Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Dennis Miller Ratio
May 27, 2014 9:33 PM   Subscribe

Frank Rich takes a look at conservative comedians and the late-night comedy landscape.
posted by Room 641-A (189 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ratio?

I remember seeing Dennis Miller crack, live on the air. I remember the exact joke. I used to watch his show Dennis Miller Live on HBO. After 9/11, he got scared and turned conservative overnight. He said, "America has freedom of speech thanks to the First Amendment. But we also have the Second Amendment, so you better watch what you say, asshole!" And he has never, ever been funny since that joke. The show was cancelled shortly thereafter.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:15 PM on May 27 [91 favorites]


This was a great read and something I've always wondered about. As the article notes, there are definitely spaces and contexts to excoriate liberals as handily as conservatives. But I think that really exists on the specific level.

Zoomed out, I think it is very tricky to effectively navigate humor on liberal/progressive issues. In 2014, how do you make a joke about how two hundred fifty years of slavery (and ninety subsequent years of state-santcioned domestic terrorism) weren't that bad?

And that right there is why I think we don't see very many conservative comedians standing out in public discourse.

Thank fucking goodness.
posted by Ouverture at 10:16 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]


Reality has a well-known liberal bias.

Conservatism as practiced these days is dependent on everything being Apoplectically Serious. Maintaining indignant, angry, paranoid emotions 24-7 means there is no room for humor, especially of the self-deprecating kind.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:17 PM on May 27 [39 favorites]


In his act, DiPaolo’s Obama jokes are nothing if not innocuous: “This guy makes Bryant Gumbel look like Flavor Flav.”

"Innocuous" isn't the description I'd use. "Verbatim ripoff of a 20-year old joke from In Living Color" is more like it.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 10:17 PM on May 27 [18 favorites]


Conservatives tell jokes about "lazy minorities" and "stupid women." Miller hasn't been funny in decades, which is sad, be cause he had such potential. Now he's a hollow husk.

Comedy is about punching up, not down, which is why conservative humor falls flat.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:20 PM on May 27 [66 favorites]


He really did nail the thesis early on. Conservatives in the US are increasingly limiting themselves to defending the Old White Male base, and it's really hard to be funny when you're limited to defending the powerful and punching down at the powerless. Makes me wonder what a Eisenhower, Rockefeller or Goldwater Republican comedian might be like.
posted by Punkey at 10:26 PM on May 27


I have long suspected that the essence of humor is surprise, and that the essence of conservatism is the gut-level conviction that surprise is unpredictable and therefore shouldn't be trusted.
posted by Western Infidels at 10:33 PM on May 27 [11 favorites]


Reality has a well-known liberal bias.

To paraphrase Sydney Pollack (in the fantastic documentary char-ac-ter) when he is asked why so many actors are liberal: "To be an actor you must be able to empathize, to try to walk in another person's shoes, to learn about people that are different than yourself. You can't do that for very long without developing compassion for people."

I'm not sure how to draw a straight line between actors and comedians but I actually thought of that quote when I first saw the article.

Ratio?

It's from The Simpsons:

Lisa: (after reading "C:\DOS\RUN" joke) Ha, only one person in a million would find that funny!
Professor John Frink: Yes, we call that the "Dennis Miller Ratio."
posted by Room 641-A at 10:33 PM on May 27 [77 favorites]


After 9/11, he got scared and turned conservative overnight.

As Al Franken attests, Miller was always that conservative. That night he cracked was the night he became self-censoring by swearing off Dubya as a target because "I got yer back". He decided that he had to become an advocate for national security conservatism, and you can't be a good comedian when your primary goal is advancing an ideology rather than being funny. Your agenda subverts every joke.

An earlier article that I'll try to find cited The Simpsons as a great source of conservative comedy, mentioning Sideshow Bob's tirade on being arrested (shortly after the Willie Horton scandal was beginning to sink Mike Dukakis' presidential hopes): "You can't keep the Democrats out of the White House forever. And when they get in, I'm back on the streets, with all my criminal buddies!".
posted by fatbird at 10:35 PM on May 27 [13 favorites]


Can conservatives be funny?

Not intentionally.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:47 PM on May 27 [22 favorites]


Is the very notion of a conservative comedian an oxymoron, given that comedy by definition is often the revenge of underdogs against the privileged? If the powerful pick on the less powerful, or worse, the powerless, are the jokes doomed to come off as bratty, if not just plain mean?

Nail on the head. Comedy works by punching up, by giving a figurative wedgie to those in power. If a comic identifies as a conservative, then s/he is by default making jokes from a position of privilege and/or power. The jokes punch down, and that's just simply the antithesis of comedy. I think of--and I dare you to watch five full minutes of--that FOX show "The Half Hour Comedy Hour" from a few years back. It's painfully unfunny. Or rather, it's unintentionally hilarious.
posted by zardoz at 11:13 PM on May 27 [11 favorites]


Comedy, of the stand-up variety, is necessarily a "me against the world" proposition. Which is why it's extremely rare (if not nigh on impossible) to find a good, funny "conservative" comedian. Conservatism is based on respect and love for the status quo and good comedy is all about iconoclasty. They are pretty much mutually exclusive.
posted by holybagel at 11:17 PM on May 27 [3 favorites]


Or what zardoz said.
posted by holybagel at 11:19 PM on May 27


Well, comedy is about contrasts. Such-and-such is funny if it's about something being opposite of what we'd usually expect. Comedy doesn't have to be about punching anyone, but if you insist, then the funny punching jokes are ones where it's happening in the opposite direction from real life. So, punching upwards.
posted by ceribus peribus at 11:54 PM on May 27 [7 favorites]


Conservatism has a lot of potential for humor, specifically in the role as satirist. Their ideal target is "hippies," which can easily be satirized as out of touch rich liberals who dress funny and spout hypocritical nonsense. They can apply this general idea to lots of groups that the public agrees need knocking down a peg like pompous college professors, fatuous celebrities, communist dictators, earstwhile college freshmen, etc.

I'm not really sure why we haven't seen any good conservative satire in this vein, probably because the people inclined that way would rather do anti gay and anti woman humor instead?
posted by chaz at 12:11 AM on May 28 [8 favorites]


Am I just living in some sort of opposite timeline from the one you guys are apparently in where racist and sexist humour isn't popular and widespread?
posted by ODiV at 12:16 AM on May 28 [21 favorites]


ODiV: Implicitly racist and sexist humor is perfectly acceptable everywhere people don't make a conscious effort to exclude it. It's explicitly racist and sexist humor — which is all, it seems, that conservative comics can manage — that's the problem. You know, they same way it works everywhere else.
posted by cthuljew at 12:19 AM on May 28


Jeff Foxworthy's a (somewhat) funny conservative, but his humor tends be "hey people like me- aren't we just kind of silly sometimes?"

Mike Nelson's a funny conservative, but his humor is usually mostly devoid of politics.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:27 AM on May 28 [7 favorites]


Even progressive comics like Stewart and Colbert routinely make explicit trans jokes. I think the article is speaking kind of generally when it touches on that bit. For both sides here what constitutes "up" and "down" is set by mainstream culture, not necessarily by the individual audiences for progressive/conservative humor.
posted by Corinth at 12:42 AM on May 28 [5 favorites]


This article seems strangely focused on television, as if that is the only venue in which comedy happens.

If you want to hear conservative humor, fire up the "Family radio" channel on satellite radio, it's full of comics that on the right side of the political divide.
So is the "Blue collar radio" channel, though that is definitely more liberal at times.

For that matter, there is an entire touring circuit of right-leaning comedians that do corporate/church/school public speaking events.
The corporate friendly ones, especially, make a pretty good living.

Also, I mean, the very concept of "late night tv hosts" is middle America conservative.
Do any of us think of Jay Leno as a liberal beacon? I honestly have no idea of the politics of any of the late night hosts, but their shows certainly are not pushing the envelope of social mores.

(As an aside, Charleston is not "super-red". Charleston County went for Obama. The current House rep is Republican, but that has more to do with creative districting than political leanings)
posted by madajb at 12:57 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]


And he has never, ever been funny since that joke.

Don't kid yourself. He was never funny before that joke either.
posted by spitbull at 1:07 AM on May 28 [13 favorites]


The problem with conservative comedians is always, as readings of Alicublog or Sadly, No can attest, conservatives first and comedians second and always, always think they're engaging in a culture war for the soul of America, while liberal comedians are mainly comedians who happen to be liberal (or actually conservative without being an asshole about it).

It's telling that the most popular conservative comedian, Jeff Dunham, is largely apolitical, but rather engages in the sort of old fashioned comedy that relies heavily on stereotypes, sexism and racism, but not too much racism.

Nobody but a few obsessives are interested in Benghazi or Jane Fonda jokes, but a bit of old fashioned racism still can get a few titters.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:16 AM on May 28 [5 favorites]


"Comedy is about punching up, not down..."

I see this refrain a lot here and I don't think it's at all true. Bill Cosby spent almost his entire career making fun of children. If comedy were about punching Sonny Liston would have lost to Groucho Marx and not Muhammad Ali.
posted by vapidave at 1:18 AM on May 28 [20 favorites]


Hmm. I haven't heard him in years, but I think Bill Cosby was joking affectionately about himself and his brother and friends as children.
posted by pracowity at 1:24 AM on May 28 [10 favorites]


Everyone's been a child. Not everyone's been black or a woman or poor.
posted by cthuljew at 1:25 AM on May 28 [15 favorites]


It is possible to punch down and still be funny. It's evil, but it's possible. In his prime, PJ O'Rourke could write stuff making fun of poor people from a position of lofty privilege, and the writing was just so clever that it could make you laugh despite yourself. The South Park guys do it on occasion too. They have some compassion, but they can be smug, heartless bastards sometimes and still make you laugh with shock humor or absurdity. The trick of being a genuinely funny conservative is that you have to be so freaking funny that people laugh even as you say cruel, despicable things. That's a rare and terrible gift.

Even progressive comics like Stewart and Colbert routinely make explicit trans jokes.

Wait, what? I don't recall them making trans jokes. Perhaps you could dredge up a few examples, but I don't think you could really call them routine and I kind of doubt we'd agree on how offensive they are. I vaguely remember Stewart acting uncomfortable with trans stuff maybe 10 years ago, but that was a long time back. At this point, I have a hard time picturing him acting squeamish with a trans activist or razzing a cisgender male actor for wearing a dress in a movie or something. It would just make him look really behind the times and weird, you know? (He does love to do impressions of Lindsey Graham talking like a Tennessee Williams Southern belle, but come on, that shit is hilarious.)

