by Ed West
Friday, 8
January 2021
Idea
11:25

Why funny men are the most dangerous

What starts as comedy often ends in tragedy
by Ed West
This dude is so imprisoned right now.

When the film Four Lions came out I remember a friend saying how much more effective it would have been if, rather than ending on the farcical note it did, the movie showed one of the hapless, comical jihadis stumbling into a crowded place — and the next thing, muffled screams, alarms, the shrieks of agony as innocent people died. End credits.

Hapless jihadis are often very funny in real life, too, such as the Birmingham gang nicknamed “the real Four Lions” who were caught after buying bomb-making materials on eBay under the username “terrorshop”. The leader of the gang, the 23-stone Irfan Naseer aka “Chubbs”, wrote on his Friends Reunited Page, “Oh yah i’m also a terrorist hahahaha”. His co-conspirator Ashik Ali was caught on tape telling his wife that they were like the comedy figures from the film. And so it turned out — no one was hurt.

(There are so many similar cases I toyed with pitching a toilet book called The World’s Stupidest Jihadis but, as so many self-censoring artists have explained in not so many words, I rather prefer having my head on my shoulders.)

There was something similarly funny about the men who stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday, the most prominent being QAnon “shaman” and actor Jake Angeli.

They are all intrinsically amusing figures. It is funny — until people start getting killed, that is.

The online Right in particular aim to be funny because their beliefs are disguised under layers of irony; this is partly because in some cases it starts off as a joke, until ironically-held Right-wing views become unironically held (I think this is the case with some of my opinions, too). But it’s partly because in a society in which conservatism is so stigmatised and liable to lead to professional and social sanction, irony works as a form of taqiya.

But it’s also the case that frustrated, unfulfilled men are both the funniest and the most dangerous members of society.

Most of the best comedy, certainly British comedy, centres on frustrated, bitter men who think they should be higher up in society, including Basil Fawlty, Albert Steptoe, Tony Hancock’s persona and David Brent. These are also the men who are the most politically dangerous.

With the caveat that almost all comparisons between today’s politics and Nazism are absurd, young Hitler was the original “incel”, as they’d call him today. A frustrated, failed man, who made grandiose plans for rebuilding Linz and putting on absurd operas while ranting in his bedroom, he was an inherently funny figure — until he wasn’t.

The danger, perhaps, is that it is now far easier to feel frustrated and trapped. Meritocracy and economic freedom increase the penalties of failure, and not just emotionally. There is reduced prestige for those outside the top; as a society we haven’t despised the unsuccessful and poor this much for a long time.

The emotional safety nets that used to protect against failure — religion, family and to some extent the class system itself — no longer exist. All that’s left is laughter. And irony.

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Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago

Ten years ago it would have been considered funny to posit that there were more than 2 sexes. Today, not so much. Comedy and satire are often the ‘tip of the spear’ in injecting ideas into polite society. That is even more reason that the recent canceling of comedians is so distrubing. Even the bland Jerry Seinfelds of the world are no longer comfortable on college campuses. Mainstream comedy such as Saturday Night Live in the US are 100% woke.

But all is not lost, the pendulum is starting to swing back with David Chapelle, Andrew Shulz, and others poking a finger in the eyes of the leftist snowflakes. I strongly recommend that libertarian and conservative politicians use comedy and satire more in their campaign ads.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry M

Thank god for good old hyperbole, this guy loves his talk of irony, all the wile layering on the hyperbole with a trowel.

Qanon Shaman and ISIS organized jihadis, sure, we see how they are the same thing but in different clothing….Although no one thought the Jihadi were fun and amusing, as they never were. This Qanon guy is self parodying, and I feel he will never be a danger, he really is irony embodied, with a message, but not one of terror.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

I got a bit of comedy mileage out of IS jihadists by referring to them on YouTube as ‘dirty hippy sex offenders’.

Adam Huntley
Adam Huntley
1 year ago

Much of male comedy comes from men who have gone to university and become politically “aware”. They then see at as their role in life to reveal the true nature of society by lampooning the views and values of the other half. It is no wonder that so much of modern “satire” has become so drearily derivative.

