Sunday, February 11, 2007

If It Bends, It's Funny. If It Breaks, It's Not Funny.

The other day, I posted a clip from Fox News' new "comedy" program "Red Eye," in which several unfunny conservatives talk over news footage. Since then, the blog of host Greg Gutfeld has disapprovingly linked here, insinuating that my criticism of the show derives from my political viewpoint rather than my honest appraisal of the humor.

Remember: If you don't agree with it, it's not funny!

See, blogger Jim Treacher is here implying that I don't like the show because I disagreed with its viewpoint. If he had read my blog post (and I believe he did because he left a comment there), he would know that I did not take issue with the content of the clip. Only the lack of any kind of humor. In fact, the clip was mocking something I have made fun of myself on this very blog! Namely, Joe Biden's dumb, possibly racist remark about Barack Obama.

So, Greg and Jim, I disliked your show because you didn't tell a single joke that worked. Really, the clip seemed to feature very few intentional jokes. One guy does a lame riff playing on Biden's choice of the word "clean," the chick makes a bizarre and out of place reference to affirmative action and that's pretty much it. Or did I miss a bunch of subtle witticisms and inside references that only your conservative fans would get?

How could Greg and Jim not realize that the show isn't funny? They can certainly appreciate humor, right? Greg's the former editor of Maxim UK, so you know he knows quality comic material, am I right? Their blog also links to Neil Hamburger, so at least they have some sense of what's funny.

I think possibly this may bring us to the real barrier for conservative comics, and honestly, for some left-wing comedians as well. Staunchly ideological, partisan kind of thinkers are rarely as funny as those who can see both sides of an issue. I don't always agree with moderates, but they're more funny. Great satire can be designed to convince an audience, but the best jokes are usually focused solely on being jokes as opposed to expressing a political viewpoint.

This isn't a hard and fast rule. Plenty of great comedians are strongly ideological. Richard Pryor and George Carlin come immediately to mind (though bear in mind that their politics are most often reflected in their personas, not so much their specific jokes).

"The Daily Show" is a perfect example. Yes, the show has a lefty ideological bent, more or less. But they frequently skewer Democrats and liberals. In fact, I'd say almost every episode features at least one joke at the expense of someone on the left wing. Considering that conservatives have run the government for pretty much the entirety of Stewart's tenure on the show as well determines the content to some extent.

Now compare that to "Red Eye." The show would never go after a conservative, and if it did, it would do so in an intentionally light, jovial manner, as compared to the sharp barbs reserved for Gutfeld's ideological opponents. When it's obvious that your jokes are designed to ridicule one specific group relentlessly as a way to propagandize, audiences will quickly lose interest in your phony shenanigans.

"Chappelle Show" is another great example. Certainly, the show was very political and outspoken. But it also was not specifically about one party over another or one brand of American politics. Dave Chappelle looks at political issues through a personal lens. He's not about mocking Republican Senators. He's about mocking white people. He's not trying to espouse on the benefits of affirmative action. He's just trying to show that racism still exists, no matter what Tony Snow has to say.

In short, he has interesting opinions worth expressing, and he does so in a unique and clever way. If Gutfeld could manage that, he'd have a funny show, and I PROMISE YOU, I would not be afraid to admit that. I disagree with almost everything Sam Kinison had to say, about everything, ever, ditto Howard Stern, but I think both of those guys are fucking hilarious.

(As I said before, I don't limit this phenomenon to the right-wing. There are lefties who strike me as overly partisan and ideological, such as Margaret Cho and Al Franken. I'm sorry, I liked him on "Saturday Night Live" and all that, but he's totally not at all funny. Because he's about convincing you of the rightness of his political position, which is not the right attitude for successful comedy. It's not irreverent enough. Fortunately, guys like Stephen Colbert and Lewis Black totally get it.)

It's not that hard to figure out, really, which is what makes this Doug Giles column from Townhall so fascinatingly wrong-headed. (Link via World-O-Crap.)