I know some people were offended by Colbert's interview with Janet Mock, but of course Colbert's character would be uncomfortable around Mock. I remember thinking that it was interesting to watch the complicated dance Colbert had to do, since he was probably not transphobic himself but he had to play a transphobic character without it becoming truly offensive. He had to be a little more careful than usual, because making his character look like a clueless dummy is one thing but making him look like a hateful bigot is something else.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:30 AM on May 28 [16 favorites]


I see this refrain a lot here and I don't think it's at all true. Bill Cosby spent almost his entire career making fun of children.

I don't see laughing at children as punching down because my son is the boss.
posted by zardoz at 1:35 AM on May 28 [15 favorites]


Google Suey Park and Colbert to see how he ended up thoughtlessly sending his fans after her when she called him out on a triggering use of racial slurs.
posted by NoraReed at 1:51 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


It's really a challenge. How many conservative comedian jokes can you think of in five minutes?

How many liberals does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, they're too busy screwing each other. What with gay sex and all that.

A grasshopper walks into a bar and orders a drink. The bartender says, "hey, we have a drink named after you!" The grasshopper says, "I hope there is no tax associated with that beverage, because I'm anti-tax."

"Knock, knock."
"Who's there? Actually, it doesn't matter because if you are a threat I have weaponry guaranteed by the Second Amendment."

What do you get if you cross a liberal atheist with a petunia? I don't care, I hate liberal atheists no matter what. Fuck the petunia part.

What do you get when you cross a Mexican with a southern border?

A rabbi, a monk, and a guru walk into a bar. What is this country coming to when such a thing could even happen?

Time's up! Shit!
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:56 AM on May 28 [25 favorites]


I used to think Dennis Miller was awesome and that he changed, but thinking more about it...

When I was a kid I thought that Dennis Miller was cool because he said "fuck it, who wants pie" a lot, made obscure references that I didn't get and my dad missed most of the time, and was just generally an abrasive personality who handled the "Weekend Update" gig well enough, but was thoroughly bested by many others since.

I can't think of any particularly memorable jokes, just "fuck it, who wants pie." I think maybe he thought this would be a good shtick/niche he could fit into, since he was already increasingly irrelevant and better angry white male comics who did the same thing were coming up (aka visible on TV often) and were typically rather progressive on many issues (Louis Black, Bill Maher, etc).

Unfortunately trans folk are pissed on right now because mainstream comedy can get away with it. There's still a lot of "midget humor" that I hear on comedy radio too, which is ridiculous. Every so often, there's an anti-gay comic, like a really bad one I won't bother to remember by name, and it's so grating and obviously terrible, and the trans jokes kind of slip by without the same "WTF" effect. Comedy is often transgressive and I think they are basically trying to use up the "tranny ha ha!" joke well before it's been declared off limits. Which sucks, I can't believe the writers dig that shit.

In the 80's and 90's, it was "God Made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," and teh gayz were roundly mocked and ridiculed. I have no perspective prior to that, but I grew up during the Matthew Shepard area, where well-meaning people starting nodding their heads and agreeing that gay people probably shouldn't be brutalized to death for being gay. Comedy does play some role in reinforcing what is and is not excessive and picking on trans people is definitely "punching down" in that they are already heavily marginalized and easy targets due to male fears of running into "tranny women" at the bar or whatever, eager to seduce them into what can turn into a violent confrontation, because the "OMG a gay might want to gay me up" fear is receding and the "OMG trans" phobia hasn't been tamped down.
posted by aydeejones at 2:02 AM on May 28 [6 favorites]


Historically, punching down has been a source of great mirth. I point to the mechanicals in A Mid-summer Night's Dream add one of the most famous examples. The last scene is literally the wealthy watching and laughing at the poor.

I mean most of the history of comedy has seen it in the service of nobility. This idea that "punching up" is the essence of comedy is a fairly modern innovation.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:22 AM on May 28 [11 favorites]


I'm not sure about the punching up vs. punching down explanation. It might be right, but the explanation might be something (perhaps) more straightforward. There are lots of people who are funny and who happen to be conservative. But they aren't typically contemporary movement conservatives. Contemporary movement conservatives are by and large nasty and vicious (in the Aristotelian and colloquial senses of the term), and having that sort of character doesn't lend itself to the sort of whimsy usually necessary for good humor.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 2:35 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


I think Leno is conservative. But he's not a movement conservative. Reagan could be funny. John McCain is really funny. PJ O'Rourke occasionally is funny. Bob Dole could be funny.
posted by sporknado at 2:44 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]


To say that punching down isn't funny is a subjective judgment; were this objectively the case, people like Jeremy Clarkson would be out of a job.
posted by acb at 2:45 AM on May 28 [8 favorites]


I really liked Dennis Miller when he was doing commentary for Monday Night Football. I still like him for that, even though I disagree with his politics.

The way I remember it, he did commentary like this:

"It's fourth down and three. The situation seems hopeless, like the post World War One Treaty of Versailles. The quarterback looks left and right, his eyes a simulacrum of the famous portrait of John Bidwell, their focus as unpredictable as Heisenberg's inequality relating the standard deviation of position and the standard deviation of momentum.

There's the snap. The ball reaches the quarterback. He steps back. Slowly, almost too slowly, akin to Harold "Doc" Edgerton's slow-motion photography of a drop of milk hitting a bowl of water, he releases the ball. It's traveling in a parabolic arc towards the intended receiver, flying through the air, like Icarus approaching the sun. But no... the pass is incomplete.

The team scores nothing. A deep dark nothing. The nothingness described by Sartre as the internal negation which separates pure existence and identity.

Yet they regroup. They begin the next play. The phoenix rises from the ashes. The harlequin dances anew. Good time Charlie plays the blues again."


I don't know if Dennis Miller ever really said anything like that, but that's the way I'm going to remember him. Because otherwise, because of his politics, I'm going to remember him as an asshole.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:46 AM on May 28 [23 favorites]


The first time I heard "Adam and Steve" I laughed. I mean, the argument is morally repugnant, but as a quip it's clever.

Man, I'm really having to work hard to find conservative humor.
posted by sporknado at 2:48 AM on May 28


Humor is anti-establishment in the broadest sense: the laugh comes from poking the norm, where the norm might be everyday life (high or low), conventional wisdom (conventional minds), people who are the landmarks and goalposts of daily life (those in financial or political or spiritual power), or just the simple logic that tries to govern our thoughts. You can "punch" up or down, but it should be more a matter of gently poking and prodding and nudging, not landing sucker punches. You can't be too mean to anyone or you'll lose the sympathy of the audience.

I point to the mechanicals in A Mid-summer Night's Dream add one of the most famous examples. The last scene is literally the wealthy watching and laughing at the poor.

Shakespeare made you come away liking Bottom and company, not sneering at them. Another writer would have made himself look like an ass.
posted by pracowity at 2:58 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


I think Leno is conservative. But he's not a movement conservative.

Leno's actually a stereotypical Massachusetts liberal. He and his wife have an admirable record of charitable giving and occasional activism. However, he generally keeps his comedy very bland and separate from his convictions.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:00 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]


I have a standard joke which I use to test whether some stranger I've just met has a sense of humor. I can't always work it into the conversation, so I also use other jokes.

But here it is:

"I read somewhere that public speakers should start their speeches with a joke. I don't know if that's true. Hitler was supposed to be a great public speaker, but he never started any speech with a joke."

It's almost impossible for me to explain why I think that sentence is funny. Maybe it doesn't matter. But I still think it's hilarious.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:07 AM on May 28 [13 favorites]


Hitler was supposed to be a great public speaker, but he never started any speech with a joke.

I just flew into a rage and boy are my arms treaties retired.
posted by pracowity at 3:15 AM on May 28 [52 favorites]


When hasn't Miller punched down? In his early days, it was on the intellectual scale, dropping "obscure" references and "in jokes" that presumably wouldn't be if people were better educated (with his audience, as bright people, being in on the joke of course).
posted by JaredSeth at 3:16 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Wait, what? I don't recall them making trans jokes. Perhaps you could dredge up a few examples, but I don't think you could really call them routine and I kind of doubt we'd agree on how offensive they are.

Like with the recent incident with the racist asian character he has, it's hard to figure out Colbert because he is playing a character who is a satire of people who do hold bigoted views. If the character doesn't hold such views, it's almost a kindness to the targets of the satire who do deserve to be mocked for their views.

That said, what he's really doing is selling Bud Light Lime and he probably should avoid offending the audience rather than the targets of his satire, and with the asian character and the ironic transphobia he has probably gotten to that point.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:27 AM on May 28


It seems so much of conservatism is rooted in a kind of lack of empathy, in selfishness, and fear of change (change that would somehow take something away); that's pretty much antithetical to humor other than as a target of it.
posted by Red Loop at 3:29 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Nail on the head. Comedy works by punching up, by giving a figurative wedgie to those in power. If a comic identifies as a conservative, then s/he is by default making jokes from a position of privilege and/or power.

I'm not sure either of your premises is true but especially the second. There is in fact such a thing as a left wing establishment (in certain places at certain times)
posted by atoxyl at 3:31 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I'm frightened by anyone who takes everything seriously. That's why I don't belong to a Christian religion. Is there even one joke in the Bible?
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:37 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure either of your premises is true but especially the second. There is in fact such a thing as a left wing establishment.

See the UK. Bernard Manning and Roy "Chubby" Brown are both funny. (OK, Manning is dead, but he was funny as fuck back in the day.) While I don't particularly find Chubby's racist/anti-immigrant aspect of his schtick funny, his audience is hardly the powerful.

Both were authentic working class comedians who performed primarily for working class audiences. Both were much less likely to get TV work than your Oxbridge educated Beyond the Fringe/Monty Python/Stewart Lee types, performing for a bourgeois intelligentsia.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:49 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I'm frightened by anyone who takes everything seriously. That's why I don't belong to a Christian religion. Is there even one joke in the Bible?

Apparently, the bible is all about dick and bum jokes. Or, 'jokes'. Clearly, god should have spent more time at the open mics.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:51 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


See the UK. Bernard Manning yt and Roy "Chubby" Brown yt are both funny. (OK, Manning is dead, but he was funny as fuck back in the day.) While I don't particularly find Chubby's racist/anti-immigrant aspect of his schtick funny, his audience is hardly the powerful.

Hmm. Roy Brown just seems to be a racist piece of shit, and not funny at all. Even his audience doesn't seem to think he's all that funny, judging from that link.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:01 AM on May 28


"I read somewhere that public speakers should start their speeches with a joke"

"We begin bombing in 5 minutes"
posted by thelonius at 4:14 AM on May 28 [10 favorites]


Is there even one joke in the Bible?

There are puns, the most famous of which is when Jesus cracks that Peter, whose name is derived from the word for stone or rock, is the rock on which Jesus will build his church.
posted by pracowity at 4:34 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]


There's always going to be an audience for "punching down" comedy; "comedy should punch up" is a credo of comedians with some conscience and capacity for empathy, and their fans. (It is also, I think, more powerful and acts on a deeper level than sneering "punching down" comedy, but the point is well made that "punching down" comedy is always going to be popular too.)

