often times very personal.

You can't mock down. Someone in a position of power generates no comedy from making fun of those with no power. See Rush Limbaugh's dire attempts at comedy when he makes fun of, well, anyone liberal.
posted by zardoz at 2:21 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is true there are few right wing comedians. Entertainment generally trends left. It's why the Guardian, not the Telegraph is the media paper of choice. And younger people tend to trend more leftwards. A lot of comedy commissioning is done by people who are under 40, and less likely to vote right. Comedy of the type we're talking about trends younger. But we are also guilty to some degree of defining comedy to fit the hypothesis.

Many of the more political left wing comedians are either no longer funny or no longer comedians. Mark Thomas hasn't been funny for years: in fairness, he hasn't tried hard to be. Jeremy Hardy has been fringe for years, where he was once mainstream. Alexi Sayle does far more sort of factual work than straight comedy. Stewart Lee is more niche now than he used to be. His act is smarter, but in honesty it is less funny too. It is not altogether correct to assume that left wing comedy is necessarily funny, or funnier.

It used to be that it was a death knell for a comedian to find themselves with a committed audience of middle aged rightward leaning men and women, although I suspect that is changing. The most successful comedian in the UK at present, Michael McIntyre, is firmly middle ground stuff. I hesitate to say it is right wing as such but it chimes with soft, middle class social conservatism. No boats will be rocked. His TV persona is a bumbling upper middle class man wryly reflecting on his life experiences. He is unashamedly middle class and his act is explicitly the comedy of privilege.

I also suspect there are several comedians who probably do vote Conservative, if only for tax reasons. I have no idea about, say, Jimmy Carr's politics but if his tax management is much to go by he fits more closely on the right than on the left. Carr is an interesting case. He is distinctly un PC. But then so is Frankie Boyle, who is no Tory. This is different to the older generation of un PC comedians for whom un PC was basically a cover for being racist and sexist because it was too much like hard work to think up some original material. In theory, the Chubby Browns of this world are supposed to be right wing. And yet their natural home for years was men's working clubs, many of whose members would be surprised to find themselves described as right wing. In this, we may be guilty of defining characteristics we don't like as naturally of the right.

Finally, the kind of people who one suspects, if they are not tory themselves aren't hardcore leftwingers either make a good living sending up both the right wing and the upper classes. Comedians like Alexander Armstrong or Harry Enfield play on their poshness but just avoid overtly political comedy. They get to play tories without going so far as admitting their own politics.

Interestingly, John Cleese was apparently a Labour supporter and then a liberal. But when you hear him talk about London no longer being an English city or Britain's yob culture he sounds... right wing. It would not be unreasonable to conclude that when Jim Davidson is really the only avowed right wing comic, and he's as funny as finding you've got gonorrhea, that conservatism might just be the politics that dare not speak its name in comedy.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:35 PM on April 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


> There's a reason....

Yes, I was aware of that. But it has nothing to do with my narrow point.

As to the original question, possibly it's the same reason conservatives aren’t in academia. Why try to join a club that clearly does not reflect you or much want you?

Or, if we believe that comics are disproportionately depressives, then perhaps it is that conservatives are disqualified by being naturally more happy.

I always think of it this way: with comedy--namely, satire--you mock up. You mock the people with power, the institutions with power


But that leaves out the entire arena of good-natured ribbing. (I'm assuming that this, for example, was done with affection and not, as the left wing folk of SNL sometimes are, with a mean spirit.)

Real question is, who came up with the quintessential conservative joke? (And do you it's funny that someone would need it explained to them.)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:59 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Real question is, who came up with the quintessential conservative joke?

When I was back in college a good twenty years ago, it went something like:
-- How many Yale* girls does it take to screw in a light bulb?
-- It's women. And it's not funny.

And at the time it was something feminists used as friendly self-deprecatory humor, much like the discussion of Portlandia above.

There's also this comic from around the same time frame, which in my memory I saw drawn by someone else in The New Yorker, but Google seems to give credit to the artist I linked, so probably not.


*Barnard, Smith, etc were also used - fill in the blank with your own home turf
posted by Mchelly at 3:06 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


We consider most of today's comedians to be left-wing only because the centre has been shifted so far to the right over the last 40 years.

