The other day, in a typical “Right versus Left” argument on The Internet, someone made a comment that stuck in my head and had me thinking. The comment was made that there is almost no voice given to Conservative comedians and that comedians of today do not poke fun at Obama the way they did Bush and other conservative politicians. The commenter made this point by stating that David Letterman is too soft on Obama compared to how he was with Bush.
I won’t spend much time pointing out the fact that David Letterman is not a journalist or even member of the media. He is, of course, a comedian and talk show host. Since his talk show bears his own name and represents his own opinions, he can support any politician he likes. He doesn’t owe anyone an unbiased platform any more than Rush Limbaugh owed Bill Clinton fairness when he hosted his own TV show in the 90s.
Still, there is a point underneath that bad example which still stands: There really is less Conservative comedy and fewer jokes at the expense of Liberals over Conservatives. I won’t disagree with this comment, but the people who complain about it as if it is some sort of grand conspiracy against Conservative humor in America kind of miss the point.
Comedy is never really about equality or representing both sides of the story. For comedy (particularly stand-up comedy) to really work, it usually comes a particular point-of-view: The Underdog.
The Underdog is that comic who is a misfit. He’s overweight or insecure. He’s the dorky guy who talks about how he was always picked last in dodge ball. It’s also the awkward woman who can’t get a date or is afraid of living her life with only her cats. We cheer for The Underdog.
For this kind of comedy to work politically, The Underdog has to take the side of the less successful. And, make no mistake, most comedians are not rich and successful. Most who are spent years being dead broke before finally breaking out. This is why so many comedians have stories of being penniless, having awful jobs, and broken-down cars. The irony is that suffering can be quite funny.
Conservative comedians will always have a hard time in this approach because, frankly, it’s hard to be The Underdog when you are the majority, the powerful, and the status quo. In fact, comedy has never succeeded when defending the status quo. It tends to succeed when it takes the voice of those less fortunate. When comedy is political, it works best as a reminder of things that are not fair. To be better off than most people in the world and then complain about unfairness simply reeks of phoniness.
The phrase “only the truth is funny” was coined for a reason. When Conservatives try to play The Underdog, it simply comes off as false. Complaining that you have to pay taxes and you think poor people are lazy is hardly knee-slapping material. No one wants to laugh at the guy who is pretending to be a misfit while simultaneously patting himself on the back. It’s like a rich guy standing onstage and thinking it’s funny how he can only afford the BMW and not The Mercedes. How do you take the position that it sucks to be you when it clearly does not suck to be you?
When Liberal comedians take a stance, it is usually against The Status Quo, not in favor of it. It is a stab at The Establishment, at “The Man”. That same tactic doesn’t work when you are arguing from the point-of-view of the majority. No one really thinks it sucks in America to be a successful white guy.
Ever notice that all of the jokes about Clinton seemed to be about his sex life? There was a reason for that. It’s hard to joke about the guy who wants to help the less fortunate, even if you don’t think the less fortunate need your help. This is also why the people who attempt jokes about Obama tend to fail. It’s hardly funny to joke about the guy who clearly has his heart in the right place, even if his efforts do not always succeed.
Why do comedians make more jokes about Conservatives than Liberals? Because it’s funnier to laugh at those who Have than those who Have Not. The stance that it sucks to be the majority is not really universal. The only majority in America it sucks to be is the 99%.
So, if it surprises anyone that there is not more Right-Wing humor out there, ask yourself this simple question: When have you ever gone to a movie and rooted for the popular jock to beat the unpopular nerd?
The problem with so many Conservative comedians (and Conservatives in general) these days is that they’re so certain that they are the nerds, they’re completely clueless to the fact that they’re actually the jocks. Feeling like things aren’t as great for you as they used to be is not the same thing as actually being tread upon.
Don’t be surprised when David Letterman doesn’t seem to act like one of you, simply because his bank account makes him look like he is. He knows it doesn’t suck to be David Letterman.