Thursday, November 03, 2005

"Conservative Comedy" and the Right-Wing Niche

According to my daily paper, a "conservative comedian"
was in town tonight. I’m afraid I didn’t make it to the
show, but not for the reasons Mr. Slagel would prefer. I’m
a leftist, you know, and, while it might be true that my
miserable nanny-statist worldview would shrivel up and
blow away when confronted by the incisive commentary
and biting wit he wields, that’s not why I stayed away.
No, it’s just that I had better things to do. I had to shave
my tongue and fondle my freeze-dried bat collection and,
when I was finished with that, it was too late in the evening
to do much else besides blog. Oh, well...

Truth be told, I don’t care for stand-up comedy of any
sort. I can’t even watch the big names on television any-
more. It strikes me as an awkward sort of art form, one
person standing up on a stage trying to make a roomful
of strangers laugh. That’s more like a nightmare to me than
an evening’s entertainment. When it’s good, it merely passes
the time, but–when it’s bad–it’s embarrassing for everyone.
I just can’t watch it anymore: too often it’s just some poor
schmuck standing in a spotlight, grasping for even the most
slight of sympathy giggles. That’s not a career to me, that’s
more like existential torment.

That being said, I hope I can assure everyone that I’m not
a humorless liberal. I think that no one should be spared
when it comes to jokes: conservatives, liberals, homosexuals,
heterosexuals, women, men, minorities, majorities, Muslims,
Christians, Jews, Buddhists, cashiers, corporate attorneys,
Southerners, Northerners, the Irish, the Italians, the Poles
and the frickin’ French-Canadians. They’re all fair game and
there’s something funny about everyone, no matter who they
are. Nor am I somebody who thinks that a conservative, as a
rule, can’t have a sense of humor. There are funny conser-
vatives in my family. I’ve worked with funny conservatives.
Political philosophy and wit are independent aspects of one’s
character. They don’t really have much to do with one

So, getting back to the "conservative comedian"–he doesn’t
strike me as too hilarious. I checked out his website and his
blog, but found nothing especially amusing at either place.
His problem seems to be that he emphasizes the "conser-
vative" before the "comedian". Having a well-defined plat-
form seemsto sap him of the freedom he needs to be truly
funny. He doesn’t want to tell jokes as much as he wants to
make points, which is fine, but it doesn’t come across as com-
edy. He’s operating under the impression that simply dress-
ing up the standard right-wing opinions with grand exagger-
ations and cheap gags qualifies as comedy. Seven billion blogs
already do this, though, and many of them do it better. Per-
haps I’m letting my ideological predilections cloud my judge-
ment, but I wasn’t impressed. The only laugh I got out of his
material was an unintentional one:

Politically, I am a Libertarian, although those on
the Left side of the aisle take the most offense to
my humor, and would categorize me as Repub-
lican or Right-Wing. That misunderstanding; coup-
led with my penchant for testing First Amendment
boundaries, and the big fad that swept college cam-
puses throughout the nineties called Political Cor-
rectness; is why you've probably never heard of me.

Oh, Tim, I can think of several other reasons why I’ve
never heard of you. But never mind...

What interested me the most about the concept of a "con-
servative comedian" was what it implies about conservatism
in 2005. Put plainly, it seems to be becoming more of a
marketing category than a political movement. Now there
aren’t just conservative churches and conservative web
forums, there’s also conservative dating services, con-
servative book clubs, conservative ice cream companies,
and–in case anyone forgot–a conservative news network.
I find this interesting. Does this mean that "conservatives"
(in the current, nationalist/rightist sense of the word) are
backing away from their claims that they represent the
mainstream of America and are instead coming to consider
themselves a mere subculture? My impression is that
"conservatism", as a self-appointed identity, requires a
steady diet of reassurance. Conservatives tend to feel iso-
lated and oppressed (in fact, I would argue that conser-
vatives like feeling isolated and oppressed, but that’s a post
for another day), and one of the ways they foster this sense
is by winnowing down their sources of information and
entertainment so that only the ideologically-correct view-
point reaches them. This, of course, limits them somewhat,
creating an opportunity for like-minded people who wish to
cater to their fellows’ desire to close themselves off to the
mainstream (to them, "liberal") media.

This is the real joke. A group of supposedly enlightened
people so cowed by ideas and opinions they feel superior
to that they have to retreat into a tailor-made cultural
niche that promises not to disturb their prejudices.

Although, come to think of it, that’s not really funny