Wed. September 5
Funny Conservatives and other White Whales
Writing for The Washington Monthly, journalist Joshua Green reviews a new book by some boring author I’ve never heard of that is all about why conservatives are such “Debbie Downers” when it comes to comedy. Green’s basic summation and personal conclusion is this: the Right puts politics ahead of everything and therefore can’t hope to compete with liberals when it comes to “the funny.”
Oh, and he also spends a decent chunk of his article ripping Dennis Miller. By the end of the piece, one gets the feeling that Green was once bullied by Miller at a nightclub in front of a blind-date he was trying to impress.
Instead of re-hashing Green’s entire column–which you can read for yourself right here–I wanted to address a few of his points, including this popular idea that conservatives not only aren’t funny, but that they can’t possibly be funny. I feel qualified to speak to this because I’m very funny. And very conservative. And a little hungry right now.
The reason it seems that the Left corners the market on comedy is because, in a larger, cultural, industry sense, it does. There are simply more comedians and entertainers currently making a living with a Left-of-Center view of politics and cultural issues. Just as there are more liberals in almost every single sector of the entertainment industry–with professional sports and country music perhaps being the two exceptions.
It feels like there are more funny liberals than conservatives because that’s not only the ideology of the bulk of the people working in the field of comedy, but also of the people who own the “means of production”–so to speak–when it comes to comedy venues, comedy-based television programming, and the comedy divisions of movie studios. Joshua Green dismisses this obvious lop-sidedness and insinuates that if conservatives were actually funny, they’d get more work in the biz and love from critics.
Yeah, and if that Thomas Sowell guy were only a little smarter and more accomplished, he’d be the one with a Nobel Prize and house-hold name while Paul Krugman was relegated to third-class treatment as an economist and public intellectual. I suppose since more than 75% of public school teachers and university professors claim to be liberal, we can safely infer that conservatives don’t know how to teach and could never be good teachers!
Any serious discussion about the sizeable gap in overall numbers of liberal vs. conservative comedians that ignores the staggering liberal bias in the media and entertainment industries is no longer able to be labeled serious.
But there’s obviously more to it than that. And Green is right to point out that lame attempts by conservatives to mimic successful liberal platforms like The Daily Show are cringe-worthy and better left on the trash-heap of history where they belong. Funny must come first, and politics second.
However, I think Green is very wrong to dismiss someone like Dennis Miller, and downright foolish to ignore the presence of someone like my boy Adam Carolla. Neither are dyed-in-the-wool conservatives, by any definition of the term. And certainly both men have their apostasies on social issues. But both are hilarious, compelling, and insightful social commentators who daily articulate their aversion to things like big-government liberalism, political correctness, and “progressive” foreign policies.
And they are popular, even if not with Washington Monthly writers. People actually listen to their shows. Carolla hosts the most downloaded internet show in human history, surpassing motor-mouthed liberal atheist Ricky Gervais. Miller just signed a huge contract extension for his nationally syndicated talk show (which is aired on over 300 stations across the country). Yes, Fox News has them on their airwaves. So what? This fact only makes them seem “less funny” to snarky liberals like Joshua Green who wouldn’t laugh at anything someone said on Fox News precisely because of their own political biases. I don’t like when people laugh at something that isn’t funny because of their politics, and the same goes for the reverse.
While conservative political humor might not be the shiniest tool in the cultural shed these days, a conservative sensibility exists among some of the biggest names in the comedy world. Jerry Seinfeld, Brian Regan, and Jim Gaffigan are three of the top-drawing comedians living today. They keep their acts clean, relatively family-friendly, and–wait for it–funny. They don’t get political and actually want people to be entertained instead of shocked and/or mortified by how crass and disgusting a comic can get (before he rushes backstage to high-five all the other bitter comics).
Half a century ago Joshua Green would be writing a column wondering aloud why so few progressive liberals had prominent roles in Hollywood. Times change. Institutions change. I’m totally on-board for conservatives and libertarians getting back into the pop-culture game, but I can agree with Mr. Green on this: we must pursue artistic endeavors like artists, not partisan hacks.
Leave that to Tim Robbins and Bill Maher.
R.J. Moeller is a blogger and podcast host for the American Enterprise Institute’s “Values & Capitalism” project.