I know I’m not supposed to say this as a conservative and as a Christian, but Steve Colbert, John Stewart, David Letterman, Carlos Mencia, Dave Chappelle and Bill Maher are funny hombres. Even though I radically and fundamentally disagree with most of their content, funny is as funny does. They’re like farts. Most folks don’t really like farts, but farts are funny. Period. Especially, when it’s yours and it’s silent.

Well, I appreciate his honesty, but I can't believe he included Carlos Mencia on that list. Yuck. Ned Holness is not at all a "funny hombre." It's also kind of odd to praise these guys in one sentence and then turn around and compare them to farts. I mean, David Letterman never sold himself as a political leader. He's a professional comedian, and Doug clearly finds him amusing. Isn't that enough to not be deemed a "fart," just because he disagrees with you on some fundamental issues about running the country?

Look, as far as comedy goes, Mr. and Mrs. Conservative, you must bow and kiss the Left’s ring. They slay us. You can count on one hand how many conservatives are making a semi-distinct blip on the comedic scene. Who do we have? Dennis Miller, Brad Stine, Julie Gorin, and ________ . I had to google “conservative comics” just to add a third person to that list.

(1) Who the fuck is Brad Stine?

(2) Dennis Miller has sucked ever since he converted to conservatism. And even a bit before that. If he's the best your side has to offer, you guys are less funny than Ingmar Bergman reading The Bell Jar at a memorial service for the victims of United 93 on top of the Wailing Wall the day after the annual Dead Puppies and Onions Festival backed up by Itzhak Perlman playing his score from Schindler's List on the world's smallest violin. Babe.

Why can’t conservatives get their comedic act together? The liberals, on a 24/7 basis, are tossing us soft balls that we should be driving out of the park in a humorous, prime time, way.

Exactly. You'll never come up with something funny if you go in with that attitude. "I've got to find something some liberal has done to make fun of!" It's lame and predictable. First, find something FUNNY. If you need to do political comedy, then find something political that's FUNNY. Then talk about that, and your ideology should come through naturally. If you have any talent as a comic.

It’s so easy it’s stupid. All we have to do is just read the crap that the left does, out loud, and it’s hilarious. We don’t even have to be that imaginative and try to develop quips, as they provide an endless supply of ammunition. We couldn’t make up the stuff they do even if we wanted to—no one on the planet is that creative.

Am I crazy or does Doug contradict himself here? First, he says that conservatives aren't funny. Then he says that all conservatives need to do to be funny is say the things liberals do out loud. Obviously they already do that. So he DOES already think they're funny.

From Hollywood to the Hill, the Left and those who lean that way, do more psychotic stuff than my one-eyed uncle Joe does on a three day weekend binge when he’s all liquored up. They are a MadTV, SNL and HBO Special waiting to happen. There has to be some conservative capital lying around that can be earmarked to gather no holds barred comedians to paper shred these little darlings on TV and in film.

Care to give us a single example of something wacky a liberal has done that no one makes jokes about? I mean, when liberals do funny things, people make fun of them. How many Bill Clinton jokes were flying around during the late '90s. It was all Jay Leno talked about for, like, 5 years.

So why don’t conservatives crank out comedians? Here’s why I think our comedic contributions are weak.

Oooh, I can't wait. Because Doug knows comedy, folks. He's seen every episode of "Mind of Mencia"!

1. Conservatives, obviously, don’t think comedy is important. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report don’t have The Factor numbers. Thus, they don’t seem to be as important as O’Reilly, or Rush or Hannity in an immediate sense. And they’re not. However, Steve and John do have the ear of millions of 18-35 year olds, who will, uh . . . hello, be at the wheel driving this nation a few short years from now. That’s kinda significant.

Conservatives don't think comedy is important? Guh? Are they robots?

His point, I guess, is that conservatives don't bother to be funny because they don't think it's a good way to get votes. But liberals aren't doing comedy because they want people to vote for John Edwards. They're doing comedy because it's funny, and they want to be funny and make people laugh. You know, laughter? It's that think humans do?