Maybe the nation as a whole, outside Angry Conservative White Man World, has enough conscience and empathy that the most obvious kinds of punching down seem neither funny nor acceptable anymore?

Maybe the political landscape is so much in the grip of conservative power -- so much *more* in the grip of conservative power than the actual demographics of the nation could possibly justify -- that most people see conservative humor as an attack by a privileged few against people like themselves than as a cry of solidarity?

(Whether something is seen as "punching down" or just "laughing at something weird' seems to be mostly about whether the audience empathizes with the target. If you don't think of "gay people" as your friends and neighbors but as a weird impersonal phenomenon out there in the world that exists mostly as a stereotype or caricature, gay jokes are easy to laugh at. Same goes for jokes about little people and trans folk, which as has been pointed out, are still considered acceptable by many otherwise progressive comedians...)
posted by edheil at 4:42 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Is there even one joke in the Bible?

The Jonah book is kind of funny, and has the advantage of being the one biblical story where nobody dies.
posted by Omon Ra at 4:42 AM on May 28 [6 favorites]


It's funny, re: Dennis Miller's conservatism. My Roomate in the mid 90s didn't like Dennis Miller because he was "too conservative" and I just thought that he was even handed. He punched in all of the directions (I suspect instead that he had writers who were not as conservative and what I was hearing was their voice)

Fast forward to when he cracked; he didn't crack. He got scared and decided the best reaction was to start Punching Down. He lost his best writers and was left to his own sad and scared devices.

Comedy borne out of fear of the world, Punching Down forever.
posted by NiteMayr at 4:43 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


NoraReed: "Google Suey Park and Colbert to see how he ended up thoughtlessly sending his fans after her when she called him out on a triggering use of racial slurs."

That isn't what happened.
posted by schmod at 4:47 AM on May 28 [45 favorites]


Reality has a well-known liberal bias.

Not even close. I don't find propaganda the least bit funny and I don't care what side you're shilling. Modern humour has been turned into a weapon of manipulation, cruelty, and bullying, forcing people to think a certain way lest they be shamed and ridiculed.

Thanks, but no thanks. Trying to pull that stunt with me and get away with it? Now, that's funny...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 4:51 AM on May 28


I can't believe someone actually brought up Suey Park and Colbert. As if we're supposed to believe that a quote taken out of context illustrates some deep seeded racism on the part of Stephen Colbert and/or his writers. Especially, when Suey Park in an interview with Salon said that originating segment was "irrelevant", and understanding the originating context was unimportant. She came off as speaking nonsense to me, and given the follow up questions asked, it appears to have been nonsense to interviewer Prachi Gupta as well.
posted by robotmonkeys at 4:51 AM on May 28 [8 favorites]


An earlier article that I'll try to find cited The Simpsons as a great source of conservative comedy, mentioning Sideshow Bob's tirade on being arrested (shortly after the Willie Horton scandal was beginning to sink Mike Dukakis' presidential hopes): "You can't keep the Democrats out of the White House forever. And when they get in, I'm back on the streets, with all my criminal buddies!".
posted by fatbird at 10:35 PM on May 27 [1 favorite +] [!]


I always took that joke to be mocking the dumbass view Bob is expressing rather than mocking the Democrats themselves.
posted by Paul Slade at 4:56 AM on May 28 [11 favorites]


If there is a bastion of conservative humor, it's probably the morning radio "zoo" teams, like Bob and Tom. It's humor from a distinct blue-collar direction, and more in the "can you believe this crazy bullshit?" vein, but it's almost always skewering familiar conservative targets like Hollywood celebrities, jury verdicts that seem insane at first glance, silly laws, etc. with a big dollop of good-old-boy/locker room snarks. It's rarely political in the big-P way, but it's rarely in the defense of traditional liberal causes. Though, they do go after obvious shit like stupid gun owners shooting-off their toes or some sort.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:56 AM on May 28 [5 favorites]


Is there even one joke in the Bible?

If you're a revolutionary Judean, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" is a fucking kneeslapper. But I guess that's definitely punching up.
posted by condour75 at 5:10 AM on May 28 [6 favorites]


Park started the #CancelColbert campaign to get people to talk about the way white people use race. I saw a lot of people tweeting about how jolting it was to see the racial slurs that were used against them on the playground for years being used by a white guy to prove a point, and that seemed to be at the heart of that campaign. He then did a segment that pointed her out specifically, and if he'd thought about that for three seconds he'd have known that his rabid fanbase-- the fanbase he has leveraged for many projects before-- would end up sending her even more threats and abuse than they already were.

I've seen this kind of thing often enough from iconic figures on the left enough times that I don't really trust them, but the "it was ironic" and "it was satire" shields that comedians get to use even when their jokes aren't actually satire or using irony tends to make them able to get away with a lot more racism, sexism and cissexism than most other public figures.
posted by NoraReed at 5:15 AM on May 28 [5 favorites]


From a Parker/Stone interview linked from that article:

Michael Moore being an extremist is just as bad, you know, as Donald Rumsfeld.

This is why I can't take any points they're trying to make seriously. Clever, maybe, but anyone who says, "Well, there's Point A and Point B, and both of them annoy me, so they must be equal" is just too lazy to be smart.
posted by ignignokt at 5:19 AM on May 28 [32 favorites]


The FPP article itself felt a lot like a survey of the contemporary Christian rock landscape that I read several years ago. I guess Parker/Stone would fit into it as "spiritual but not Christian."
posted by ignignokt at 5:20 AM on May 28


Robert Price always cites the story about Peter in Acts 12, 12-16 as his favorite joke in the Bible.

If you're a revolutionary Judean, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" is a fucking kneeslapper. But I guess that's definitely punching up.

Best explanation of that I've heard is that you weren't allowed to bring images of a false idol into the Temple. But I'd love to hear your take on why that's so funny.
posted by cthuljew at 5:21 AM on May 28


I'd forgotten all about Dennis Miller - - thanx for the reminder OP!
posted by fairmettle at 5:24 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


re: Comedy Central late-night politics shows and transphobia
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:32 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


The punching down vs punching up explanation has never seemed right to me for two reasons: 1) lots of people do find punching down funny and 2) conservatives absolutely think of themselves as punching up. They seem themselves as "punching up" against an out of touch liberal elite; you can disagree, I do, but that's the self-conception of conservative humor. Modern movement conservatism isn't (in it's own mind) about defending the status quo, it's about fighting the entrenched powers of liberalism to change the world for the better. This is what they think they're doing when they set up those affirmative action bake sales, for instance, punching up against elitist orthodoxy.

The reason it's not funny, I think, is because so much conservative "humor" comes out the type of contemporary conservatism which is much more ideological than contemporary liberalism. The ideology comes first, the humor second, and so it's never very funny. I don't see a lot of liberal comedians doing the same thing, at least not the prominent ones. Contemporary liberalism is less ideologically driven and more pragmatic (the days of Russell Kirk's "conservatism is the negation of ideology" are definitely dead if they ever existed in the first place), and that makes for comedians more willing to put their humor first, which is necessary to be particularly funny.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:33 AM on May 28 [12 favorites]


Hmm. Roy Brown just seems to be a racist piece of shit, and not funny at all.

Yeah, the link was picked to show his conservative nature rather than how funny he is. He can be funny. He's definitely a piece of shit though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:00 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


"Can conservatives be funny?" and "Is conservative humor funny" are two completely different questions. The answer to the first I believe is a resounding yes. The second is more complicated, because humor rooted in a specific ideology and/or political tropes is defined so narrowly.

On preview, what Bulgaroktonos said.

This should be totally evident, but what people define as funny varies wildly, and the mechanism for humor can be unpredictable. There's nothing more annoying than some asshole telling you something isn't funny, even as you're laughing, or someone openly judging you for laughing at something they find offensive, as if laughter were an ideological endorsement of all evil in the world.
posted by echocollate at 6:10 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


> 1) lots of people do find punching down funny

A lot of humor we consider to be punching down is, to the intended audience, punching up.

You have to view/hear/read a lot of conservative comedy from the perspective of somebody whose primary media input is Fox News, talk radio, and church; They, too, believe that they are outnumbered by ideological opponents that surrounds them and control their politics and culture. For them, whipping out a homophobic slur is a defensive act against a decadence they oppose. Their comedy is in opposition to the liberals who would oppress them by legislating activities they do (recreation in protected wilderness, gun ownership, etc.) or by stigmatizing things they endorse or speech they consider innocuous (racism, anti-feminist jokes, etc.).
posted by ardgedee at 6:13 AM on May 28 [5 favorites]


Liberals per se might be harder to make fun of than conservatives, but the harder left is pretty easy to ridicule. There are some pretty funny lines about, say, the excesses of feminism, and the PCs of the '90's were exceptionally easy to ridicule to good effect. In fact, at that time, I remember people having the opposite of this conversation: why were conservatives so much funnier than liberals? (Well...I don't think that the PCs were liberal...but No True Scotsman yadda yadda....) That same basic sector of the left is now rearing its head again, and, predictably, is getting skewered pretty effectively/humorously in a fair number of places.

Unctuous self-righteousness and irrationality are funny, whether it's religious conservatives on the one hand, or the "kindly inquisitors" on the other...

Maybe the real point here is: the farther people move from approximately the political center, the easier it is to make fun of them. Until, y'know, they get dangerous...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:14 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Mike Judge generally identifies as a libertarian or nonpolitical, but a lot of his work is pretty right of center populism.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 6:18 AM on May 28


Let's see if I can get a brief history of comedy in a nutshell. Comedy was more often than not elitist until the beginning of the 20th century. It was "look at that funny immigrant and hear how he talks." In Shakespeare's "A Comedy of Errors," much of the humor is derived from hitting a slave for mistakes he made misidentifying which twin is which.
At the beginning of the 20th century, film became a popular art, a people's art. Unlike live theater it was not so much of an "event" entertainment or only for theater-goers. Virtually everyone could see a movie and several times a week.
Early cinema reflected the old ideas, if you look at pre-tramp Chaplin you'll see him doing mean-spirited things as a rich man or just plain kicking a kid. Maybe it was because of Chaplin's poor background, he changed the formula. He became the little guy with ingenuity taking on the big guy. Chaplin became hugely popular and not just humor, but film itself has most often been the little guy versus the big guy or powers that be.
There were great conservative comedians: Hope doing his everyman schtick, even Cagney had a wonderful sense of humor. Jimmy Stewart was conservative.
What has happened recently and why I can't be a conservative is that American went off the deep end. In 2010, the following countries executed more prisoners than the US: Iran, China and North Korea. Countries without paid maternity leave: Lesotho, Swaziland, Papua New Guinea and the United States. These things matter. There's just no room to be funny on the other side of the equation.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:20 AM on May 28 [7 favorites]


Multiple folks have referenced Dennis Miller "cracking" live on TV ... does anyone have a link?
posted by jbickers at 6:26 AM on May 28


Can communism be funny? Can fascism be funny? Can anarchism be funny?

