Funny Not Funny
03.13.14 9:45 AM ET
Why the GOP Can’t Take a Joke
“Tragic,” “Gross,” “Dreadful,” “Unbearable.”
These were just a few of the words uttered in horror by conservatives on Tuesday. What caused them to collectively freak out? Comedy. Or, more specifically, President Obama appearing on the humorous Zach Galifianakis web series, “Between Two Ferns.”
It’s truly mind boggling that something so funny could make so many on the right so angry. Republican Congressman Randy Weber tweeted: “Instead of wasting time with a parody interview, he should be focusing on finding answers re: #Benghazi.” Fox News’ “The Five” spent approximately 12 minutes bashing the video and Bill O’Reilly commented: “All I can tell you is Abe Lincoln would not have done it.” For once, I agree with O’Reilly. Lincoln never would’ve appeared on “Between Two Ferns” because Zack Galifianakis hadn’t been born yet and the Internet didn’t exist in the 1860’s.
The right being outraged over comedy is nothing new. They have long been angry at jokes they don’t agree with and the people who tell them. We have seen them criticize Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Sarah Silverman, and Wanda Sykes to name a few.
On Wednesday, the conservative publication Newsbusters complained that Jimmy Fallon, the new host of the esteemed Tonight Show, took an “unnecessary swipe” at Sarah Palin. Translation: Fallon told a joke about Palin they didn’t like. They have even come after me and I’m not even in the same universe as these other comedians! But it doesn’t matter. Famous or not, the right is scouring the airwaves for any joke they don’t like.
The right doesn’t seem to grasp that the more they attack well-known, popular comedians for their jokes, the more they end up pushing away the younger people who like these comedians. It makes the right appear more rigid and unable to laugh at itself. And that’s not a good look. (See: the 2011 White House Correspondent’s Dinner when Donald Trump refused to laugh at jokes that Seth Meyers was telling about him. Not pretty.)
So why are so many on the right angered by comedy? Were they abused by a comedian when they were young? Maybe their lunch money was stolen by the class clown?
Here’s my theory: Conservatives fear comedy because they aren’t good at it. Sure, some of them are unintentionally funny. (I’m looking at you Michele Bachmann and Ted Cruz.) But how many famous conservative comedians can you name? Dennis Miller and Drew Carey. Even if there are a few more, the list is dwarfed by the number of famous progressive comedians.
Plus, I believe that the right’s anger over being comically challenged is made worse by that fact that they so desperately want to be funny. They understand the power of comedy. It can truly be more effective than a speech at undermining your political opponents because people are laughing at them. No doubt that’s one of the reasons Fox News created a right wing version of The Daily Show a few years ago. Too bad it was an epic fail.
You really have to wonder why there are so few well-known professional conservative comedians. My theory is that comedy inherently challenges the status quo and the right generally tries to preserve that. Plus, people who become comedians tend not to subscribe to the traditional ideas of career, work or even bathing habits. Conservatives do.
One very funny conservative comedian, who didn’t want his name mentioned, “rejects the premise of my article,” but wouldn’t go into more detail.
Comedian Frank Coniff, however, best known as “TV’s Frank” from Mystery Science Theater, saidt: “The best comedy is always on the side of the underdog, and conservatives are on the side the powerful.” Comedian/writer Leighann Lord echoed Frank’s sentiments: “Comedy is at its best when it gives voice to the underdog having the courage to say out loud what people are thinking.”
Jason Sattler, the man behind the popular satirical Twitter account “@LOLGOP,” which mocks Republicans, said, “Conservatives focus on being funny almost exclusively to people who agree with them.” He believes they won’t take the chance of doing comedy and publicly failing, adding conservatives, “usually prefer failing in private—like at bathroom stalls in an international airport, for instance.”
One thing is clear, the conservatives outrage over comedy—be it by President Obama, Jon Stewart or any other comedian—is not going to help in attracting the younger votes they so desperately need. And conservatives should fear that much more that any joke.