2. We spit out lame comedians. When it comes to conservatives and Christians doing comedy, like soup in a bad restaurant, their brains are better left unstirred.

What the fuck does this mean?

The reason why? Well, I think they’re too nice. They don’t really set the hook. They don’t really deliver the dig. For some reason, the laughmeisters of the Right are PC addled.

Wait, what? I thought we of the Left were the ones who were too "PC"? Now the right-wingers aren't funny because they're too politically correct? You mean, like Michael Savage and Ann Coulter? Jonah Goldberg calling us fascists and Dinesh D'Souza blaming us for 9/11, they're holding back? They're too nice? Constrained by political correctness? (I'd pick on some right-wing comedians, but there aren't any. But these guys never say anything correct or sensible about world affairs, so I figure they count as entertainers).

3. We’re too serious. With our War with whacked out Islam and our ideological battle with the Secularists who whiz on traditional American values, the conservative can become a sober and somber person, which is understandable.

That doesn’t mean we can’t laugh, or more specifically, mock our enemies.

You know what Doug does better than pretty much any other rightard I've ever read? Answers his own questions. He doesn't realize he's doing it! He sets up rhetorical questions and then answers them unintentionally. It's actually kind of brilliant. See, here, he's saying "I guess maybe we're too serious to be funny." Then right away, he turns around and says "We should make jokes in order to mock our enemies."

But humor isn't about picking on one's enemies. That's what bullies do, and bullies are only funny to themselves. Humor is about recognition. It's inherently sympathetic. We laugh because we relate. So if you're all about pointing out the flaws of a group you have deemed "the enemy," your "comedy" is going to be mean-spirited and bilious, which is only funny to other mean-spirited, bilious people. Which pretty much explains "Red Eye" and the whole of contemporary conservative comedy today.

Even Stephen Colbert, the sharpest satirist of the right-wing working today, comes at the satire from a standpoint of AFFECTION. He calls Bill O'Reilly "Papa Bear." He frequently has right-wing guests on his show, and he goofs on them, but in a warm and engaging way, not as a jerk. This is a far more artful form of ridicule. He makes his targets look like blind partisans whereas he manages to remain above the fray. The South Park guys frequently employ the same technique. Stan and Kyle remain the straightlaced, sober ones, reacting to the madness all around them. Gutfeld doesn't come off like the standard-bearer of reasoned discourse in that clip from "Red Eye." More like the coked-up lunatic.

Nowadays, we won’t dare do cartoons about Osama and his ilk lest we tick them off. Are you kidding me? We’re trying to kill the terrorists, right? Let me see if I get this correct: we can kill them, but we can’t insult them with cartoons or sitcoms?

Oh, Doug Doug Doug Doug Dougie...

Let me set this straight for you. The cartoon controversy was about offending Muslims, not terrorists. I don't think anyone really cares if they offend terrorists (though I'm not sure who you actually mean when you say that vague, essentially defunct word.) I personally am with you on the cartoon thing. Though I didn't find the cartoons amusing, and probably wouldn't have wanted to run them if I owned a newspaper, I don't think a paper should allow angry fundamentalists to determine its content. As I would if it were an offensive cartoon of Christ or Buddha or whomever, I support the paper's right to publish anything they damn well please.

But conflating those who protested the cartoons with terrorists? Racist, my friend. Straight-up racist.

One of the reasons why some young people no likey conservatives is because no one is making them look at the Left and then laugh their butts off at them. It seems shallow, but that’s reality. I believe we need to change this by going Monty Python nuts. I’m willing to give it a try. My wife says I’m pretty funny, especially during sex. I’m not quite sure what she means, though.

Sad...Just sad...


jim treacher said...

Interesting point!

Anonymous said...

