X Close

The New Norm: another failed anti-woke comedy

Who could that be? Credit: The New Norm/X

June 27, 2024 - 3:00pm

“Make America funny again” is the strapline for The New Norm, the “first animated sitcom on X” (formerly Twitter). The mini-pilot was posted online yesterday, featuring unshowy animation, well-designed characters and setting, and decent voice performances. Technically, it’s fine.

Unfortunately, the script is excruciating. The conceit of The New Norm is that it is a traditional American family sitcom, complete with the canned laughter of the Bewitched/That Girl! era. It features an old dad — Norm — bemused by the modern “woke” world, exemplified by his non-binary daughter and her new boyfriend.

There’s no reason why this show had to be terrible, and yet it is. In fact, it is not just terrible but flesh-creepingly awful. The jokes, such as they are, all crash like bags of tools being dropped down a lift shaft. An AI bleats robotically that what Norm says is “offensive!”. There are lines — supposedly funny lines — such as “Y’all influence my boy to cut off his junk but draw the line at beer?” The three-minute clip ends with a cringe-inducing genuflection to Elon Musk.

It’s rather like a progressive’s idea of what conservative humour might be: painful “the woke brigade, eh?” stuff. If someone had told me it was a progressive satire on conservatives I would have believed them. That would have made more sense — and been a whole lot funnier. The tweet launching the pilot has the temerity to quote someone (it’s not clear who) saying that it is “the South Park of X”. Alas no. South Park has intelligence, it has verbal and conceptual dexterity, and it is funny.

The first episode of South Park aired in 1997, a long time before the culture wars became mainstream news. The New Norm is leaden and strangely antiquated. It’s a show we might, at a stretch, have welcomed in 2016, when the “woke” world was still baffling us and all the obvious gags hadn’t been made.

The fundamental problem with ridiculing progressive identity politics is that this worldview is already ridiculous. It has, in a way, already made the joke and, if it isn’t blindingly obvious, sometimes all you need is someone to point it out. The entire purpose is to goad you into reacting, to make the “good” people nod along with crackpot ideas to demonstrate their fealty, and thus reveal those who do not, leaving them open to persecution. You have to work very hard to engage with that successfully in a humorous way.

Nearly all political humour that comes from a clear position is equally dreadful, but because we’re so used to seeing this from progressives such as Hannah Gadsby, Stewart Lee, Nish Kumar and Frankie Boyle, we often don’t really notice or remark on how bad it is. Replying in the same vein is disastrous, a mirror image of that flatness and lifelessness.

There is nothing more deadly to comedy than ideology. It siphons invention through a thought-funnel, kills original ideas, and is the enemy of surprise. The New Norm is as painful, and for exactly the same reasons, as Late Night Lycett or The Mash Report. Like them, it has a Soviet feel. Every joke is the first and most obvious one that anybody would think of.

It’s a cliché, because it’s true, that the best comedy laughs at everybody. Many comedians have made good jokes about the idiocies of 21st-century identity politics, but only by being its true opposite: open, free and inventive. The ability to laugh at your own “side”, something progressives generally cannot do, is essential. Even better is not having a side at all.

Comedy is a good barometer of both people and ideas. What The New Norm has inadvertently shown us is that we are now well past the stage where simply mocking the obvious fatuities of “woke” will do. Like the ideology it is crudely railing against, it needs to curl up and die.


Gareth Roberts is a screenwriter and novelist, best known for his work on Doctor Who.

OldRoberts953

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

19 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
24 days ago

Perhaps The New Norm (which i haven’t seen) is intentionally awful in an attempt to disparage the type of anti-woke comedy the writer rails against by going way over the top?
Or perhaps not; but it might just be funny if a comedy scriptwriter could come up with something along those lines.

T Bone
T Bone
24 days ago

Agreed. Ideological comedy always tries too hard to offend a caricature of the outgroup while coddling the ingroup.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
24 days ago

Haven’t seen the show, but author nails it when he says ideologically inspired writing cannot possibly be funny, right or left. Writing funny is the hardest literary form IMO. Very few can pull it off.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
24 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Everybody wants to be South Park, because they’ve pulled off and popularized political satire in a way that nobody else has recently. The only other comedy programming that regularly uses political themes is the sketch based SNL, and their political stuff has probably hurt them overall. The other animated comedies tend to fail when they get political. I stopped watching The Simpsons two decades ago because it got too preachy. Liberal Lisa is always right and let’s all point and laugh at stupid religious Flanders. I have no idea how that show is still going on. It’s been three and a half decades. I’m 44 and I can barely remember a time before The Simpsons. Family Guy at least didn’t have the dog be right all the time. Their political and religious themed episodes are still pretty cringe-worthy and unfunny but at least there’s some attempt at balance.

