Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Why Are Right-Wing Comics So Secular?

This one is off the cuff. I write it to clear my head, and I invite comments.

Standup comedy is overwhelmingly liberal-to-anarchist as a field (I was going to say "discipline," but that seems the wrong word). Still, there are some comics and humorous commentators of a right-of-center position who have been successful. Dennis Miller, Bill Maher, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter come to mind.

The puzzle for me, though, is that most conservatives are religious, but most of the conservative humorists I can think of are not. The humorists tend be adopt a libertarian persona, usually angry. They are as likely to attack religious leaders as the more common leftist comics are. Even when they are formally pro-family, they tend to be more libertarian than cultural-conservative, more Milton Friedman than James Dobson.

Perhaps cultural conservatism, as a position, can be a passion because it is serious, not funny. When Stephen Colbert parodies cultural conservatism, it is funny because the character "Stephen Colbert" sees nothing to laugh about. When Bill O'Reilly does the same material straight, however, it is rarely deliberately funny.

There is such a thing as religious humor, but it tends to be gentle and apolitical. Political humor, on the other hand, is rarely pro-religious, even if it is anti-anti-religious – attacking the excesses of the ACLU in restricting hymn singing by school choirs, for example.

It should be possible to have a funny Pat Buchanan. I just can't think of any.

Any help from the great reading world?


Anonymous said...

Bill Maher is a massive liberal and radically against religion. Limbaugh and Coulter are not comedians, they are serious, sensible people see them as jokes. Dennis Miller is the only right wing comedian I can think of, and has all but lost his career as a result. He has gone from intelligent comedy to vulgar physical assassination of people he disapproves of masked in references to obscure historical characters. Look at his interview on Daily show from 3-27 to see how bad he's become (on youtube until viacom sues them again). Right wing comedians by this example are so desperate to have their message heard that they stop being funny.

Mark Smith said...

I think anonymous has it right. Right-wing comedians tend to be right-wing first, and comedians second. Left-wing comedians are more evenly split between left-wing first and comedian first.

Speaking for myself, right-wing comedians tend to hold positions that I do not find funny, so I don't find them funny. Maybe their audience prefers a political stand over laughing?

halifax said...

How about these conservative humorists: Jonathon Swift (religious, probably), HL Mencken (not religious), PJ O'Rourke (not religious?), Florence King (likely not religious), Mark Steyn (religious, maybe), Ambrose Bierce (not religious), GK Chesterton (religious). Obviously I am not restricting myself to those who make their living telling jokes, but it does appear that there are more funny conservative skeptics than funny conservative believers.

I am fortunately completely unfamiliar with the collected works of Coulter, Maher, Limbaugh, et al.

Gruntled said...

I did see Dennis Miller -- this is one of the things that got me on this line of thought. What really got me on this line of thought, though, was Ann Coulter's bizarre joke about John Edwards being a "faggot."

Halifax, I was thinking of current performers. I find P.J. O'Rouke the funniest of the bunch, but I agree that he is probably not religious.

Rush has a schtick as a right-wing blowhard, but he plays it with a wink. I think he is the natural successor to Morton Downey, Jr., even more that Bill O'Reilly is.

Anonymous said...

(Extrapolating from the thought of Peter Berger in Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience) Berger looks at the balancing act of human life: instinctive in our animal side, meaning-making and intentional in our consciousness, and not fully able to control either one. When the balance collapses, we end up in tragedy or comedy. (Ancient Greece had a similar insight.)

He sees tragedy as the easier response - the ability to see how desperate a situation is, and be filled with worry or despair. Comedy requires a sense of a reality beyond the facts, where tragedy is not the ultimate truth. He sees it as a place of hope. He also sees it as religious.

To some extent, the liberal point of view can be that things are very bad, and we better fix them. The ounce of hope in that may lead to the juxtaposition of two worlds that creates the surprise aha! moment in humor.

The conservative point of view can be that things could get very bad and we better hang on to what we have. It lacks the edge of hope and change, and may therefore be less likely to create humor, other than caricature of liberals - which is what I have seen most often.

I'm a little frazzled today, so I probably haven't been very clear. Berger is, as usual, much more articulate.

Anonymous said...

Left or right, few comedians are religious. The only one that comes to mind is Brad Stine who does comedy routines at Promise Keepers. Obviously not a "big" name.

Gruntled said...

That is true. Unless they are on the church circuit, I probably haven't heard of a religious comic. I bet more of them are than show it in their routines.

dryancey said...

I am a little late to this discussion but I do know of a conservative religious comic. His name is Glenn Beck. He is a Morman and has a talk show but also does comdy tours. His comdy is not limited to thinking of creative ways to insult liberals. Personally most stand ups do not do it for me but he can be funny at times.

Gruntled said...

At your suggestion, I listed to some Beck clips on the internet. Here is one of him lamenting the difficulties of being a white Christian conservative who loves America.

dryancey said...

Trust me. He has done better stuff. He once did a routine about geting his driver license renewed that was real good. I would not go to Media Matters to find the comedy of conservatives. It is not an organization that is friendly to conservatives. They will look for the excesses just like Shawn Hanity will look for the excesses of liberal comedians

Anonymous said...

Why are so many successful talk radio host consevative and funny?
Why are liberals not funny on radio yet funny live? Why do most religious people and websites who call themselves centrist seem always lean to the left.
Just Axing

Gruntled said...

Why are so many successful talk radio host consevative and funny?

I think talk radio is a better medium for conservatives than liberals because it invites popular anger at elite arrogance. The counterpart to conservative talk radio is liberal documentary film.

Why are liberals not funny on radio yet funny live?
That is a mystery. Perhaps all comics are funnier with an audience, and liberal radio shows are less likely to be call-in? Just a guess.

Why do most religious people and websites who call themselves centrist seem always lean to the left.
America is a Liberal country, in the philosophical sense. The center of our tradition is liberal.