You make some points. But saying, "Dennis Miller hasn't been funny since he converted to conservatism" ruins all credibility instantly--and reveals you're own prejudices. Furthermore, I don't care about funny anymore. We're past that. I care about waking up tomorrow. That's the tiny bit that the "hilarious" libs don't get. Let's see how breezy and side-splitting Hillary and Pelosi are when trying to talk their way through Ahmadinejad.

Lons said...

Anony, as I said in the article, if Dennis Miller were still funny, I'd still be a fan. I don't dislike comedians on the basis of their personal politics. I SWEAR. I'd love to be able to prove it, but as even conservatives admit, there aren't any good righty comics I can use as an example. But the fact is, he went away for a while, came back all fired up over 9/11 and fond of Bush, and he simply wasn't funny any more. His personality, style and persona had changed and not for the better.

As for your second point...I'm sorry, but that's just no way to live your life. Be worried about terrorism every day, fine. I'm not, but I'll allow that it's somewhat worrisome in general. But if you can't bring yourself to enjoy comedy because you're so CONSTANTLY AFRAID of Middle-Eastern people, that's a separate issue that has nothing to do with "libs." That's a personal problem that you're having.

Anonymous said...

he goofs on them, but in a warm and engaging way, not as a jerk

I wonder if you're payng attentin. Or perhaps you are. Colbert pretends to be buddy buddy (as with Commander Bunnypants: "We're not braniacs on the Nerd Patrol..."), and when he had Papa Bear on he said that Jon Stewart was banned from the show, "He's a sexual predator, Bill. You have no idea what that's like." That's some serious skewering.

Lons said...

But we're not talking content, we're talking tone. Obviously, Colbert is mocking right-wingers just as Gutfeld is attempting to mock left-wingers. But Colbert's tone is not ill-tempered or bilious. He pretends to BEFRIEND his targets, which makes the satire MORE BITING.

Gutfeld, on the other hand, comes off as contemptuous of his subjects, not to mention bitterly angry. Not funny. Desperate. The difference is night and day. I'm not saying that the actual criticism offered by Colbert isn't direct and even savage at times. But it's delivered with style, flair and class.

kl said...

"If you don't agree with it, it's not funny" was in the post about the Iowahawk "My Fair Blogger" thing. The link to you was in the post with a bunch of Red Eye reviews. Sounds like you got them mixed up somehow.

Lons said...

No, KL, I saw that comment on a different post than the link to me. But seeing as my link was included in a batch with other negative reviews, I sort of took the entire section of posts as a single piece. If Treacher genuinely didn't mean to include me in that statement, if he thought my blog was unique in providing sensible criticism, he probably would have said so. Or at least wouldn't be showing up here whenever I write about him to add snarky, faux-positive comments.

I'd say the entire gist of the Daily Gut site is that "Red Eye" is funny and all us libruls who don't get it are just being partisan and whiny and not at all fun. I mean, why sarcastically link to my review and continually comment on my posts if not to hold my opinion up for ridicule. "See? Here's another liberal who CAN'T TAKE A JOKE!"

jim treacher said...

I hadn't thought about it that way, but it's definitely something to consider. Thanks for taking the time!

Lons said...

Jim, don't you have a show to write? Maybe if you guys spent more than 10 minutes prepping each episode, you wouldn't have so many online detractors?

jim treacher said...

"Jim, don't you have a show to write?"

To be honest, I'm really a P.A. on Fox & Friends. They're just loaning me out to Greg's blog until he can find an illegal immigrant or somebody to type up that crap.

Lons said...

Ah, now I understand. They really let PA's take over the blogs of their on-air personalities? Because if so, I have a two part question:

Do you have any open positions, and is John Gibson taking a vacation any time soon?

jim treacher said...

"They really let PA's take over the blogs of their on-air personalities?"


Anonymous said...

What was so obvious in that clip was the assembled performers seemed to know the bit wasn't funny. I’ve written comedy for TV, and commented about it on blogs from time to time, so I know a little something about it.