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam Huntley

The late Christopher Hitchens pointed out that “satire” should take aim at stupidity from all sides. But, he added, so many comedians only laugh at the Right, never the Left. That invalidates their claims to be “satirists”.

Scott Carson
Scott Carson
1 year ago

I know it’s nitpicking, but Albert Steptoe had no delusions about his place in society. It was his son Harold who yearned for upward mobility, only to be forever thwarted by his dad.

For me, those were the golden days of comedy. I’m glad the author also mentions Hancock, another wonderful character from the pens of Galton and Simpson.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  Scott Carson

I think he meant Jeremy Steptoe, but put the original’s name by accident.

Jordan Flower
Jordan Flower
1 year ago

ah yes, hitler also ate meals. and put slacks on. I find it curious how many conservatives also do these things…

Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
1 year ago

On a slight tangent, but on the subject of funny men:

Just think: if Barack Obama was not such a witty man, such a good comic and such a talented performer, and if he hadn’t got such a kick out of publicly and very humorously mocking Donald Trump at the White House Correspondents Dinner… we might have been spared the last five years.

Sure, we’d still have Covid, but there would probably be a bit less extremism on both sides of the political spectrum.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  Pete Kreff

Rumpole of the Old Baily warned his junior once on using his platform to make a joke, he used an example of a Judge who loved making the Jury chuckle, and even would sometimes make less than good legal decisions if stating them could get a laugh from the court.

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
1 year ago
Reply to  Pete Kreff

We may need less entertaining politicians in general, much as that’s a sentiment that would have dropped jaws when I was growing up. It would have sounded, back then, kind of like “we need wetter water.”

Fortunately, the next US President is quite possibly the dullest person I can think of, so we’re off to a good start there.

Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
1 year ago

I agree that Biden offers some hope. For all his quirks and despite some of the bad bits in the VAWA legislation he sponsored, he seems fairly level-headed and middle-of-the-road.

Let’s hope some normality returns. It would be nice not to have to read distressing news from the USA for a while.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
1 year ago
Reply to  Pete Kreff

Obama is hardly a funny man. That gig was scripted. He is not a ‘natural’

Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
1 year ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

I would disagree. I think he’s quick-witted and humorous.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago

The wokescum are more dangerous than the incels.

Joe Francis
Joe Francis
1 year ago

I think you miss the point. The danger doesn’t come from
“frustrated, bitter men who think they should be higher up in society, including Basil Fawlty, Albert Steptoe, Tony Hancock’s persona and David Brent.” Men like that are actually much rarer than the wokeists would have you believe. It’s the men who want to be let alone but aren’t who are the danger. There are millions of them. All that is required is to actually let them alone. Unfortunately, leftism doesn’t allow for that.

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
1 year ago

There wasn’t much comedy in the old Soviet Union. When you think of it, the lines of convergence between modern wokeness and the old style of thought control are little less than remarkable. Yes, the latter was often enforced by a bullet to the base of the spine in a basement of the Lubyanka prison, so there is that difference. Watch the shooting of an Air Force veteran in Congress draw the convergence that much closer.

Kiran Grimm
Kiran Grimm
1 year ago

Actually, I have a book titled “Hammer & Tickle” by one Ben Lewis which is basically a collection of Soviet era jokes.

Anyway, a fact that those on the conservative right conistently fail to face up to is that wokeness is a revolution in the making.

Conservatives rail against woke hypocrisy, failing to understand that the woke don’t care about such allegations of unfair play ““ they just want their cause to prevail.

In their infinite passivity, conservatives watch and grumble as their treasured institutions are taken over by the woke crowd. It never seems to occur to them to fight back. Are they simply afraid of falling foul of the woke moral code they claim to despise? Perhaps they have no sure principles of their own.

Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
1 year ago

When you think of it, the lines of convergence between modern wokeness and the old style of thought control are little less than remarkable. Yes, the latter was often enforced by a bullet to the base of the spine in a basement of the Lubyanka prison, so there is that difference. Watch the shooting of an Air Force veteran in Congress draw the convergence that much closer.

Oh, come on.