Movement conservatism is a pretty distinct ideology with assumptions that are unconcerned with reality, and a pretty well-defined list of good things / bad things, along with a lot of myths. Its generally internally coherent and there are easy standards of purity.

And all those qualities mean that movement conservatism cannot be funny. As other people have pointed out, general mainstream conservative humor, like early morning radio shows, TV hosts, etc, can be funny. But that's because they go off of lived experience, rather than an ideology that needs to be learned and taught.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:27 AM on May 28


This article seems strangely focused on television, as if that is the only venue in which comedy happens.

It's not strangely focused on television, it's just specifically focused on it. Or as the article's subhead says, "As the late-night comedy landscape reshuffles, are right-wing comics being unfairly ignored?" Although I think a Frank Rich article surveying the state of conservative comedy today would be an interesting read, too.

I'd forgotten all about Dennis Miller - - thanx for the reminder OP!

You're welcome, cha cha!
posted by Room 641-A at 6:32 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


PJ O Rourke, Dennis Miller, and Larry the Cable Guy are the three pillars that American Conservative Humor are built on. Also, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, both of whose most vile spewings have been couched in "Hey! It's just a joke! You People are the PC Police - stop making me stop telling my shit jokes you Feminazi Muslims!" Occasionally, George Will might toss off something funny about baseball.

Miller, O'Rourke, and Guy are, literally, the cream of the crop of American Conservative Humor. They are as funny as the entire Conservative Movement gets. For every O Rourke, who is at least capable of forming grammatically correct paragraphs, there are ten Greg Gutfields, who is never, ever funny.

Larry the Cable Guy packs stadiums. I think he is the number one Conservative Comedian, if you're talking dollars. And since we're talking conservative, we are definitely talking dollars, Mr. Guy espouses the Conservative philosophy more succinctly and eloquently than Dennis Miller.
posted by Cookiebastard at 6:34 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


The thing is, there is already successful comedy done right now that makes fun of a lot of Liberal foibles. Its called "Portlandia". The difference there is that it has none of the mean spiritedness and scorched earth attitudes that conservative commedians normally exhibit.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 6:34 AM on May 28 [22 favorites]


From a Parker/Stone interview linked from that article:

Michael Moore being an extremist is just as bad, you know, as Donald Rumsfeld.

This is why I can't take any points they're trying to make seriously. Clever, maybe, but anyone who says, "Well, there's Point A and Point B, and both of them annoy me, so they must be equal" is just too lazy to be smart.


Well I remember talking about this years ago but it still holds, in that South Park is a perfect example of what I would call "conservative comedy" and I say that as someone who watches and laughs at South Park.

Conservatism is, essentially, that very laziness that you're talking about. It's opposition to progress, because change is hard, or rather change is scary. South Park frequently punches down by disguising it as punching up. The essence of conservative humor is to suggest that you, the conservative- in most cases the "normal" American (who is of course straight, white, male and employed) is in fact the oppressed, because the sudden encroachment of liberalism, feminism, gays, blacks, alternative thought, etc. is disturbing your idyllic world. It's the formula that has worked for South Park, for Blue Collar TV, for King of the Hill, all in various forms and tones, but that is the formula.

This model works horribly for late night because it requires crafting the joke and, in most cases, establishing the straw man. On Fox News, there's no joviality; the tone is to insist that the audience be angered or outrages at That Thing Over There. For a talk show, and this is the key, you're required to have a legitimate conversation with someone.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:37 AM on May 28 [6 favorites]


Anyway what really got me in this piece was Miller's "Cruella Demented" crack at Pelosi, as though "Cruella DeVille" just didn't sound evil enough.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:38 AM on May 28


For every O Rourke, who is at least capable of forming grammatically correct paragraphs, there are ten Greg Gutfields, who is never, ever funny.

If you take away one thing from this thread, it is that Greg Gutfield has never been funny, not even by accident. It's like he was created in a lab to destroy humor.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:41 AM on May 28 [10 favorites]


There are some pretty funny lines about, say, the excesses of feminism, and the PCs of the '90's were exceptionally easy to ridicule to good effect.

This is a great example as well, in that "Politically Correct" literally does not exist as a conversational term outside of derision. There is not a pundit on television in the last twenty years who has said that term outside of negatively commenting on whatever he/she just applied the label to.

It's like when right-wing pundits online call liberals "moonbats." It's part of a secret twin language. They actually invented words to shorthand "we are making fun of liberals, ha ha!"
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:41 AM on May 28 [11 favorites]


It's the formula that has worked for South Park, for Blue Collar TV, for King of the Hill, all in various forms and tones, but that is the formula.

King of the Hill was way more subversive than many people give it credit for.
posted by Shepherd at 6:42 AM on May 28 [35 favorites]


What bugs Gutfeld now, as it does Dunham’s grumpy old Walter and many present-day American conservatives, is that this country insists on perpetually re-­creating itself, progressively whittling down old white men’s monopoly on power.

I thought this was a particularly salient point from the article. The conservative comedy Rich is discussing seems to only exist in order to uphold the status quo. As someone said upthread, comedy is about shock and surprise, things that do not exist within the status quo.

I still like Dennis Miller when I see him, but since I don't watch Fox News it is increasingly rare when I do and I'm okay with that. I can't explain it, except to say that I like his cadence.
posted by GrapeApiary at 6:47 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Reagan could be funny.

A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose your job. A recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his job.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:48 AM on May 28 [7 favorites]


King of the Hill was way more subversive than many people give it credit for.

Oh don't get me wrong, KOTH was amazing in that there were onion layers of depth to what was going on there--and obviously, much like South Park, the absurdity of conservative types on the show did plenty to make that worldview a mockery of itself. My point is that the general nature of a typical episode's plot- Something new comes to Arlen, Hank doesn't like it, watch Hank struggle with not wanting to adapt- is the stock of conservative humor. Whether you find Hank in the right at the end of the episode can be left open to interpretation.

What made KOTH work, of course, is that at its core, the lead character is a fundamentally good person who does not want to actually hurt other people, which is why people love it and why they hate Dennis Miller.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:51 AM on May 28 [29 favorites]


I used to really like Miller's old stuff, where he came across as more or less a liberal making fun of other liberals (which I can relate to) but he totally lost me with the Bush lapdoggery. Shame, cause whatever else he had a quick wit.
posted by jonmc at 6:58 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


It often seems to me like conservatives confuse cruelty with humor. I tend to think that that's probably one of the main causes of why successful conservative comedians are relatively rare.
posted by Flunkie at 7:07 AM on May 28 [10 favorites]


In Not Cool, Gutfeld writes that “the haters of the old white male forget that it was a hardy group of old white men who created this country.”

Sure, for other old white men. As George Carlin termed it, "A group of slave owners who wanted to be free."

The last 238 years has been a glacially slow, fit-and-start effort to make "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" apply to all of the Americans who aren't old, white, and male.

We're still not done. It's better. But it's no where near done.
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:13 AM on May 28 [7 favorites]


You can make a pretty solid argument that any comedy that reinforces white, middle class, suburban values is inherently conservative, and therefore the majority of sitcoms and late night talk shows are overwhelmingly conservative.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 7:20 AM on May 28 [9 favorites]


Is there even one joke in the Bible?

Titus 1:12 comes to mind: "One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.'"

Also, Jesus' father Joseph. Having to play along with that whole "virgin" birth shtick. Poor guy, lol.
posted by xigxag at 7:22 AM on May 28


The Pharisees "strain out a gnat and swallow a camel" was a good jibe. Jesus had several more like these.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:26 AM on May 28


Dude had a mullet in 1988. That's not right.
posted by thelonius at 7:30 AM on May 28


We all had mullets in 1988. Everybody. Even the babies.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:33 AM on May 28 [13 favorites]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "We all had mullets in 1988. Everybody. Even the babies."

As far as I know, there are no pictures of my hair from '88 so as far as the historical record is concerned, I didn't have a mullet.
posted by octothorpe at 7:36 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


I was about to use Ron White as an example of a conservative that makes me piss myself laughing but then again he's pro-gay and pro-legalization so his conservative credentials might in tatters.
posted by Ber at 7:42 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]


Nick DiPaolo, mentioned briefly in the article, is a very funny comedian when he isn't being political. It's really unfortunate that he's a clueless straight/white/male rights advocate in real life or we'd probably get to see more of his talent.
posted by rocket88 at 7:46 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Adam Sandler is a Republican?
posted by Sophie1 at 7:50 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


A comedy rule to live by is - bends=funny, breaks=tragic. The problem with the so-called "conservative" comedian is not so much their politics, but that they don't seem to understand the border-line between offensive to get the audience off-guard and offensive because you are an entitled asshole and you are just saying what your bigoted mind feels like saying.

(Edit: or what Flunkie said above)
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:52 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Adam Sandler is a Republican?

He's definitely not funny. Story checks out.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:55 AM on May 28 [33 favorites]


If there is a bastion of conservative humor, it's probably the morning radio "zoo" teams, like Bob and Tom.

Glenn Beck was a morning zoo DJ before his conversion to Mormonism. I also remember reading that the guy who supposedly invented the morning zoo format ended up as a producer for Sean Hannity. So there's that.
posted by jonp72 at 7:59 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I used to really like Miller's old stuff, where he came across as more or less a liberal making fun of other liberals (which I can relate to) but he totally lost me with the Bush lapdoggery.

One thing that bothered me about post-9/11 Dennis Miller is that it sounded like he was toning down the rapid-fire blizzards of wacky allusions that was his trademark. It's almost as if that, when Dennis Miller saw his audience tilting rightward, he made a calculated decision to dumb down his shtick, which in a way is an example of a conservative comedian having a low opinion of the potential audience for conservative comedy.
posted by jonp72 at 8:03 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]


To be fair to any putative conservative comedians, it must be difficult getting off a few zingers against liberal hypocrisy when you have to compete against all the liberal comedians firing zingers against liberal hypocrisy.
posted by jonp72 at 8:07 AM on May 28 [16 favorites]


It's opposition to progress, because change is hard, or rather change is scary

You're conflating change with progress. Sometimes change is regress.

My general take is that any comic whose jokes require you to share his political bent is not the real thing.

(No love her for Beavis and Butthead? They had some nice pot-shotting at both left and right.)
posted by IndigoJones at 8:13 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


All this talk of conservative comedians and no mention of the elegant writing and analysis of Frank Rich. I miss him so much since he left NYT but not enough to subscribe to New York Magazine.
posted by Xurando at 8:15 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


I remember seeing Dennis Miller on Diners Drive ins and Dives (of all places) recently and the guy came across as unbelievably bitter.