Having just wasted 90 seconds of my life watching the clip–time that would have been better spent watching Glenn Reynolds pick and then eat ticks from Mickey Kaus’ back hair, I felt a little bit bad. Bad in the way you feel when you see a friend or peer onstage bombing–and can't deny to yourself that he’s bombing. You just wanna look down at your feet, or at your stale drink and pray for the red light to go on so the poor bastard can just leave the stage, and get on a train 10 blocks away where no one from the club’ll be nearby to point, and bleat a Nelson Muntz-like–”A-haaaaah!” It's bad enough when it's one comedian sh*tting the bed. but when you have a whole ward of 'em missing the bedpans at once--my God. Group improv gone bad is like watching babboons performing heart surgery--ugly, brutal, and wince-inducing.

That foursome of f*ck ups knew they were bombing. You can see the fear in their eyes. And when confident comedians get together like that–even comedians you don’t like, such as the occasionally repellent crews assembled at Colin Quinn’s “Tough Crowd”, their reactions are different. They don’t laugh like a 7th grade class clown at the lunch table who just got off a good one about the lunch lady’s tater tot-like neck melanoma. They hit the punch line, sit back confidently and let the laughs–or give space for the laughs to –come.


And what’ll often happen is that a fellow comedian on the panel’ll give that joke room to breathe and then build on it–escalate it with his or her own twist on the quip.

Note this crew couldn’t do that. Nope. They acted more like a group of over-sugared kids screaming out answers at a raucous, brithday party game of “Pictionary”. And the worse they got, the unfunnier they became, and the more desperately crazed they appeared. And baby, they knew it. Did you catch the lack of a studio audience in the bit? Were they so afraid that not a one of these four mirthmasters could garner a laugh–a well-timed, humor-and-not-partisan-driven laugh in a studio full of people?

Daily Show does it.

Colbert does it.

Tough Crowd did it.

Real Time does it.

But these clowns won’t. And apparently can’t. Probably because in their attempt to market a snarky, hip, edgy, GOP clone of “The Daily Show”, they came to realize there just ain’t enough “snarky, hip and edgy GOP-ers” to fill a studio audience with.

Did Fox’s marketing division f*ck up here? I think the answer is Sadly, Yes.

By the by. quite telling is the semi-inadvertent “Blacks all look alike” joke near the top where they can’t tell the difference between Lionel Jefferson and Lionel Richie and get their negroes all confused and ever’thang. Or was that an attempt at Sarah Silverman-esque, ├╝ber-racist, meta-mockery gone belly-up in the comedy fishtank?

Oh well...puttin' GOP comedy stalwarts like Jeff Foxworthy and Larry The Cable Guy on this show would’ve blunted the witty, urbane edge they were goin’ for, ah reckon.


Lons said...

And the worse they got, the unfunnier they became, and the more desperately crazed they appeared. And baby, they knew it.

Exactly. Desperation flopsweat kills the joke every time.

drummer510 said...

Basically, the decision is: RED EYE is a terrible show; the whole idea of it is flawed and poorly executed. Fox keeping doing what you do best, manipulating news to have your best interests at heart. I've decided all the women who are hosts or co-hosts on Fox are all closet lesbos, trying to compensate for their insecurities.

Anonymous said...

I don't like lons

Anonymous said...

Although I agree with the argument overall, I don't understand how you can mention SouthPark without conceding it as an example of conservative humor. You can argue that, due to their positions on social issues (the FCC?), they may trend more towards the libertarian end of the spectrum; they are at least a point in the case of conservative humor. True, they are likely the exception that demonstrates the rule, but its something.

Lons said...

Well, most recent Anonymous blogger, I agree. I myself have argued on this very blog that "South Park" represents that rarest of species: the funny conservative comedy show.

I tend not to think of them as blind partisans. But, as you say, they are pretty much the exception that proves the rule.

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Anonymous said...

I'm actually convinced that Colbert isn't pretending to like the objects of his satire. I think that in many cases, he really does like them, especially Bill O'Reilley. The two really do seem to have an odd sort of friendship beneath the jabs at each other.