Friday, August 17, 2018

What’s Funny

My brother sent me a link to Cracked’s blog post about conservative comedy, and it’s both funny and revealing.

A lot of people aren’t very familiar with conservative comedy. That’s because it’s usually indistinguishable from ordinary racism or belligerence, but there are conservatives out there trying to be funny. This is an article about how and why it never works. Conservative politics are fine for squeezing a couple extra years of activity out of an incurious elderly brain, but they’re not a great inspiration for art.

You don’t have to be a liberal to understand how comedy works, and there actually are some conservatives who are funny, but on the whole the idea of “conservative comedy” is an oxymoron.  That’s because to be truly funny you have to be able to laugh at yourself and your own faults, but more importantly, you have to grasp the fundamental concept that a lot of humor — especially stand-up — is based on punching up: mocking the powerful and doing it in a way that imparts some insight to human nature.  Based on the examples in this article, the stars of conservative comedy are incapable of grasping those two concepts.

In order to be truly funny, you have to be able to connect with your audience in a way that elicits empathy: they can identify with your situation.  That’s not too hard; a lot of righties feel a common bond.  However, they do it based on victimhood and without any sense of self-awareness.  They are looking for pity, not insight, or a reassurance that their grievances against the world (i.e. liberals) are valid and should be taken seriously.  But if you can’t laugh at yourself — or at least be self-deprecating — no one else is going to find you funny.  That’s how comics like Rodney Dangerfield and Lewis Black made their mark.  I have yet to hear a conservative comedian make a living out of laughing at himself or his fellow righties because they would take offense.  The biggest barrier to conservative comedy is their inability not just to make a joke, but to take one.

Punching up — attacking the powerful or those who take themselves too seriously — is classic comedy going all the way back to the Greeks, and it still works all the way from the Borscht Belt to urban slam.  It crosses all socio-economic barriers from the button-down white stiffness of Bob Newhart to the edginess of Chris Rock.  And of course the king of both punching up and mocking the unmockable is Mel Brooks.

Need I say more?

2 barks and woofs on “What’s Funny

  1. I think P.J. O’Rourke is very funny, and I confess to liking some of the “redneck” comics, who happen to be conservative. Of course Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall make fun of themselves a lot.

    • P.J. O’Rourke (from Toledo, by the way), started out as a comic writer with the National Lampoon. He is very self-aware and doesn’t spare his fellow conservatives in his humor.

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