People living in their own delusional or willfully fabricated reality can be funny to others, but generally less so when they're trying to be.
posted by crayz at 3:15 PM on April 17, 2013


Oh go on then, any excuse to link Stewart Lee on Political Correctness.

Personally, I'm always grateful for a legitimate excuse to link to Roy "Chubby" Brown on Metafilter.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:22 PM on April 17, 2013


they were going to say outrageous things. . .the joke was outrageousness, but also understood that maybe the outrageous jokes were things they sorta believed in but no one ever explicitly said that.

In other words, Family Guy.
posted by Ndwright at 3:49 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Family Guy, or "let's celebrate racism, sexism and transphobia and pretend it's social criticism, the show"? I think that's a better title, personally.
posted by LukeLockhart at 4:07 PM on April 17, 2013


The odd thing is that, as someone who's grown up surrounded by the looniest elements of the left, is that they're frequently hilarious. But just because I like to make hippie jokes doesn't make me right-wing. Jokes like that need to be like The Young Ones and come from inside.

'Course, the educated MeFi type left is easy to troll/joke about since its so thin-skinned.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:15 PM on April 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


And by "thin skinned" you mean we believe that it's wrong to mock the weak and deny gender identities and things like that that are ultimately cruel to the most marginalized in society, I assume.
posted by LukeLockhart at 4:18 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nope. I've never made a racist, sexist, or transphobic joke. I mean that gentle ribbing like Stuff White People Like or jokes about Burning Man get jumped on as being inaccurate and my friends freaked out over a satirical 'kill the poor' editorial yesterday.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:22 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah. Fair enough. I just hear a lot about how the left is thin-skinned, but with the amount of actual horrible bigotry we see daily, I don't think you can blame us. (I was even on the bandwagon of "political correctness gone too far!!!oneoneone" with that programming conference where those guys were fired for making dick jokes - until I saw sexual harassment happening in a similar way first hand, and realized why that sort of thing needs to be cracked down upon.)
posted by LukeLockhart at 4:31 PM on April 17, 2013


But that leaves out the entire arena of good-natured ribbing.

Uh... doesn't every conservative joke go something along the lines of, "Wow. Poor people are stupid and liberal women are ugly. I mean... hehe... you can take a good natured ribbing, right?" ?

In the same way that Jon Stewart doesn't/can't do a "you might be a redneck routine", conservatives don't know when there's not a position to engage in insult-comic humor under the guise of a "good natured ribbing."

Conservative humor, done well is, as MuffinMan said above, humor that "chimes with soft, middle class social conservatism." It's Tim Allen humor. Ray Romano humor. I'm not saying they themselves are conservative, but they peddle a form of humor that conservatives like. But it is essentially not "conservative humor" even though it's "humor that appeals to conservatives."
posted by deanc at 4:37 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course, we can now include stand-up comics who do Rape Jokes as right-wing, right? That should expand the membership for that category significantly.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:54 PM on April 17, 2013


Rape jokes are certainly a regressive and harmful form of humor that resonates with humanity's least beneficial elements, so yes.
posted by LukeLockhart at 4:55 PM on April 17, 2013


One guy who had a glass of whiskey in his hand as prop had me laughing pretty steadily

Ron White is both funny and personally fairly conservative and has made some of that into his act although a lot of his act seems to have more to do with his relationships and his drinking problem. I feel the same way about Bill Burr who someone mentioned up thread. A lot of his stuff cracks me up and then he gets into more "political" stuff (he has a long bit about why it's fucked up that it's not okay to hit a woman, not my thing personally but maybe a good bit if you're into that sort of thing?) and suddenly I feel sort of weird about laughing at their other stuff. But I just figure they're good comedians but not my type of comedians. I don't know if conservative types like them much at all. Larry the Cable Guy definitely has a huge conservative following, so much so that other left-wing comics have made it into a bit of a thing.
posted by jessamyn at 5:06 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


'Course, the educated MeFi type left is easy to troll/joke about since its so thin-skinned.

You take that back! Rarr!
posted by JHarris at 6:40 PM on April 17, 2013


Because conservatives hate all things that are good like music, laughter, sex, drugs and foreign countries?
posted by Damienmce at 7:42 PM on April 17, 2013


Because conservatives hate all things that are good like music, laughter, sex, drugs and foreign countries?

