Comedy Is Not Compatible With Conservatism
Who would’ve thought the cataclysmic event that brought down the White House Correspondents Dinner, a tradition since 1921, would be a joke about women’s eyeshadow. Not explosive reporting on widespread corruption in a presidential administration or a new seizure of power by a subdued national press, but a joke from 32-year-old comedian, Michelle Wolf, who went from Bear Stearns to The Daily Show. If you missed it, last month’s WHCD was the biggest thing to happen to politics since Kanye (maybe) became a Republican the week before. But some on the right were offended, for the first time, by such vulgar comments about a woman’s appearance. However, they were not the only ones, as anybody logging into Twitter was also assaulted with a barrage of liberal commentators condemning the jokes for mocking a woman’s appearance. Regardless of their outrage, both sides seem to have missed the point of the joke entirely. The point was that Sarah Huckabee Sanders has lied to the press and the American people, not that her makeup is comical. Given this recent confusion, it seemed like a good time to check in and see how politics align with punchlines.
When the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia over 200 years ago, there were already writers in New York City working on a satirical cartoon, calling it “The Declaration of Incandescence” (give them a break, blue-collar comedy wasn’t invented yet). Political cartoons are one of modern historians greatest tools in deciphering the sentiments of a government’s constituents at a given moment. And while you may argue that James Gillray’s iconic cartoon of Pitt and Napoleon carving the world into spheres of influence as if it were a Thanksgiving turkey does not have the same intelligent nuances as Alec Baldwin's Trump impersonation on Saturday Night Live, the two are both equally culturally significant. This is because jokes, sketches, and cartoons are not written by the same people writing those thought-provoking New York Times op-ed pieces you love to retweet. There’s a saying that those who can’t do teach. Well those who can’t vote, write, and those who can’t write, write jokes.
One of the facts that fuels conservatives’ hatred of the media is that they feel they don’t have a voice outside of Fox News. This is appallingly apparent when it comes to late-night talk shows. There is no Trevor Noah or Jimmy Kimmel equivalent on Fox News that comes on late at night to take playful jabs at politicians and talk pleasantly with celebrities. Many on the right claim that this is just a symptom of the “biased liberal media” that covers the Trump campaign so unfairly by “reporting facts” and “printing what Trump says.” But that’s not why there are no conservative comedians on TV. It’s because conservatives aren’t funny. You can’t just have an hour of Pepe the frog memes and call it television comedy. The closest thing to comedy conservatives can claim is Dennis Miller who I assumed was missing or dead since Dennis Miller Live went off HBO in 2002 and Miller started to lose his mind on the fringes of right-wing politics. But last week when I was on Breitbart for a regular check-in of how they are distorting facts, I saw an article written by none other than SNL veteran Dennis Miller. The article was titled “Methinks… Take Trump Down or Pipe Down, Start Impeachment Proceedings Now,” and (once I finally finished reading that marathon of a headline) it occurred to me why we hadn’t heard from Miller: he’s not funny now that he’s conservative. And not just conservative, but writing for Breitbart — that place isn’t exactly The Comedy Cellar. The problem with conservatives in comedy is that they are incapable of keeping politics out of the act. Liberals, on the other hand, must consider the politics of every punchline, no matter how harmless, to make sure nobody is being offended or victimized.
One might remember when Jon Stewart was getting ready to leave The Daily Show back in 2015 and Comedy Central was looking for his replacement. The network finally decided on little-known comedian Trevor Noah from South Africa to fill Stewart’s humongous shoes. This moment should have been a huge victory for liberals as now their spokesperson on latenight television would no longer be another white, grey-haired Jewish writer from New York. Not only is Noah a person of color, but also an immigrant. Having him cut down the conservative establishment on a nightly basis would make Bill O'Reilly’s head explode (remember when he had a job?). But then it all almost came crashing down when some of Noah’s tweets were unearthed from years ago. Some of them were so shocking they nearly cost him his job: he pointed out how few white women have large butts, how unwilling Jewish women are to give oral sex, the irony of almost hitting a Jewish kid with his German car and a joke about his penis. Fortunately for Noah, Comedy Central and Stewart had the guts to wait out the 24-hour news cycle and stuck with Noah and today all is forgiven because now Noah knows who to knock.
Basically, both parties are pretty lame when it comes to taking a ribbing. Much of it seems to stem from an inability on both sides to suspend reality. On the left, there is a proclivity to not even wait for the punchline to decide if the joke is okay or not, which makes no sense if you know anything about comedy. That would be like leaving Final Destination before any of the people got killed. “Boy, those kids sure are lucky they narrowly avoided danger at the race track. I’m sure they’ll be extra cautious to avoid disaster from now on. Goodbye!” As most of us are already aware, jokes are not supposed to be taken literally. I’m waiting for the impending campaign to get Blazing Saddles banned in the United States, but luckily since Mel Brooks is a cisgender white male, his films seem to be ignored by the extreme left. On the right, it seems that the only comedy they can enjoy is based on politics. Whether they are still making jokes about Hillary Clinton losing the election or owning liberals with the dankest of memes, conservatives can’t seem to make fun of anything else. The lesson here is that not everything is politics. For once, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was actually telling the truth when she said we need to “get a sense of humor.”