Victor James
Victor James
24 days ago

So, in other words, the author’s message to those fighting woke is…
Don’t do anything. Don’t try anything. Don’t fight back. Because fighting back makes you just like them. Accept your servitude.

Kevin Jones
Kevin Jones
24 days ago
Reply to  Victor James

Or maybe it is just “Don’t make shit comedies”

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
24 days ago

Conservative humour is an oxymoron. I’ve told you people to never try to make jokes – you should have listened…

T Bone
T Bone
24 days ago

Who is your favorite comedian?

Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
24 days ago
Reply to  T Bone

Bill Cosby

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
24 days ago
Reply to  T Bone

Tommy Cooper

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
24 days ago

We should have listened. If there’s one person who knows unfunny, it’s Champagne Socialist.

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
24 days ago

And yet ironically, if you asked ChatGPT to write some dialog making fun of the type of comments lefties make, they would be indistinguishable from yours.
Have you outsourced your homework Norman?

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
24 days ago

Q. What do you call CS with some glue?
A. An epoxymoron.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
24 days ago

I think Gareth is spot on but the Babylon Bee has ideology behind it and can be dead funny

Ex Nihilo
Ex Nihilo
24 days ago

I disagree that ideologically inspired writing cannot be funny. The marvelously successful sitcom All in the Family was quite ideological, both reflecting and influencing an entire generation of Americans in their drift to the political left. Archie Bunker, its main character, was the prototype for what Hillary Clinton would later call “the deplorables”. As a centrist-conservative it dismays me to admit that the left is just better at it. Why? Because far more artists are liberal than conservative. The constituency of the right tends more to business people, trades people, engineers, and such, comprising a much shallower resource for the skilled artistic expression of political thought but a plumper target for ridicule. Much of the left’s constituency is off-limits as objects to ridicule because they are culturally protected by victim status. Easier for a clever progressive artist to invent new ways to poke fun at rich white males or the police than for a conservative one to apply humor to the third rail of gender politics without being perceived as punching down. The importance of art to political outcomes was succinctly expressed by the Scotsman Andrew Fletcher 350 years ago:

Let me make the songs of a nation and I care not who makes its laws.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
21 days ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

I see your point and largely agree. Though a bit too mean much of the time (and I don’t “identify as” a snowflake) George Carlin could be funny and` political. While clearly left-of-center on the whole, he didn’t punch only in one direction Same goes for the less brainy. conservative-leaning P.J O’Rourke–though you get nearly his whole schtick in about 20 pages of the many hundreds he’s published.
But I think political satire or humor has a very hard time succeeding beyond the given choir if it doesn’t show some traces of evenhandedness, or willingness to risk offending in all directions–like South Park does. When this at-least-partial balance is shown, political humor is not ideological, certainly not in a narrow or zealous sense.
Ideologically inspired: yes. Ideologically hardened or rigidly partisan: tough sell to a general audience. I wonder how many staunch conservatives can laugh at Jon Stewart (a bit less one-sided now I’d say, but not by a lot) or wokesters at Dave Chappelle’s recent material. And yes, I can’t even think of many conservative comedians to make the point in reverse–especially popular ones–unless we consider outwardly apolitical jokesters like Sebastian Maniscalco or deliberate offenders of old like Andrew Dice Clay…Oh! There’s that Shane Gillis guy, whom I found pretty funny on that so-so Netflix sit-com Tires, which might get better.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
23 days ago

Hence my conclusion that the appropriate reaction to woke isn’t humorous mockery, but vicious unrelenting nastiness. What is the point of mocking the woke scum when they need to be denied jobs, housing, banking facilities, and internet access? Instead of soft soap, we need to police their hate marches with riot cops, tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannon, and nasty dogs.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
20 days ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Sure, create more bad blood and return evil for evil, all the while congratulating yourself. Mutual antagonism…the proven path to victory.

J Dunne
J Dunne
22 days ago

The author is absolutely correct with his observation that political comedy is rarely funny. The fact that you agree with the sentiment of the joke doesn’t make the joke funny if it wasn’t funny to begin with. Occasionally it can work (Ricky Gervais, Bill Burr and Alistair Williams have sometimes managed to achieve both), but I would much rather return to a time when comedians were judged on comedy alone.