Why are progressives so afraid of Right-wing comedy?
A new book warns that it is a 'monster' the Left can't ignore
‘The mere mention of right-wing comedy provoked raised eyebrows and dropped jaws during our countless Zoom calls throughout the pandemic,’ write Matt Sienkiewicz and Nick Marx in their new book That’s Not Funny: How the Right Makes Comedy Work For Them. “We were, it seemed to many, playing with an obvious oxymoron.”
Sienkiewicz and Marx disagree, though. Their contention is that Right-wing humour is a force to be reckoned with. “Closing our eyes,” they write, “doesn’t make the monster go away.”
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Now that’s funny.
There are two questions here: does Right-wing comedy succeed as propaganda and does it succeed as, well, comedy? The answer to the first question is inarguably yes. The likes of Greg Gutfeld and Steven Crowder, two conservative comedians, have huge audiences. And, as Sienkiewicz and Marx observe, humour was key to the success of Donald Trump in 2016.
But the tougher question is whether it’s funny. It is true that lot of Right-wing ‘comedy’ is limp and formulaic pandering. How many times can it be pointed out that AOC is an idiot? How many times can Steven Crowder do his uproarious ‘man wears a dress’ routine? The Right-wing commentator Benny Johnson’s new comedy show The Left Can’t Meme, meanwhile, is unwatchable.
Expand ‘Right-wing’ to ‘anti-woke’ though, and a lot of it is funny. The funniest people, by and large, are ideologically heterodox. In his biography of the great Peter Cook, Harry Thompson notes that Cook was “something of a chameleon” when it came to politics. He was a roving enemy of the pious, the pompous and the absurd — and this is what all comedy greats share too (indeed, South Park’s creators describe themselves as “equal opportunity offenders”).
In the scale of its absurdity and its self-righteousness, modern progressivism has turned not just Right-wing comedians against it, but the likes of Dave Chappelle, Joe Rogan and podcasts like Cum Town or Legion of Skanks too. Even Sienkiewicz and Marx huff about how such comedians “overindulge in racist epithets and retrograde sexism under the guise of comic freedom and free expression,” which illustrates the bind in which most Left-wingers find themselves. Those of us who are genuinely on the Right should be grateful that so many people on the Left have done so much to make themselves look silly.
More explicitly, deliberately political comedy contains the seeds of its own unfunniness. Political opinions inevitably entail an element of sacredness, and sacredness doesn’t mix with comedy. They can sit alongside one another — as in the later works of Evelyn Waugh — but there is a difference between them. If only a few more political commentators would take note…
“But the tougher question is whether it’s funny. It is true that lot of Right-wing ‘comedy’ is limp and formulaic pandering. How many times can it be pointed out that AOC is an idiot?”
And yet ‘George W. Bush/Daily Mail readers/Donald Trump/Brexiteers are stupid’ jokes (followed by canned laughter) have been standard fare for years. Entire careers were built and sustained on this tedium.
It goes way further back than Bush.
Did you live though the 1980s “alternative” comedy boom when it was all about Fatcher and Reagan?
Yes – good point.
At least back then it could in theory be argued that conservatives with the establishment, so it’s warranted that the BBC should have performed its role in making fun of the establishment, which I think they did well.
However, now the BBC has become the establishment but still romantically imagines itself battling a conservative foe.
It therefore upholds the very establishment it imagines itself to be holding account, and is completely unaware that it is doing this.
If they were doing their duty, they would be funding comedy and programs that challenge the status quo, as they did until their pinup boy Blair took power.
“Fatcha: good jowk, yeah?”
You penned it well. I stopped going to “comedy” shows and watching “comedy” TV in the 90s…got so extremely sick of the one-sided “comedy”. How I long for the days of equal poking of fun of everyone, all “parties” and all peoples of any color or gender or religion. “Those were the days, my friend”. Back when we could ALL laugh at ourselves.
I yearn for those days again. SNL used to be funny, and i laughed along with all the Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan jokes in good faith, but today it’s non-stop right bashing.
And the Dan Quayle misspelling of the word potato. How the comedians harped on that one for years!
As Johnny Rotten said “I never thought I’d see the day when the right wing would become the cool ones giving the middle finger to the establishment, and the left wing becoming the sniveling self-righteous twatty ones going around shaming everyone.“
The fact that the Left (I’m a leftie) have become so conformists is the funnest contemporary joke.
I can’t wait till all the woke morons kids grow up and rebel against their politics. It’s going to be awesome.
First they insisted right wing comics wren’t funny, and right wing comedy was an oxymoron anyway.
Now they’re complaining that it’s too successful.
All this and not a mention of the funniest place in the world these days – the Babylon Bee. They were kicked off Twitter which is a true hallmark of success. Oh, and Let’s Go Brandon.
The closest thing we have to the old Mad Magazine, which I LOVED. Poked fun at everyone and everything.
To me, this is requisite for any comedy that wants to get anywhere near politics, or social mores or current events, i.e., anything short of Henny Youngman one-liners:
“a roving enemy of the pious, the pompous and the absurd…”
The moment a certain “side” is taken off the operating table is when comedy goes from comedy to propaganda, and becomes far less funny. Good comedy keeps audiences on their feet. The comedian may skewer the piousness of the audience in the next breath after he just skewered that of the “other side.”