Also, the guy on Blue Collar Comedy Hour with the glass of scotch in hand is pretty funny although I don't know his actual politics and another one of them did a really funny riff on cheap toilet paper. FWIW.
posted by jonmc at 8:26 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Also, the guy on Blue Collar Comedy Hour with the glass of scotch in hand is pretty funny although I don't know his actual politics

That's Ron White, the dude mentioned before as being at least gay-friendly and pro-legalization. He was also a really engaging guest on Marc Maron's show; dude's led an interesting life and now likes to spend his holidays with members of AC/DC.
posted by COBRA! at 8:29 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


David Cross does a jab at Dennis Miller... (potentially triggery bit after the dennis miller aside)
posted by symbioid at 8:29 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Part of what often makes a comedian successful is dwelling in the uncomfortable gray areas between our mores and taboos. If you don't see gray and only black and white absolutes then you have no cognative ability to do this.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:33 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]


Comedy is the meeting point of the absurd and the unexpected. Anything else is superfluous.
posted by dr_dank at 8:52 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


White people walk like this. Black people walk like thiiiiiiiiiis, because they are inferior.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:54 AM on May 28


Is there even one joke in the Bible?

In Palm Sunday, Kurt Vonnegut proposed Jesus' response to Judas' complaint of Mary using Spikenard oil to wash Jesus' feet, that it would be better given to the poor, was a joke.

The punch-line is: For the poor always ye have with you.

In the autobiographical Palm Sunday, author Kurt Vonnegut reports being invited to preach on Palm Sunday in 1980, and chooses for his text the Gospel of John's version of the anointing. Vonnegut did so because he had "seen so much un-Christian impatience with the poor encouraged by the quotation"; he questioned the translation, saying it lacked the mercifulness of the Sermon on the Mount, and took the opportunity to offer his own translation:[6]

Perhaps a little something has been lost in translation....I would like to recapture what has been lost. Why? Because I, as a Christ-worshipping agnostic, have seen so much un-Christian impatience with the poor encouraged by the quotation "For the poor always ye have with you."...If Jesus did in fact say that, it is a divine black joke, well suited to the occasion. It says everything about hypocrisy and nothing about the poor. It is a Christian joke, which allows Jesus to remain civil to Judas, but to chide him for his hypocrisy all the same. 'Judas, don't worry about it. There will still be plenty of poor people left long after I'm gone.'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anointing_of_Jesus

posted by lazycomputerkids at 8:59 AM on May 28 [9 favorites]


I don't think it's true that conservatives can't be funny. Who's not funny is people who think they can use humor to manipulate public perceptions about how awful certain kinds of people are. People who are basically Fox News by other means. You can mock injustice, systemic and otherwise, but when the point of your joke is to get people to agree that some group or kind of person is terrible and deserves to be dehumanized you're not doing comedy anymore, and people can tell the difference.

That being said, I think it would also be easier to see why conservatives can be funny if you stop conflating them with Republicans.
posted by clockzero at 9:07 AM on May 28 [6 favorites]


David Cross does a jab at Dennis Miller

I've always felt David Cross was kind of the liberal equivalent of Dennis Miller. I saw him in Portland in the mid-early naughts and it was pretty much one Bush joke after another punctuated by typical observational humor. Middle-class liberal ire in that vein was an inflated currency at the time, and although I generally shared the political sentiments, his whole routine struck me as facile and lame. I much prefer him as an actor.

(No love her for Beavis and Butthead? They had some nice pot-shotting at both left and right.)

Much love. The most recent season (2011 I think?) after the long hiatus was superb. Some of the reality TV bits were low-hanging fruit, but overall the satire seemed sharper and wittier than in earlier seasons. I read somewhere that Judge considers B&B his best work (or maybe just his favorite?) and that he hopes to do more episodes. Crossing fingers.
posted by echocollate at 9:09 AM on May 28 [8 favorites]


There is definately a lot of punching down in comedy. I spent a year doing an act in comedy clubs, and heard an alarmingly large number of jokes that made women, gays, and immigrants their targets, and they played well (although the rape jokes were both frequent and touchy; they didn't get the same sort of pass that jokes about fat women did.)

But they were apolitical, in the sense that they didn't represent a specific political viewpoint, but rather a generalized misogyny or other loathing. Comedians often are unhappy, broken men, and they often play that role onstage.

I think the issue with so much conservative comedy is that the facade of being the underdog falls away. I mean, John Stewart can get away with nakedly mocking conservatives, in part because he is generous with his mockery and perfectly willing to go after liberals when he sees them as ridiculous, but in part because his persona is "smart, Jewish guy from Jersey" -- a persona that a lot of people read as underdog. When Craig Kilborn and Stephen Colbert do the same joke, their actual persona is not as underdoggy -- Kilborn radiates smug privilege, while Colbert has an undercurrent of being part of the establishment that may not be true, but it comes across anyway. Smartly, both decided to make those very things part of their mockery, in Kilborn's case by parodying smug talk show hosts, in Colbert's case by literally assuming a Rush Limbaugh-like persona.

It takes a Mort Sahl to be a Mort Sahl -- a hangdog intellectual who wry humor emerges from worldweariness, an everyman with a newspaper and an opinion. You can't be conventionally attractive and reek of privilege -- think Daniel Tosh, speaking of comedy that punches down -- and be a Mort Sahl.

And that's where conservative comedy seems to break down. Because, whoever is responsible for it, however brilliant it might be, it will always give off a whiff of a group of preppies making fun of the help. When you're an underdog and you're funny, you seem like a person using comedy to protect yourself against life's many harms. When you're a master of the universe, or representing their interests, and you're funny, you seem like a dick.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:16 AM on May 28 [11 favorites]


Let's see if I can get a brief history of comedy in a nutshell. Comedy was more often than not elitist until the beginning of the 20th century. It was "look at that funny immigrant and hear how he talks." In Shakespeare's "A Comedy of Errors,"

Comedy didn't start in the 16th century though. When the goddess Ishtar is spurned by Gilgamesh, she goes to complain to her dad that Gilgamesh has told 'my abominable behaviour, my foul and hideous acts.' i.e. she complains she's been wronged because he told the truth. Ulysses tricks the cyclops Polyphemus, son of a god, by telling him his name is "no one" so that after he blinds him, the cyclops wails that no one blinded him. Aristophanes, the Father of Comedy, ridiculed Athens itself, general Cleon, philosophers, tragedians and even Dionysus, who was the patron of the festivals where his plays were performed.
posted by ersatz at 9:20 AM on May 28 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure I completely buy the "punching up" idea. Not quite completely at least. As Joey Michaels sort of gets at, we've always made comedy out of mocking those less sophisticated and cultured than ourselves (poor folks, the country bumpkin), and other relatively powerless types. But at the same time, mocking the hypocrisies of the powerful (craven and greedy politicians, lecherous clergy) has been a function of comedy for centuries as well. I think comedy punches up, down, and sideways wherever it sees an opportunity.

In my opinion, the reason conservatives just can't be funny is that conservatism (modern American conservatism at least) is ultimately all about fear. Without fear, conservatism is literally impossible. And fear and comedy just don't mix.
posted by Naberius at 9:22 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


You know, one long term benefit of the right going for the short-term sugar high of a fully commodified politics, driven by profit rather than principle (not that the old politics wasn't, but the right doesn't even pretend otherwise anymore) is that it subjects political discourse and ideas to the logics of the market, and not just any market, but the market for pop cultural entertainment.

This brings in the reliable demographics and the big advertising bucks and the captive fundraising audiences and the easy outrage buttons and the quick responsiveness of social media networks. But on the downside, it inspires no loyalty, no long term affiliation, and a state of perpetual disappointment over the transparency of any sort of idealistic stance taken by anyone in the profession of politics at any level. It's a recipe for cynicism and weak affective bonds, dependent always on the charisma of particular figures who easily disappoint or don't have any ideas behind their charisma. Indeed, who's to say where the line between comedy and serious discourse even is on the right anymore? It's all just froth, and the sugar high (and sugar crash) it induces is pathetic.

To some extent this is true of all political discourse in the US, left and right. Image over substance, profit over principle, charisma for sale to the highest bidder, and no one even bothering to pretend otherwise anymore.

It's no wonder no one fucking bothers to vote. It's surely the sign of a major transition away from traditional alignments of race, class, region, religion, gender, and party, but it's unclear to what we are transitioning. Every man for himself, I'd say. The right wing circus has lost any mantle of seriousness or principle it enjoyed through the past few decades. No one sees it as anything other than a movement standing for the naked self-interest of older white people. It's so inherently cynical about itself that it hardly even makes a target for modern humor, which is all about cynicism as a stance and thus no longer finds hypocrisy on the right a compelling or moving subject. It's why Colbert's and Stewart's schticks have not aged well, too.

You have to stand for something, not just against everything.
posted by spitbull at 9:33 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Comedy is the meeting point of the absurd and the unexpected. Anything else is superfluous.

Is there even one joke in the Bible?




There was the bit in 2nd Kings where a bunch of kids make fun of Elisha's baldness, and then God sends two bears to kill them.


Or, as Mel Brooks puts it: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:48 AM on May 28 [11 favorites]


White people walk like this. Black people walk like thiiiiiiiiiis, because they are inferior.

But black folk drive more cool.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:51 AM on May 28


I'm not sure what his politics are, but Andrew Dice Clay always struck me as the quintessential conservative comedian.
posted by klarck at 9:51 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


madajb: "Do any of us think of Jay Leno as a liberal beacon?"

Yes! His wife is a noted feminist activist, chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation, and particularly instrumental in bringing attention to the anti-woman violence of the Taliban (prior to 9/11); both of the Lenos have been big supporters and donors to feminist causes for decades.

Now it didn't come up on his show very often, but if you're a MAVIS Leno fan, you see a lot of the feminist side of Jay. He also frequently MCs feminist fundraising events and that sort of thing. Right now he's kicking up dust about the Sultan of Brunei's new anti-gay penal code and is boycotting events held at properties owned or partially owned by the Sultan.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:52 AM on May 28 [11 favorites]


If Rupert Murdoch could find right-wing comics who are funny, you’d bet he’d make a home for them on the Fox network or FX, alongside his liberal staples Louie, Family Guy, and Glee.

Steve Marmel is a FG producer but apparently he's not as conservative as he was when he was doing standup at UW-Madison.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:54 AM on May 28


twoleftfeet: "I'm frightened by anyone who takes everything seriously. That's why I don't belong to a Christian religion. Is there even one joke in the Bible?"

Oh, man, tons of them. But humor's very culturally dependent so they're not usually very funny anymore by the time you finish explaining the cultural context and ancient Hebrew pun that make it humorous.

