Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tough Room

There’s a term in stand-up comedy: “tough room.” That means a venue where the audience doesn’t get the jokes and sits there in stony silence as the comedian at the mike goes through his routine. According to a study at Ohio State, the average conservative audience who watches The Colbert Report would qualify as a tough room.

This study investigated biased message processing of political satire in The Colbert Report and the influence of political ideology on perceptions of Stephen Colbert. Results indicate that political ideology influences biased processing of ambiguous political messages and source in late-night comedy. Using data from an experiment (N = 332), we found that individual-level political ideology significantly predicted perceptions of Colbert’s political ideology.

Additionally, there was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements. Conservatism also significantly predicted perceptions that Colbert disliked liberalism.

If Stephen Colbert is only pretending to be a right-wing nutball and the conservative audience can’t tell the difference between him and someone like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, that tells you something: either Mr. Colbert is a comic genius, or the conservative audience is too stupid to know the difference. Tough choice.