I honestly can't tell if this is deliberate parody on the self-regard shown in this thread ('Comedians are artistic and funny and smart, thus they must share my views because I'm all those things') or an example of it.

The 'comedy is punching up' explanation makes the most sense, so jokes at the expense of lefty celebs like Bono still work. And Jeremy Clarkson and PJ O'Rourke are funny.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:49 PM on April 17, 2013


Comedy as "Punching up" is a pretty meaningless concept.

I think what people don't see in right wing comedy is that even the most bigoted comedians feel they are punching up. Racist jokes aren't told from a position of known privilege, they're told from a position of fear. Fear of the unknown, and fear of the different. Right wing comedians feel they are punching up, as do the people who find their comedy funny.

Right wing comedians aren't funny to left wing commentators because left wing commentators aren't scared of the same things.

There's a definite link between the arts and political leaning, and this probably explains the preponderance of left wing comedians, musicians, poets and writers. But this isn't to say that right wing comedy isn't as good or as funny.

I think it's interesting that Simon Evans is highlighted as an example of a funny right wing comedian. His target is the working class and the underclasses. The people who go out of a night wearing few clothes; shoppers at Matalan. His humour is funny because his target is a group of people his predominantly middle class audience is also scared of. Regardless of their politics, he's punching up in the eyes of scared middle class white people.

Clarkson is funny because spoiled white people honestly worry that political correctness *has* gone mad; they worry that they'll say the wrong thing; that they'll be characterised as misogynists for saying what they're actually thinking about prostitutes or gypsies or teen mothers.

There's another side to this that I find interesting. There's currently a stated expectation that the joker must be punching up, and we find it more acceptable to laugh with comedians that are perceived as less privileged than the targets they take on. You'll get away with a lot more if you're not a straight white male. But the audience is half of comedy, and I think that sometimes as an audience we allow ourselves to laugh at things we know we shouldn't laugh at just because the comedian is a proxy that allows us to ignore our own privilege. Of course - comedians from different backgrounds from me can be illuminating and hilarious but I wonder where empathy stops, and baring our teeth downwards because we're hidden behind this proxy starts.
posted by zoo at 4:06 AM on April 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


I thought that being right-wing was an hilarious gag in and of itself, and that the stand-ups were the actual politicians.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 5:04 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does a right-wing libertarian like Doug Stanhope count? And as Ralph Stedman once said, Hunter S. Thompson was a right-wing racist gun freak, at least some of the time.
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:42 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think what people don't see in right wing comedy is that even the most bigoted comedians feel they are punching up. Racist jokes aren't told from a position of known privilege, they're told from a position of fear. Fear of the unknown, and fear of the different. Right wing comedians feel they are punching up, as do the people who find their comedy funny.

But isn't that the issue at hand? They aren't being funny, they are being racist/homophobic/sexist, etc. They may think they are being funny, but they are flat out wrong. I have to admit I haven't followed any right wing comedian, but I did check out that "Half Hour Comedy Hour" when it was on, and I remember shitty comedians like Tim Allen (who at least struck me as an example of right-wing humor), and it's objectively bad. I think back to my "edgy" humor when I was in jr and sr high, me and my (white) friends thought we were being ironic, but no, sometimes, oftentimes, our just were just racist and sexist and wrong. I see right wingers as in the midst of that childish state of simply not understanding balances of power and struggle for equality.

When Rush Limbaugh "jokes" about Sandra Fluke being a slut, he may think he's punching up...but no, he's really punching down at someone with a tiny fraction of the power Limbaugh possesses. I'm thinking mainly because he has an audience so large, but also because he's a man in a (largely) male-dominant society.
posted by zardoz at 2:48 PM on April 18, 2013


Of course, we can now include stand-up comics who do Rape Jokes as right-wing, right?

No, not necessarily.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:12 PM on April 18, 2013


PJ O'Rourke was a lot funnier when I didn't understand politics at all. Actually having some understanding of politics, and how important it is, make O'Rourke look like an irredeemably terrible person.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:14 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Comedy as "Punching up" is a pretty meaningless concept.