The whole book of Jonah is probably meant to be comedic; it sets up a bunch of then-current tropes about prophets and Jonah is shown overdoing them all and basically being a caricature of a prophet, who gets eaten by a fish because OF COURSE HE DOES, and then when people actually listen to his prophecy in Ninevah and repent, he climbs up on a mountain and sulks about it because where's the fun in prophecy if there's no destruction? We can tell we're meant to laugh at his attitude (not admire it) because God rebukes him for it. Jonah's hilarious. The book is intentionally absurd.

(And, yep, as someone says above, SO SO MANY PENIS JOKES. Also potty humor.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:59 AM on May 28 [8 favorites]


In 2014, how do you make a joke about how two hundred fifty years of slavery (and ninety subsequent years of state-santcioned domestic terrorism) weren't that bad?

It wasn't, compared to watching Carrot Top.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:03 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Andrew Dice Clay always struck me as the quintessential conservative comedian.

Libertarian, at a stretch, maybe. Conservatives as a rule don't like smut. At least, not the ones I know.

Is there even one joke in the Bible?

Of course not! Jews are well known for lacking a sense of humor.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:09 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Is there even one joke in the Bible?

My favorite is how Exodus 20 begins with "I am the Lord thy God, who brought you out of Egypt, the land of slavery.", and Exodus 21 is all about the proper way to keep Hebrew slaves, including selling your daughter into what I can only read as sexual servitude, that it's okay to beat them to death as long as they don't die right away because hey, it's your money...
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:17 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]


I still like Dennis Miller when I see him, but since I don't watch Fox News it is increasingly rare when I do and I'm okay with that. I can't explain it, except to say that I like his cadence.

Oddly, when I watched Dennis Miller Live fifteen years ago, his style of delivery was the the thing that appealed least to me; he does That Thing That Some Comedians Do, where they drop the level of their voice to underplay the punchline. It is irritating if you do not have your TV blaring at window-rattling volumes.

To take a pre-born-again Miller line and his frequent delivery style and patterns of emphasis:

"George W. BUSH has had the FORESIGHT to SURROUND himself with bright people the way a hole surrounds itself with a donut."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:23 AM on May 28


Round my corner of the web, conservatives seem to be finding most of their humor in trolling. You know, putting up crappy books for Hugo nominations, marketing a card game about "Social Justice Warriors", etc. They seem to find it all very humorous, especially from the idea that the humorless liberals won't find it funny.
posted by happyroach at 10:29 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I don't care what anyone says, Rush Limbaugh is the king of right wing comedy.
posted by spitbull at 10:29 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Now I'm curious about other holy books. Are there any jokes in the Quran? I tried to Google that but the results are just full of anti-Muslim "humor".
posted by Drinky Die at 10:29 AM on May 28


Can communism be funny? ... Can anarchism be funny?

Great Moments in Leftism is some of the funniest, most biting satire of the American left out there, targeting pretty much every corner of American leftism.


It takes a Mort Sahl to be a Mort Sahl -- a hangdog intellectual who wry humor emerges from worldweariness, an everyman with a newspaper and an opinion. You can't be conventionally attractive and reek of privilege -- think Daniel Tosh, speaking of comedy that punches down -- and be a Mort Sahl.

Daniel Tosh is basically Reddit incarnate.


The thing is, there is already successful comedy done right now that makes fun of a lot of Liberal foibles. Its called "Portlandia". The difference there is that it has none of the mean spiritedness and scorched earth attitudes that conservative commedians normally exhibit.

Upthread, I mentioned Jeff Foxworthy's jokes mostly being "hey people like me, we're kind of silly sometimes, right?" That's Portlandia.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:36 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Now I'm curious about other holy books. Are there any jokes in the Quran? I tried to Google that but the results are just full of anti-Muslim "humor".

Me too! You should post an AskMe!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:38 AM on May 28


I read all five pages of this essay. It was worth for the hot link to the Limbuagh/Coulter bit. I'm pretty sure what I thought was funny wasn't what Fox intended me to laugh at; Limbaugh in the Oval Office, with Coulter as his Veep...this was funny as a sight-gag. They didn't even have to speak to get my grin. It was made even better because of Limbaugh's secretary's name: Rosemary. I guess you have to be very old to grin at that little gem. Coulter's line about invading your country and killing your leaders is a screaming success, mostly because I didn't feel guilty about laughing at her, not with her. As a control, remember how Tiny Fey delivered blistering parodies of our favorite Alaskan; but even she couldn't have surpassed Coulter's closing lines in that scene. I laughed for all the wrong reasons, is what I'm saying. Okay I feel dirty, but there it is.

Bob and Tom love to feature fart jokes. I don't like fart jokes. They aren't funny. To me. Usually.

I believe that humor works as a tool that helps socialize folks. It validates, or perhaps implies, certain social values. It's not enough to say that conservative humor isn't funny...humor may be analyzed effectively, but the notion of whether it's funny generally depends on whose dog is being kicked, or stroked, as it were. I can think back to my junior high school days, when dead baby and little moron jokes were the rage. Also nigger jokes, and queer jokes, both veiled or unveiled. These were tools that helped shape young minds to a certain set of sensibilities, and validate one's own notions of good and bad. You laugh to show that you were part of the "crowd." I laughed then at stuff that disgusts me now. I'd like to think this is because I've gained a more balanced outlook on things. (I don't deny my blind spots, I just can't see them until I make some sort of movement to where perspective informs me of my error.)

Certain notions began to gain traction in the 50's. Think Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce for a diverse pair of social commentators that came from different directions to more or less the same point. The one keyed off HUAC and it's ilk, and the other attacked rabid Bible Belter sensibilities. (For a timeless bit, see Mort Sahl attempt to explain how Hawks and Doves are different.)

The Smothers Bros and George Carlin mined similar veins. There were others. Once the lid was off the box similar voices began to add their particular talents to what was becoming an increasingly unsettled, and unsettling, American paradigm. In my day (from the 50's), the worth of the individual began to rise and be celebrated, one version at a time: blacks, browns, women, gays...this list goes on, but once the principle is accepted, the liberal mind has little choice but to discard the old prejudices, taught to us largely by jokes.

If the upheavals of the 60's were worth anything, they brought the individual into focus. We liked to think of our nation as a melting pot, but it never was. We could have saved ourselves a lot of miserable history if we'd simply celebrated our origins as much as our national identities, but then, considering that we were not founded in liberty and equity, but avarice and larceny, it's not surprising that we are still plagued with hypocrisy. All this gloom, of course ignores all the decent folks in our history--not surprising, because they usually have been marginalized in favor of the rich and greedy. (Having money doesn't make you an asshole, so I'm not going there.)

Anyhow, about conservative humor: sure, it's funny. But most of isn't funny to me. Maybe this is because, although I won't let you kick my dog, I'm not above giving him a (metaphorical) boot myself.

So, fuck Dennis Miller.

As for Biblical humor, the Old Testament has some winners: I liked the line about killing everyone who pisseth against a wall. Or the hundred thousand foreskins. I didn't see too much to laugh at in the New Testament, though. (Revelations is pretty cool, but it's not funny.)
posted by mule98J at 10:43 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Your average successful actor or comedian has spent 5, maybe 10+ years supporting themselves in catering jobs, service industry jobs, temp work, low - level office jobs before getting their big break (and in a lot of cases, that big break isn't so much a big payday as the job that gets them a SAG card and access to union benefits like health care).

I'm less than shocked that so few of these people are vocal supporters of the brand of American politics that refuses to raise minimum wage or support single payer healthcare, wants to deflate unions, dismantle food stamps, and would rather fund abstinence education plans than any sort of endowment for the arts.
posted by elr at 10:47 AM on May 28 [5 favorites]


Whole lot of people confusing "funny" and "comedy" in this thread....
posted by holybagel at 10:51 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I've always thought Dennis Leary was a more interesting case, politically, than Dennis Miller.

From what I recall of his 90s standup, he strikes me as that rare case of a famous person who is economically liberal but socially conservative.

Either my assumptions were off - base or his politics have shifted over the years. Everything he creates seems to come from (and pitch towards) a very working class urban Irish Catholic god-fearing-but-secular-living place. My guess is that he's pro-LGBTQI civil rights, but slips and drops some F - bombs and T - bombs when he's talking unscripted and unguarded.
posted by elr at 10:56 AM on May 28


I don't know but I've always associated Seth Macfarlane with conservative humor but his wiki page says he's a big supporter of the Democratic party.
posted by ChuckRamone at 10:58 AM on May 28


McFarlane is a perfect example of how being a Democrat doesn't make you a decent person.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:02 AM on May 28 [5 favorites]


Anybody remember Gallagher? Turns out he is what some might consider a conservative comedian, although quite frankly anyone with a soul would disclaim him, except that apparently the entire audience was laughing.

Trigger warning for all conceivable -isms.
posted by radicalawyer at 11:03 AM on May 28


Anybody remember Gallagher? Turns out he is what some might consider a conservative comedian

Let me paraphrase a Seinfeld episode:

Q: And that offends you as a conservative?

A: No, that offends me as a comedian.
posted by jonp72 at 11:06 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


For me, the most galling aspect of conservative humorists is that they often quip, "I'm an equal opportunity offender," but that usually means "of everyone but people like myself." Or if it is about people like themselves, it doesn't come off as mean spirited, like they're just ribbing their pals rather than throwing haymakers like they do at everyone else.
posted by ChuckRamone at 11:07 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


There are some pretty funny lines about, say, the excesses of feminism, and the PCs of the '90's were exceptionally easy to ridicule to good effect. In fact, at that time, I remember people having the opposite of this conversation: why were conservatives so much funnier than liberals?

I went to Brown University in the 1990s. There definitely were excesses at the time that made some left-of-center folk easier to mock than their more conservative counterparts. Then we had George W. Bush, whose excesses had a way of making a lot of 1990s PC excesses seem merely silly and beside the point.
posted by jonp72 at 11:11 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


I think a lot of comedy, especially social criticism and "edgy" material, comes from saying things that are not socially acceptable or officially endorsed but that the audience feels deep down is true. EG Bill Maher at the height of the Impeach Clinton "but he lied!" hysteria, saying "C'mon, what guy hasn't lied about doing a fat chick?"

That's why drug humor in the 1970s worked, even if it wasn't super hilarious. Someone was speaking a secret truth the audience knew, in public!! Political correctness is a big ripe target for humor, and a lot of standup comedians milk it with often conservative themes. A lot of African American comics, for example, offer impassioned defenses of the value of corporal punishment for kids, which almost always brings cheers from the audience. ("Time out? KNOCK OUT!") that kind of thing.

