Sen. Elizabeth Warren got off a good one last week at CNN’s LGBTQ forum.
Now that’s how you tell a joke. And a lot of people got it and thought it killed. And it did.
Then again, there are those among the Very Serious People who neither know a good joke when they hear one or get all freaked out by whom it might offend.
The glitterati gushed. “The single greatest response to this question, in or outside politics,” wrote actress Minnie Driver. “Made my day,” added actress Alyssa Milano. Javier Muñoz, who recently played the title role in the smash musical “Hamilton,” posted seven emoji of clapping hands.
But Republicans and some Democrats warned that the quip at the CNN-sponsored forum would play poorly among a big swath of voters.
“It’s about telling people who don’t agree with you that they are backward by definition,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist who advised Bill Clinton’s presidential reelection campaign. The line was a “stab” to those who don’t agree with her, he said, and “it is a battle cry for men to turn out against Elizabeth Warren.”
The 44-second exchange captured the promise and peril of Warren’s candidacy. She is quick-witted and sharp-tongued in a way that has played well in the Democratic primary and could prove effective against President Trump. But conservatives warn that she can come off as condescending and dismissive.
Oh, conservatives are warning about coming off as condescending and dismissive? As if their current example of how to tell a joke is the headliner at the Laugh Factory.
The problem — and I’ve said this many times but obviously it needs repeating — is that the conservatives and the Trumpers do not understand the basic essence of humor or how to tell a joke, including the most important rule: punch up, not down. Making fun of the snooty, the elite, the pompous, and the self-important works, but making fun of the poor, the downtrodden, the ones hurting does not. This has been axiomatic in comedy since the ancient Greeks right up through today.
This also proves one cosmic truth about humor: it is the ultimate weapon against Trump and the base who support him. They literally cannot take a joke, and every time someone gets off a laugh at their expense, it makes them look like the fools and trolls that they are, especially when they get all huffy about being made the butt of jokes. And it proves the point that Mel Brooks and many others have known for time out of mind: if you really want to defeat someone, laugh at them.