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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Right's Laughter Gun Lacks Bullets


Is this funny?



I think so, but I realize it's subject to interpretation. However, if you recall, I've blogged about the quantifiable media factors which lead to America's election of Barack Obama. Included within media and celebrity influence are comedians and all the clout they offer. Liberals benefit from the comedic stylings of such headliners as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher and (to some extent) Keith Olbermann. Brad Stine (the comedian in the above video) tops a short list of worthwhile conservative comedians. Conservatives do not have the same amount of comedic firepower as liberals, and it's hurting the right's capacity to influence.

As Mark Twain once said, “The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.” In this respect, liberals are far better armed than conservatives, and conservatives will continue to get gunned down by popular culture in the elections to come if the right doesn't find some adequate comedic representation.

Mr. Stine just showed us there is funny material for conservative comedians. The nearly 60 million people who voted for John McCain suggest there is a massive audience that would be receptive to conservative comedy. So, why is it that right-leaning comedians seem to few and far between? How is it that half the country doesn't have its own comedy channel to champion its brand of humor?

Politico recently put out an interesting article on this topic:

The lonely life of conservative comics
By Daniel Libit
POLITICO

Have you heard this one?

“So it sure seems like celebrities latched on to President Barack Obama during the campaign. You had Chris Rock, Oprah, even Stevie Wonder.

“Stevie Wonder? Why does he care? If anybody should be colorblind ...”

If you’re laughing, then comic Julia Gorin will be performing here all week, folks. The New York-based stand-up says that line went over pretty well when she launched it recently at a comedy club in Pasadena, Calif.

If you’re frowning, perhaps a bit taken aback, then you represent the conservative comic’s conundrum.

In a world where the TV networks, nighttime comics and major comedy clubs are dominated by liberal humor, right-­leaning funnymen continue to struggle. Even with Democrats taking over Washington, they’re pessimistic about things. While the jokes will come easily, they say the laughs will be muzzled. Plus, they moan, conservatives tend not to lend much support to the comedic arts.

The Stevie Wonder line is pretty tame stuff. Gorin’s got some more incendiary — and, she thinks, funny — material in the bank: jokes about the Muslim rumors and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. She’s keeping that material off the stage for now, holding until the time is right. But will that time ever come?

“We have the same phenomenon during his administration that we did during his candidacy,” she says, “that it didn’t matter what came out about him. People were in sort of a hypnotic trance. If that continues to happen during his administration, then I am in trouble and I’ll be hedging [my material] for a general audience or saving it for conservative crowds.”

And that leads to the lonely life of a conservative comic.

By and large, conservative comedians aren’t the most strident members of the Republican Party. Some pass as conservative only by mere comparison to their neighbors in Manhattan and West Hollywood. But they’re already sick of Obama — damn sick of him. They don’t buy the claim that Obama’s coolness, smoothness and skin color have all rendered him beyond lampoonery.

“You heard Chris Rock saying that there’s nothing to make fun about Obama,” says New York stand-up comedian Nick DiPaolo, “and I was like, ‘Do you wanna make a bet?’”

DiPaolo, a familiar face on Comedy Central, doesn’t think it really matters one way or the other, though.

“The mainstream media leans left, and the people that run Comedy Central are a lot of Ivy Leaguers who sort of lean left,” he says.

DiPaolo is particularly infuriated when he considers how George W. Bush’s presidency propelled the careers of liberal funnymen such as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher — each of whom has a TV show now.

“People say the left is funnier than the right,” says Brad Stine, a conservative Christian stand-up. “Well, the right isn’t given the same options.”

“Conservative humor has never been dead and has never lost its voice,” says Boston College English professor Paul Lewis, author of “Cracking Up: American Humor in a Time of Conflict.” “Just don’t look for it in the comedy club.”

Former “Saturday Night Live” star Dennis Miller, the most prominent “conservative” comedian on air these days, established his funny bona fides long before he came out as a Bush voter after the Sept. 11 attacks. And as his shtick has gotten more political in the intervening years, Miller has come to adopt a pundit’s mien. He currently hosts a talk-radio show and makes regular guest appearances on Fox News.

“He didn’t get to that level by doing conservative comedy,” Gorin says. “His story is inverted.”

Comedian Colin Quinn, who like Miller is a former host of SNL’s “Weekend Update,” thinks the media have simply come to look upon Miller “with benign tolerance, like a crazy uncle.”

As conservative comics try to figure out how to make fun of Obama, it’s important to look at other explicit conservative forays into humor.

Back in 2003, a television writer named Eric Peterkofsky thought that the zeitgeist was beginning to open up to conservative political humor. Bush’s approval ratings were in the 60s, Jeff Foxworthy’s popular Blue Collar Comedy Tour had spawned a motion picture and a presidential election was approaching. So Peterkofsky enlisted a traveling comedy troupe called The Right Stuff.

The group traveled to New York City during that year’s Republican National Convention. It performed eight nights at the Times Square Laugh Factory. But other than that week, it struggled to find gigs and petered out by the end of the election.

“For all the whining the conservatives did [about the lack of comedy], they didn’t do much to represent,” says Gorin, who was a member of the troupe.

“All the leaders of true conservative values did nothing to help or promote any of these projects,” says comedian Jeff “Big Daddy” Wayne. “Because they don’t see the value in them. They don’t understand the reason why the left has won.”

Gorin recalls, a few years back, hearing Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly gripe on “The Factor” about the primetime and late-night TV comedic imbalance.

After the show, Gorin says, she phoned O’Reilly’s producer.

She told him: “I know Bill was lamenting the absence of conservative comedians, and I just wanted to let you know you’re talking to one and we’re available.” After asking if she currently had a TV show of her own, the producer politely brushed her off, Gorin says.

“I was a little infuriated by that response because it would be so simple if I went on,” says Gorin.

She sighs: “Between liberals and conservatives, liberals always support the arts more. I found that out very personally.”

Fox News did attempt to do a right-leaning version of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” when it debuted “The ½ Hour News Hour” in early 2007. After 13 episodes, the show was canceled.

“‘The Daily Show’ is so well-done, and Jon Stewart is a great comic,” DiPaolo says. “But I think it’s easier when you’re going after George W. Bush than, say, Michelle Obama.”

Lewis admits the timing is bad for those who want to bring a conservative comic message to a general viewing audience.

“It is the same kind of phenomenon as it was after 9/11,” Lewis says. “When Bush was so popular, nobody was doing anti-Bush satire in comedy clubs. A whole bunch of industries collapsed.”

The struggle of the Republican comic can be seen every third Tuesday in Los Angeles, where TV writer and satirist Evan Sayet hosts a night of conservative comedy at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles.

Sayet confesses that even in front of a like-minded crowd, his comics are a little hesitant with their humor, “groping with tone at this point.”

But ultimately, the main challenges predate Obama: Stand-up audiences tend to be younger and lean to the left, he says, and the industry is concentrated in Los Angeles and New York.

“You need an audience that is knowledgeable and an audience that cares,” he says.

Lewis isn’t really buying it. “Comedians on the right,” he says, “should stop griping and get funnier, grow up.”
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