I don’t know many right-wing comics other than Gutfeld, who I don’t find particularly funny, but compared to blatantly left-wing comics like Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee (and, increasingly, the very unfunny Jon Stewart), at least Gutfeld has the redeeming quality of not taking himself too seriously. Anyway, these days even comics as brilliant as Ricky Gervais are labelled as “transphobic,” so who really cares….
Today’s comedic rule: If you skewer a conservative, it’s funny. If you poke fun at a wokester, it’s time to cancel them.
Left wingers don’t like laughing. It is ideologically very suspicious. Most of all they don’t like you laughing at them.
Maybe the writer should actually watch Steven Crowder before criticising him. I cannot even remember the last time he wore a dress in a sketch. The 4 x weekly show features Dave Landau – an excellent and thoughtful stand up comedian – who would pretty much be considered centre left 10 years ago had the Overton window not moved so far left leaving him stranded. When 96% of comedians are unfunny left wingers chasing applause rather than laughs a book on the small number of non-leftist comics is clearly a symptom of the left’s discomfort at anyone who doesn’t agree with them rather than a response to a real issue.
I think it is helpful to distinguish between comedy and satire, the best of “right wing” comedy is social commentary, satirising the positions taken by some parts of the left/woke collective. Much the same has always been true of the left, left wing comedy was much stronger when it tried to act as commentary on the perils of capitalism, rather than taking a specific stance to promote a position. At their best, they can straddle polarised positions and take aim at all. As a thought consider Bill Hicks – right wing or left wing ? Or simply uncategorisable ?
This is a great piece and has generated intelligent comments. At the risk of upsetting the trend, I would suggest that there is a big class issue here too. Comedy that came out of the working mens clubs was hijacked by the graduate classes and destroyed. It certainly needed updating but it has been warped to serve the interests of an elite. I’d suggest you can replace “right wing” with “working class” and it rings just as true.
To me, it’s funny that the Left is just figuring out that ‘right-wing’ comedy is a thing. For years, we’ve been told that we aren’t wanted in their spaces, so we made our own. Now, they seem mad because these new spaces are popular because they don’t follow Lefty norms.
I like good comedy, regardless of ideology, there’s a lot to laugh at in all sides – but a lot of the Left wing stuff isn’t funny. If all you’ve got are ‘Orange man bad’ jokes, (in the American context, anti-Trump), then you can’t be surprised when a lot of people aren’t watching your stuff anymore. It becomes more about pushing an ideology than the actual comedy. Audiences know the difference and we’ve voted with our feet and time.
Besides, they’ve actively told us, in many cases, that they don’t want us in their spaces. It’s the unforgivable sin to like president Trump. Why would we stick around to be insulted?
Lenny Bruce started this. George Carlin made it mainstream.
I think the left’s problem is that they have become the pious pearl clutching scolds who dominate society. Conservatives are the counter culture right now. Making fun of wokeism is pretty easy.
What does ‘right wing humor’ even refer too? I can only dream of being as consistently funny as the Babylon Bee. Here are 2 headlines from today’s Duffel Blog, ‘Finland begs Sweden to join NATO so that it can get a refer-a-friend discount’. Or, ‘Moscow: If Ukraine kills one more Russian general, next one will be free’. Now that is funny
To be a “roving enemy” of the pious, pompous and humorlessly quasi-religious is surely the mission of comedy. In antiquity every important leader had some sort of jester or sacred fool, to speak truth to the powerful, with humor — because a good laugh so lifts one out of the body, like a massive sneeze, giving perspective to the view. (It also makes facts more memorable, as every good teacher knows.) And of course the sad lack of insight displayed by today’s Woke Persuasion makes them an irresistible, impossible-to-miss target. Mankind, after all, is more than a featherless biped, it is “the laughing animal”.
Speaking as a conservative that is very much on the right: Right wing comedy isn’t funny. In general artistic endeavours are best left to the leftists. Jordan Peterson has a convincing explanation for it. But as someone has noticed in one of the comments, right wing commentary can be funny, 2 times a month the GLOP culture podcast makes me laugh out loud. The anti woke aren’t right wing, Bill Burr, Chappelle (if you disregard the man’s anti White and anti Jewish prejudices) and the wonderful Tim Dillon are all anti woke but hardly right wing. Joe Rogan has a great podcast but he isn’t funny or right wing. Great comedians poke at taboos and make fun of the sacred.
Well said. It’s almost as if a hipster from the 60’s shows up at a rap concert, looks around and wonders why he’s not hip anymore.
Maybe actually try and watch Steven Crowder before dragging him?.I cannot even remember the last time he wore a dress. The 4 x weekly show features Dave Landau an excellent and thoughtful stand up comedian who would pretty much be considered centre left 10 years ago had the Overton window not moved so far left leaving him stranded. When 96% of comedians are unfunny left wingers chasing applause rather than laughs a book on the small number of non-leftists comics is clearly a symptom of the lefts discomfort at anyone who doesn’t agree with them.
These people are not progressive, apart from in their own eyes. They are regressive, mostly poorly educated, myopic idiots, nothing more. They should never be referred to as progressive, regressive sure.
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