The big problem with conservative humor today is that conservatives are in their own Fox/Rush/Glenn Beck/Promise Rings echo-chamber alternate reality, so that they just aren't that in touch with truths (taboo or otherwise) in the first place. At an all-conservative event, I'm sure it kills. But hell, Sarah Palin is hilarious in that scene.
posted by msalt at 11:13 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


There are no jokes per-se in the bible, but the Isaac sacrifice thing was definitely a forerunner to Punk'd.
posted by dr_dank at 11:15 AM on May 28 [5 favorites]


Is there even one joke in the Bible?

Pretty much no jokes as we know them, but you can fine many instances of humor (irony, misdirection, subtleties, hyperbole, banter, plays on words, some sacasm). Some of it doesn't always translate in obvious ways through time, as some of it was based on historically specific contexts in which certain things (like elements in some of Jesus' stories) would have been subversive or humorous to consider. Sort of like trying to interpret why some things in Shakespeare would have been historically funny. Also, people's names were sometimes meant to be funny and they were perhaps emphasized to make fun of them. For example, in Genesis 34, Jacob's family is infuriated at Shechem for wrongs done to Dinah, their sister and daughter. The name of Shechem's father is noted in the narrative (but not his brothers, even though they were involved), and his name is "Hamor," which means "a large he-ass."

Humor is also endorsed. Colossians 4:6 in the New Jerusalem Bible: "Always talk pleasantly and with a flavour of wit." That's not a bad translation.

My favorite Proverb perhaps: "The sluggard says, 'There is a lion outside!'" Okay, lazy dude. That's not obvious or anything.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:16 AM on May 28


We all had mullets in 1988. Everybody. Even the babies.

The apotheosis of the mullet was Bono at Live Aid in 1985. It has been downhill ever since.
posted by jonp72 at 11:16 AM on May 28


All this talk of conservative comedians and no mention of the elegant writing and analysis of Frank Rich.

No, no, just look around! There are no comments critical of the author's tone, or style, or cred, or bona fides, or gender, or accuracy, and the article has generated a very interesting and thoughtful conversation that could have gone any number of other ways. Every one of the 140+ comments in this thread (plus the threadshitty comments that weren't posted) is a tribute to the elegant writing and analysis of Frank Rich!
posted by Room 641-A at 11:20 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


McFarlane is a perfect example of how being a Democrat doesn't make you a decent person.

Maybe, maybe not.

He did get Cosmos back on the air. On Fox. It premiered on TEN Fox channels.

That's a pretty good punchline.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:23 AM on May 28 [8 favorites]


I graduated in 89 with a magnifcient perm-mullet, which we called a "bi-level" haircut at the time. It was a thing of ridiculous beauty, as high school hair should be.

I also loved Dennis Miller once, because smart humor was in short supply in those pre-Internet days.

But like the perm mullet, he lost his mojo, and it ain't coming back.

Offhand, Florence King is the only conservative I can think of who is funny.

"Golf is an exercise in Scottish pointlessness for people who are no longer able to throw telephone poles at each other.”

“Lacking ladylike poison, Lizzie (Borden) did what every over-civilized, understated Wasp is entirely capable of doing once we finally admit we're mad as hell and aren't going to take it any more: She went from Anglo to Saxon in a trice.”


She has said herself that she's not so much a conservative as a monarchist, though. Elitist in a very old-school way.
posted by emjaybee at 11:39 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Liberals per se might be harder to make fun of than conservatives, but the harder left is pretty easy to ridicule.

I feel like a decent conservative comedian could make a pretty good living just following the college/liberal activist scene. The recent stories about the fight for 'trigger warnings' in classes seems like it could spawn fodder for months:

Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm

But of course most of the conservative humor on these issues veers to the offensive.

I think part of it is actually biological: neuro-types of conservatives versus liberals - liberals are more able to think "laterally," and are more prone to questioning reality than accepting it - key elements of comedy.

Also, I think funny conservatives that are smart enough to be funny without stooping to racism, misogyny, etc. can find a whole host of job/life opportunities that would meet their needs, while 'showbusinesses' and the comedy-world is more welcoming of "misfits" who may not have been able/willing to hold a typical office job (intelligent or not).
posted by rosswald at 11:56 AM on May 28


Is there even one joke in the Bible?

The Book of Job is basically about the same joke as "The Aristocrats."
posted by Cookiebastard at 12:00 PM on May 28 [17 favorites]


David Cross is a good case in point. I like a lot of what he's done, really liked some of it, but the album linked above, 2004's It's Not Funny, is probably his weakest. It's nothing but "Bush Sucks". I know I listened to it a few times and got laughs off of it, but it got grating pretty quickly, and has aged horribly.

So that's David Cross at his weakest. For lots of the "conservative" comedians we've mentioned, that's their entire shtick. It may not be intrinsic to conservatism, but contemporary American conservatism has decided to base itself in resentment, and that seems to lead to really poor humor.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:03 PM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Hard left humor.

Hard right humor.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:04 PM on May 28


I was fascinated to learn that the median age of fox news viewers is 68, and the median age of Jon Stewart viewers is 42. Fox isn't just a conservative channel, it's a channel for the elderly.
posted by medusa at 12:11 PM on May 28


Is there even one joke in the Bible?

"Hope does not disappoint." That one always kills me.
posted by uosuaq at 12:14 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Anybody remember Gallagher? Turns out he is what some might consider a conservative comedian

Gallagher is off the rails. He came to the Bridgetown Comedy Festival the year before last, which I was at, and had a famous interview with Marc Maron the year before that. It's kind of fascinating to watch, because he's sort of doing the comedian thing, but something is definitely off, and he'll seem reasonable for a while and then just drop 5 thought-bombs that are both offensive but also a bit disconnected from reality.

He's sort of a third of the way toward making the leap toward a brilliant, insanely-edgy right-wing comedy, but face-planting horribly instead, like Evel Knievel jumping the Snake River Canyon without a parachute.
posted by msalt at 12:14 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Before I saw other people picking up the same thread, I MeMailed the tumblr that tracks Stewart/Colbert trans jokes to the person who asked for examples. I don't want to get into any kind of nitpick argument about which jokes other people think are and aren't okay, because if you keep scrolling you should be able to find something recent you recognize as both serious (that is, not shielded by Colbert's satire) and awful. Here's one from October that the audience loved. I saw that live and it fucking sucked.

I'd also argue that because of the presence of numerous completely serious trans jokes that neither show has built up enough goodwill to make "ironic" trans jokes. They feel the same to me because they've pretty much never indicated that they "get it" enough to play with it.
posted by Corinth at 12:38 PM on May 28 [10 favorites]


Conservative comedy can be very good at poking fun at absurdities inherent in government. It's been a while since I read P. J. O'Rourke, but if I remember correctly, he was pretty good at that.
posted by Triplanetary at 12:56 PM on May 28


Everyone wants to think they're the ones who get it, so it's no surprise most people insist people not like them aren't funny (and exaggerate their negative qualities while doing so) because right now, to be funnier is to be a better person. In other times and places, the same people would insist they are the serious ones. The nice thing about measuring humor is it's subjective and you don't laugh at people you don't like, so getting the subjective result you want is easy to do.
posted by michaelh at 12:57 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


emjaybee, bless you for mentioning Florence King. Her ear for language, coupled with her wit, should be studied by aspiring pundits.

I came of age reading her, P.J. O'Rourke (at his peak) and Joe Queenan. It is still sort of amazing to me how quickly the brain, wit and humor drained out of right-leaning punditry from the early 1990s to now.
posted by sobell at 1:07 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Was The Goode Family "conservative humour"? I don't know, because I never saw it. No-one did! But at its best, King of the Hill did a better job of skewering the left *and* right than any other show I've seen (including South Park).
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:16 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Comedy is about punching up, not down, which is why conservative humor falls flat.

No, comedy is not about punching up. It's not about punching at all. It's about making people laugh. "Conservative comedy" is a niche aimed a particular group, and it's not going to be funny to everyone. Plenty of people laugh at that idiot ventriloquist guy with the skeleton-in-a-turban puppet even if I think it's ignorant and racist and dumb.

Zoomed out, I think it is very tricky to effectively navigate humor on liberal/progressive issues. In 2014, how do you make a joke about how two hundred fifty years of slavery (and ninety subsequent years of state-santcioned domestic terrorism) weren't that bad?

And that right there is why I think we don't see very many conservative comedians standing out in public discourse.


I think there are probably other targets the conservative comedians can focus on
posted by Hoopo at 1:41 PM on May 28 [2 favorites]


No, comedy is not about punching up. It's not about punching at all. It's about making people laugh.

Exactly. Much observational comedy has no target to punch. Much transgressive comedy punches down. Shock comics punch up and down, at themselves, at the audience, whatever.

Ideological conservative comedy doesn't work very well in the 21st Century, not because of who it targets, but because it doesn't elicit many laughs. I think it's because ideologically, conservatives take themselves quite seriously, and when they do crack wise, it's often more cruel than humorous. Ya gotta be really careful with the comedy of cruelty, and I don't think that the modern conservative comedians are incisive enough to make that kind of comedy work.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 2:00 PM on May 28




No, comedy is not about punching up. It's not about punching at all. It's about making people laugh.

Exactly. Much observational comedy has no target to punch.


Poltical comedy is not observational comedy though.
posted by sweetkid at 2:14 PM on May 28


" think Daniel Tosh, speaking of comedy that punches down"

I think from what I know of Daniel Tosh when he isn't on; is that he knows what it is his act is and that the whole persona is just that. Someone who punches down and how preposterous it is.
posted by NiteMayr at 2:37 PM on May 28


In this thread: A lot of people who know exactly what comedy is, and by god, it's not what that other asshole in this thread says it is.
posted by stenseng at 3:32 PM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Everyone wants to think they're the ones who get it, so it's no surprise most people insist people not like them aren't funny (and exaggerate their negative qualities while doing so) because right now, to be funnier is to be a better person.
This is in some ways a tempting theory, but I'm not sure that it actually stands up to scrutiny. There are lots of conservative musicians, actors, directors, painters, etc. whose art I enjoy, but whose politics I find abhorrent. Why is comedy different?

Is it just, like you say, because now "funny" means "better person"? That seems highly questionable to me on its face, and besides that I'd very much like to be a better musician, painter, etc. too, just like I'd very much like to be funnier.

Is it perhaps because comedy gives them a more direct outlet for expressing their political beliefs? Maybe, but I'm not sure about that either; there are, for example, songs that I like very much that have incredibly right-wing lyrics.

