No Laughing Matter

10.24.13

The Tea Party’s War on Comedy

Is there no fun to be had with politics anymore? Not on the right, it seems. Comedian Dean Obeidallah on how his Twitter jokes about Ted Cruz drew heavy fire from five—yes, five—publications.

A comedian tweets a political joke that some people don’t agree with: cue instant outrage!

We have seen this time and time again. To me, this is part of a war on comedy which has increased in intensity during the current hyper-partisan climate and I fear it will become even more lethal in the future. And in my experience, this war is being waged by the far right. Cue more faux outrage.

I was caught in the crosshairs of the war on comedy this past weekend when I tweeted a joke—okay, many jokes—about Ted Cruz. As a stand-up comic, when I tweet a joke, I usually expect people to respond in one of two ways: to find the joke funny or to not. That’s about it.

But the response to this 139-character joke was different. Within hours of releasing my quip into the Twittersphere, five different publications jumped on it. There was an article in Newsbusters, two different articles on Examiner.com, one in Mediaite, and one in a publication called Red Alert Politics, which I had never heard of prior to this, but the “Red” in title gives you a clue about their desired audience: communists. (Kidding, but still cue more outrage.)

So what was this horrifically shocking joke that caused such an outcry? It’s printed below but first a warning: If you are in the Tea Party, this joke could cause you to get angrier than you already are—if that’s even possible:

Oh, the horror! The sky is falling! Save yourselves and your family…I made a joke about a duel from 1804.

Why the uproar you ask?  Was it because the tweet forced some on the right to Google “Aaron Burr” and “Alexander Hamilton” to see what I meant?  Or did some Ted Cruz fans believe that I was seriously advocating that Ted Cruz and John McCain confront each other with .56 caliber dueling pistols in Weehawken, New Jersey to mimic the original duel?

Whatever their reason, the response was swift—almost as fast as a bullet shot from an antique dueling pistol. My favorite criticism was the one in which the author accused me of fantasizing about a duel between Cruz and McCain.

To be honest, on occasion I do fantasize. But I can assure you that my fantasies have never, ever featured John McCain or Ted Cruz.

But the real reason for the outcry to the joke was contained in the article written by Noel Sheppard of Newsbusters. Sheppard, who deserves an award for candor in this war on comedy, responded to my Tweet, “Is Tea Party shutting down comedy now?” as follows:

“No, I don’t think the Tea Party is shutting down comedy, but since we live in a world where any conservative criticism of President Obama is deemed racist, we on the right are just tired of liberals being able to say anything they want with total impunity.”

So there you have it. The right is “tired” of liberals being able to express themselves freely. It’s simply payback time. It’s a reckoning.

The outrage truly had nothing to do with my joke. It had to do with me having the audacity to mock their new savior Ted Cruz. And the right wants to make it clear that if you do that, they will come after you.

Look, if you want to go an eye for an eye with politicians and political pundits because you’re angry that Obama was re-elected, because of Obamacare, or gay marriage, or for any other reason, so be it. You’re sadly contributing to the destructive hyper partisan climate, but I get it: you’re angry because you feel you’ve been wronged.

But don’t drag comedians into your grotesque reindeer games. Comedians should be afforded great latitude in telling jokes about people in power, especially our elected officials. Of course, if a joke is truly hateful—racist, sexist, Anti-Semitic, etc.—then the comedian deserves the consequences.

And to be fair, people on far left can be awful with their responses to political jokes they don’t agree with. I can personally attest to that. What the far left and far right have in common is they both lack of sense of humor.

But let’s not make comedians a victim in the skirmishes between the right and the left that play out every day on cable news channels. Next time you read or hear a political joke, don’t analyze it like you’re a lab technician on CSI. How about you either laugh or don’t laugh?  Your choice, of course. But I can assure you that you will enjoy life more if you simply choose to laugh.