I’m as opposed to the sanctimonious, crypto-religious authoritarianism of the worst of the woke brigade as anyone… but the Lubyanka allusion is as daft as the “Germany in the 1930s” cliche.

bcqdwdrss8
bcqdwdrss8
1 year ago

Need to agree with Peter Kreff: the soviet reality is far from the CNN and Hollywood type banal scripts you seem to take as a source of inspiration. Most of the thought control was executed by media “teaching ” the masses much like CNN or The Guardian what is the right way to think. The second tool was the orchestrated “groupthink”, the grandma of the current social media and social shaming. As to the comedy in the SU? Man, it never stopped… ever read Ilf&petroff? That is your 20s in the SU. The motion picture called “Volga Volga”, that’s your 30s, the times when a good part of my family rotted in prisons. Tell u what: mind control is much like Covid, needs vaccinations. Ask the post- Soviets, we are vaccinated and can see the West getting the very first shot yet. We do have much to share with you.

Carl Goulding
Carl Goulding
1 year ago
Reply to  bcqdwdrss8

Not so much a case of you being vaccinated but more like developing an immunity due to long term exposure to the “totalitarian virus” resulting in a healthy resistance to the effects of thought control and group think. So unfortunately I think we will have to wait for this particular virus to run its course and hope that one day, dare I use the phrase, we reach herd immunity!

bcqdwdrss8
bcqdwdrss8
1 year ago
Reply to  Carl Goulding

Well, I will leave it to others to question your interpretation what “exposure to virus” is, as in developing immunity; however, I ought to remind to those who are not post-Soviets that the “herd immunity” approach has its well known cost in the SU related cultures: 20-30 million were dead because of political violence, as in DC or Oregon or Sun Diego he other day. I won’t argue that your forecast is wrong and this is the only realistic chain of events to expect. I do hope that the Soviet experiment which, by the way, includes a remarkable amount of 1st class comedies, does not need to be replicated.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago

The modern ‘Woke Liberal’ humor is really anti-humor. A person is set up with award lines, dress, and wishes, he gives his shallow lines, and we laugh at him, as there is no wit, joke, just mocking the person by making them embarrassing. This is Saturday Night Live, it is unwatchable as you have to be taught the code to think it funny. Mean spirited anti-humor.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
1 year ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

SNL is just awful nowadays. My husband and I occasionally recall its past skits and much, much better casts of yesteryear. Timeless moments. Today’s generation is bereft of humor & talent. Who watches it anymore?

iaahendr
iaahendr
1 year ago

Do you think I’m funny? Do I amuse you?

Frederik van Beek
Frederik van Beek
1 year ago

This article is nonsens, the Yellowstone-wolfman is just a weird exception, the rest of the pack is angry, really angry. Furthermore, in general, there never was anything funny about jihadi’s. If you want to grab the real evil by the tail then search for the people who have lost their sense of humour. In other words: the people who are most scared. That goes for both the Trumpist as well as the Woke lefties. I must say the Woke lefties scare me most, I haven’t seen one funny guy among them….

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
1 year ago

Smart-alecky leftists exist, I assure you. They aren’t that funny, but then, neither are the Trumpists.

stevegateau
stevegateau
1 year ago

nobody has thought to laugh at bankruptcy yet?

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
1 year ago

I tend to think of it as the “Haha, isn’t it funny how I’m not actually kidding?” factor. People make jokes out of their beliefs to show that they aren’t 100% committed, that they still have some intellectual slack in them. That doesn’t mean they aren’t sincere, though.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
1 year ago

The liberals have certainly deep-sixed comedy. There was a golden age of comedy post WW2 until about 10 years ago but it has disappeared. Even Chris Rock & Jerry Seinfeld pulled back from campus gigs because of student intolerance (snowflakes). Many of its stars were Jewish – Don Rickles, John Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld, etc….what a fab era. So much laughter, so much fun. When did Jews stop being funny? Ditto the Blacks, like Chris Rock & Eddie Murphy. Dave Chappelle is just a cynic. Some of the funniest comedians around now have Russian backgrounds – they certainly get irony! Go figure