No, it's quite useful, as its common use here illustrates. Although comedy itself isn't punching up; instead, the term is used to describe those without power ridiculing those with it. You can make jokes that go the other direction, but it looks a lot like bullying.

Of course that's the key here: how it looks. There remains a large power imbalance between white males, and the rich in general, and the rest of the world. They themselves might not see it that way, hence it looks to them that The Half-Hour News Hour is punching up. As a wise cat once said, funny is in the eye of the beholder.

It might not be useful as a term for what is objectively funny. But nothing is objectively funny, the universe has no sense of humor, unless it be that of Nyarlathotep, and he laughs at us all.
posted by JHarris at 7:03 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's possibly worth pointing out that Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the co-creators of South Park, Team America: World Police, and the Book of Mormon) are both libertarians. That fact surprises many of my liberal friends who are fans of their work.

I wonder if maybe there is a certain stereotype at work here. I've noticed that in the absence of any definitive information, liberals will assume that any smart person is a liberal and conservatives assume that any smart person is conservative. But if you reveal that the other person actually subscribes to the opposite political viewpoint than they thought, their opinion of the other person's intelligence seems to go down. Perhaps humor works the same way: it's something that makes people relatable. In my opinion, there's an inclination to think that anybody who's smart, charming, and funny shares the same political beliefs that you do and is "on your side".... because to do otherwise raises the unpleasant possibility that perhaps you chose the wrong side, and that's something that most people simply don't want to consider.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:47 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


A lot of answers in this thread are just totally, obviously wrong. Especially the oddly popular class of comments about how humor is some noble thing that's all about empathy and love and those evil conservatives just don't have the goodness of heart for comedy. Whatever.

A huge amount of stand-up is just status-quo observational humor of the black-people-are-like-X, white-people-are-like-y, and women-people-are-like-X, men-people-are-like-y variety. A lot of the rest of it is just making fun of every weak group on the planet: gays, women, minorities, the disabled, old people, gays, etc. Bonus points if the comedian is liberal, because then other liberals can feel ok laughing at it too. We can all pretend it's "ironic" laughter or whatever. (That's the whole point of the Louie scene where Louis C.K. nods sensitively while his gay friend talks about how his use of the word "faggot" on stage is offensive. Of course, he's not going to stop using the word, but He. Feels. Your. Pain. </clinton, and that's enough to give most liberals the warm fuzzies.)

A lot of humor and entertainment is pretty crass and you at least have to be sort of libertarian to enjoy it, though. Most smaller-c conservatives are religious or family people, and prefer sports over entertainment. And also prefer less "edgy" humor to more "edgy" humor (and "edgy" humor, almost by definition, is more likely to be overtly political).

Also I think conservatives tolerate (or humor) overtly liberal humor more than liberals tolerate overtly conservative humor. A liberal comedian is a comedian, while a conservative comedian has to be a Conservative Comedian, because he's alienated too much of the typical comedy show audience. You can alienate conservatives and still make a living as a comic with the typical comedy audience, but you can't alienate liberal audiences and still make a living, unless you successfully court your own specialty audience of conservatives.
posted by dgaicun at 7:00 AM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's possibly worth pointing out that Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the co-creators of South Park, Team America: World Police, and the Book of Mormon) are both libertarians. That fact surprises many of my liberal friends who are fans of their work.

I really can't imagine that being much of a surprise to any fan who knows anything about Stone and Parker or has actually watched anything they've produced. They've done everything but write "libertarian" on their shirts.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:38 PM on April 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


A huge amount of stand-up is just status-quo observational humor of the black-people-are-like-X, white-people-are-like-y, and women-people-are-like-X, men-people-are-like-y variety. A lot of the rest of it is just making fun of every weak group on the planet: gays, women, minorities, the disabled, old people, gays, etc.

Sure. But the comedians who do those routines are the butt of every joke about bad comedy there is. It may be that good comedy transcends politics and ordinary morality altogether: The more easily an artist's work fits into a moral/political/religious category, the worse it is, generally speaking, and I don't see why it would be different for the work of stand-up comedians.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:51 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


If octobersurprise hadn't said it I'd have had to. No one could confuse Parker and Stone for liberals.
posted by JHarris at 7:05 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


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