I don't know, maybe there's some grain of truth to your theory, but I still think that the (or at least a main) reason comedy is different is because conservatives seem to think that "shut up, fuck you" is comedy.
posted by Flunkie at 3:40 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


This essay focuses mainly on mass-media humor -- TV, radio, famous stand-ups. But it really misses out on probably the largest component of humor in most people's lives -- interpersonal. Jokes, stories, chain emails, facebook, etc. And there conservative humor is alive and well. The main difference, I think, is that most of what is funniest to them is culturally verboten in the mass-media. So in that sense, they're right that it is a bit of a liberal conspiracy. Right-wing humor is Obama with a bone through his nose -- and you can't do that on TV. Right-wing humor is the vast collection -- perhaps even the majority -- of one-liner jokes: making fun of women, the overweight, the old, the short, the stupid, blacks, the polish, catholics, jews, and every other non-male-wasp group. Far from being a deficient corner of humor, this stuff made up the vast majority of humor for centuries -- no matter where you are on the ladder, punching down makes you feel better. Racism and humor have been deeply intertwined since the foundation of America. And this deep current continues today, with all those annoying emails you get from your uncle, and things you overhear at the store, or on the radio. And that's just the surface of it. Many of these jokes are not being made to you because whoever it is knows you're a sensitive liberal who doesn't care for stupid-women jokes, no matter how funny. But that doesn't mean it's not out there. It just means that we've done a decent job keeping it off of the TV, at least in the last decade or so. But that's a pretty recent accomplishment! To think that this is something inherent in humor is really short-sighted -- both looking backwards and, given how things have been going in America recently, looking forwards.
posted by chortly at 3:42 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Public comedy -- especially standup, which (along with sketch and a little improv) drives televised comedy -- is not always political, but it always is driven by the comics point of view.

Your POV is more naked in comedy, which I think is why a right-wing comic will offend people in a way that a right-wing musician wouldn't. Even if you're jokes about about "non-political" subjects, like dating, relationships, what car you drive, etc. -- your view of the world is going to leak out. This is what's happening with Gallagher, except that he's true enough to comedy that he then goes with it instead of hiding it.

I know at least one comic -- have worked with him many times -- who studiously hides his conservatism. He's a musical parody act, which helps, and he throws in a lot of yay drugs! yay sex! jokes which mask the realitybut I see glimpses in his act even so.

After the shows, when we talk over a beer, I guarantee the audience would not like that guy, even in small red state clubs, because there's an acceptance of others and generosity of spirit that just vanishes, which is kind of essential to welcoming a crowd of strangers to join you for a couple of hours to have fun. The same is true of some of my more strident liberal friends, but they never imagine that they might be standup comedians.
posted by msalt at 4:01 PM on May 28


Ya gotta be really careful with the comedy of cruelty, and I don't think that the modern conservative comedians are incisive enough to make that kind of comedy work.

I've said it before, but that bit in 1984 where O'Brien is torturing Winston Smith and explaining in detail the world which the Party will create has this line that goes: "There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy." Remember that line, keep it fresh in your head, and you will see it everywhere in right-wing "humor".
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:02 PM on May 28 [12 favorites]


The latest in right-wing humor (warning: Mocking of rape).
posted by dirigibleman at 4:04 PM on May 28


But I'd love to hear your take on why that's so funny.

What is Caesar's? Nothing, in Judea.
posted by condour75 at 4:13 PM on May 28


From dirigibleman's link

"Newsflash, but it is possible to have consensual sex while drunk or high. Watch any beer commercial.

Now that is funny.
posted by maggiemaggie at 4:19 PM on May 28


People keep mentioning PJ ORoarke and he is another guy that I don't know what happened but they used to be funny and then became Republicans and terribly unfunny. I still remember reading the National Lampoon in the early 1970s when he wrote things like How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink. But then I look it up on the web and in the late 70s, he's calling himself a "Republican Party Animal" and a brief quote shows the obvious signs of naming targets and dropping key words, just like today's so-called comedians. So apparently it is a short trip from nihilist humorist to humorless Republican. And that brand of political humor was never funny, not even 35 years ago.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:14 PM on May 28


Racism and humor have been deeply intertwined since the foundation of America.

I'd always wondered when that got started.
posted by ODiV at 5:58 PM on May 28 [4 favorites]


I've never liked Miller so haven't paid him any attention for years, but a friend of mine made a comment about him, something like, if a guy got around New York sexually Miller would say something like, "This guy knows his way around New York City like Anwar Sadat's valet."

I found the parody of Miller more funny than Miller.
posted by juiceCake at 7:58 PM on May 28


Marc Maron interviewed Yakoff Smirnoff recently. After the Cold War ended, there wasn't much call for humor about the USSR in the mainstream, nobody on late night was calling to book him anymore, so he moved to Branson, Missouri, where he has apparently thrived ever since. He even opened his own venue and teaches college classes. I get the feeling he loves his life and the people who support his work, but he's also very clear on the idea that Branson, Missouri never really moved on from that era when it was Reagan vs Communism.

But because of them he still has plenty of work doing stand-up, which these days includes a lot of material about marriage, parenting, etc., so not just "in Soviet Russia..." jokes. I was never a fan of his work in the old days, but he seems genuinely happy today and obviously works a hell of a lot at his craft and takes it seriously, and was willing to start over instead of fading into obscurity or quitting. He found the conservative culture welcoming enough that he could still make a living performing, which is not bad for a comedy career. I honestly couldn't imagine being in his position and making the same choices, but he's got a gig for the rest of his life now, so I guess it can work, depending on how much most of the world moves on but some people never do.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:37 PM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Sam Kinison was thought to be pretty hilarious back in the day. I just watched this and all I can think is that my friends who tell me that the new legal pot is so much stronger than the shit I used to smoke are seriously deluded.
posted by evilDoug at 10:47 PM on May 28


I think Leno is conservative. But he's not a movement conservative.

Interesting behavior for a movement conservative.

I think the late night wars have clouded people's impression of what Leno was as a comic. I look forward (hopefully) to a continued evolution now that he's freed of the yoke of (conservative) Carson's legacy.

Also notable: the boycott is apparently having a measurable effect.
posted by 99_ at 11:23 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Maybe they got Sideshow Bob to say all that Republican nonsense because Kelsey Grammer was doing the vocal acting. Perhaps Kelsey Grammer wrote that line.

Is there conservative/right wing comedy that doesn't rely on othering, transgression or punching down?

This essay focuses mainly on mass-media humor

American mass-media humour often seems staid, small 'c' conservative, concerned with maintaining the status quo rather than rocking the boat, at least in my experience. Recently UK produced comedies are either aping US comedies or aiming for the US market with vapid, forgettable, Friends-like blancmange. The BBC is also increasingly scared of upsetting anyone in a bid to appease the ground troops of rival media companies which exhibit an insatiable desire to destroy the BBC.

Recently BBC Radio 4, 'the home of comedy', has been attempting to find right wing comedians in a bid to balance the perceived left wing bias of comedy. Apparently they feel they need more than one Jeremy Clarkson in the organisation, Stewart Lee opines
Indeed, Clarkson’s right-wing comedy integrity was cemented in 2011 when he was described as “one of the few things worth watching on the Burqa Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)” by the Norwegian neo-Nazi mass murderer Anders Behr­ing Breivik, a man not known for his sense of humour but whose right-wing credentials are unimpeachable. Yet where are all the bona fide right-wing stand-up comedians and could any of them fit the Radio 4 brief?
posted by asok at 3:32 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]


I'd forgotten all about Dennis Miller - - thanx for the reminder OP!

I ran across him on AM radio a few months ago, and actually had to search for him via Google before I could remember who he was (despite watching his entire careers on SNL and MNF, and his post 9/11 breakdown).

It was pretty satisfying to realize that he is now completely irrelevant.
posted by malocchio at 8:07 AM on May 29


There's plenty of comedians that you could probably classify as conservative based on the material in their act, even if there's no explicitly political content. For example, Bernie Mac's standup was pretty socially conservative, even though he doesn't identify as a Republican or have a political act.

Similarly, a show like Trailer Park Boys doesn't have an explicit political message, but it's certainly strongly implied that the main characters deserve their situation because of their lack of middle class values.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 8:59 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]


Came to the thread expecting a lolcon grarbath.

Stayed through it for the awesome list of "jokes in the Bible." Stay transcendant, MeFi.
posted by psoas at 10:20 AM on May 29


his post 9/11 breakdown

Never watched Dennis Miller, so I'm curious - when people refer to him breaking down or cracking, was this a single main incident that happened? Or was it gradual over multiple episodes?
posted by jbickers at 10:43 AM on May 29


Well, for me, it was like having a neighbor down the street who you thought was funny and smart, but every time you saw him after 9/11, he just wouldn't shut up about the terrorists and muslims. After sitting through a couple of uncomfortable rants, you no longer swing by with a six-pack when you see the garage door is open.
posted by malocchio at 1:03 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


Also not a standup, but James Lileks (formerly of Mefi) also went from gentle haha nostalgic humor to MUSLIMS ARE EXACTLY LIKE NAZIS, LET'S REENACT WWII ON THEIR ASSES WWII WAS SO COOL YOU GUYS LET'S ROLL. I still look at his site for the nostalgia stuff he's so good at digging up (his Tumblr is good for this) but then he comes out with some sexist or warmongering shit or mentions that he's on the National Review cruise and I feel a bit of guilt. I wish he'd just stuck to hating ugly decor and bad recipes.
posted by emjaybee at 8:06 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


"Never watched Dennis Miller, so I'm curious - when people refer to him breaking down or cracking, was this a single main incident that happened? Or was it gradual over multiple episodes?

Dennis Miller didn't break down or crack. He appeared to be liberal. Like a lot of people that are desperate for attention he isn't a moral character [watch weeknight network television if you don't mind people desperately dancing and singing in a horribly dramatic effort to be loved]. He wants attention and money [Full disclosure: I only want the latter now but there was a time when I dreamed of being a rock star]. He saw an avenue for attention and money and was willing to adjust his morality.

Dennis Miller makes liberal people, like myself, angry because he was witty, knowledgable, fast and clever and we feel that he decieved us into thinking he was one of us.

He didn't crack. He's stealthy.
posted by vapidave at 8:50 PM on May 29


Miller was always "punching down" in the sense that his act was based on the audience thinking they were smarter than everyone else, along with him. A comic showed me on video that he has a trick, where he subtly picks up the mic stand and drops it on the punchline, so that the audience can force a laugh even when they don't really get his hyper-obscure reference. Cause you don't want to be the idiot who didn't get it.
posted by msalt at 2:12 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Gallagher?

Excellent example. His relationship with the vegetable world equals Bob & Tom humor. Splattered food equals fart jokes.

I saw him the first time in (1972). I was swept away for a moment by his audacity. In those days the audience was not yet quite prepared for all the splatter, and not everyone was ready. Then, about mid-way through his bit, he tipped his hat. I have to tell you, that was a perfect sight-joke, the bushy hair sticking out from under his hat, and the perfectly bald crown when he lifted his had. That was the funniest thing I ever saw him do.
posted by mule98J at 10:53 PM on May 30


« Older A century ago, mankind fought a war "To End all Wa...  |  Antique Shanghai Pop Music 193... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments