Why Conservative Comedy Does Not Work
Ward AndersonThe other day, in a typical "Right versus Left" argument, someone made a comment that stuck in my head. He said that there is almost no voice given to Conservative comedians and that comedians of today do not poke fun at liberals the way they do conservative politicians. The commenter made this point by stating that David Letterman is too soft on Obama compared to how he was with Bush.
I won't spend much time pointing out the fact that David Letterman is not a journalist or even member of the media. He is, of course, a comedian and talk show host. Since his talk show bears his own name and represents his own opinions, he can support any politician he likes. He doesn't owe anyone an unbiased platform any more than Rush Limbaugh owed Bill Clinton fairness when he hosted his own TV show in the 90s. Letterman doesn't pretend to be a journalist when he isn't one. That's Sean Hannity's schtick.
Still, there is a point which still stands: There really is less Conservative comedy out there and fewer jokes at the expense of Liberals than Conservatives. I won't disagree with this comment, but the people who complain about it as if it is some sort of grand conspiracy against Conservative humor in America kind of miss the point. Comedy is never about equality or representing both sides of the story. For comedy to really work, it usually comes from a particular source: The Underdog.
The Underdog is that comic who is a misfit. He's overweight or insecure. He's the dorky guy who talks about how he was always picked last in dodge ball. It's also the awkward woman who can't get a date or is afraid of living her life with only her cats. We cheer for The Underdog.
For this kind of comedy to work politically, The Underdog has to take the side of the less successful. Conservatives will always have a hard time with this approach because, frankly, it's hard to be The Underdog when you are the status quo. In fact, comedy has never succeeded when defending the status quo. It tends to succeed when it takes the voice of those on the fringes. When comedy is political, it works best as a reminder of things that are not fair. To be better off than most people in the world and then complain about unfairness simply reeks of phoniness.
The phrase "only the truth is funny" was coined for a reason. When Conservatives try to play The Underdog, it simply comes off as false. Complaining that you have to pay taxes and you think poor people are lazy is hardly knee-slapping material. It's like a rich guy standing onstage and thinking it's funny how he can only afford the BMW and not The Mercedes. How do you take the position that it sucks to be you when it clearly does not suck to be you? Stand onstage and crack wise about how much it sucks to be an over-taxed white guy in North America today, and not a single person in that audience will believe you, let alone find it humorous. The alternative is far worse, so climb down off the cross.
Another theme in Conservative comedy today is that things suck and used to be better. The problem is that no one really believes that, and there's not enough truth in that statement to make it funny. It's why everyone rolls their eyes at those who whine about "The War on Christmas". If the airwaves were dominated with Hanukkah songs for six straight weeks every year, that complaint might gather more traction than it does.
"People on welfare sure are lazy, am I right?" is hardly going to endear a comedian to the people in the crowd. In fact, the entire reason Stephen Colbert is successful is because his comedy is a complete satire of this kind of attitude. It comes off as absurd because the mentality it is based on is absurd. This is just more proof that making fun of the status quo is far funnier than complaining about being the status quo.
Simply put, it's funnier to laugh at those who Have than those who Have Not. If it surprises anyone that there is not more Right-Wing humour out there, ask yourself this simple question: When have you ever gone to a movie and rooted for the popular jock to beat the unpopular nerd?
And therein lies the problem with so many Conservatives these days: They are so certain that they are the nerds, they've missed the fact that they're actually the jocks. Feeling like things aren't as great at the top of the world as they used to be doesn't change the fact that you still have the best view. Being forced to share the walkway with everyone else is not the same thing as actually being tread upon.
So don't be surprised when everyone else doesn't find it funny when the prom king gives the scrawny kid a wedgie. And keep in mind that Ebeneezer Scrooge wasn't very funny.
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