Dave Berg writes in USA Today that conservatives are sick and tired of “liberal” humor from the likes of late-night talk shows, and gosh darn it, they’re not gonna watch anymore! (“Conservatives reject liberal humor in Trump era,” USA Today, 2/5/2017):
Conservatives are wary of the entire “liberal” entertainment media, especially late-night comedians. While Jay Leno and Johnny Carson used to skewer both sides of the political spectrum with equal glee, today’s hosts dish up humor that is anything but even-handed. Instead, they seem to be on a mission to destroy Trump and the Republican Party, doing monologues that often sound more like anti-Trump diatribes.
Gee, sounds like they need a safe space. While he’s at it, Berg should scold Fox News for not being “even-handed” in their “Fair and Balanced” coverage! I won’t hold my breath on that one.
The general problem I’ve found among anything trying to pass itself off as conservative “humor” is that, chiefly, it isn’t very funny. And I don’t mean that in the sense that I am incapable of laughing at myself or exaggerations of my values, or that I can’t appreciate satirical portrayals of liberal figures who are more or less on my side. What I mean is that conservative humor doesn’t consist of jokes in the way we normally think of them. Humor is by its nature subversive, which is well-suited for mocking those with power, and conservatism as an ideology has never been quick on its feet to criticize power. For all their hee-hawing about “small government,” it seems most conservatives (or, at least, self-identified Republicans and right-wingers, since apparently all three have the ability to be different) think the highest legitimate office is the one they occupy. So unless it came from the likes of Bill Kristol or David Frum (God help us), both of whom are conservatives steadfastly critical of Trump, any iteration of conservative comedy that comes to life is unlikely to be a key critic of The Donald. I mean, imagine being so sensitive that you can’t stand to watch the most obvious jokes being made about the most powerful man in the world.
Anyway, Berg goes on, saying that conservatives who are disgusted with late-night shows mocking the president are turning to right-wing media (actually, I’m pretty sure they were already tuning in):
Some of the jokes are really funny.
The go-to meme is mainstream journalism’s bias against Trump — such as Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Michael Ramirez’s depiction of an anchorman delivering these words: “In other disturbing news … President Donald Trump is doing what he promised in his campaign.”
Yeah. Pretty sure Berg is misinterpreting that one. First, the wording could be taken either way (ie, that Trump enacting the agenda he promised is disturbing) and since Ramirez is a pretty gung-ho right-winger, it might seem like the joke without any context. But look at how Ramirez has otherwise portrayed Trump:
So if Ramirez thinks Trump is a sham, the joke Berg refers to isn’t saying what he thinks it say.
Well, no matter. Let’s see what other evidence Berg has for the hilariousness of conservative political humor:
Nothing bothers conservatives more than liberals who sanctimoniously preach the virtues of tolerance but don’t take their own advice. Chicks on The Right recently ran a photo of a scowling woman pointing an elongated index finger with this caption: “I’m a tolerant liberal! Agree with me or else you’re a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, redneck, gun toting, America loving bigot.”
Except that’s not an example of a liberal “sanctimoniously preach[ing] the virtues of tolerance” and being hypocritical. It’s a captioned photograph of a woman with a description of the right’s stereotype of liberals. What might be actually funny is a real photo of a liberal exercising their hypocrisy, like these photos of conservatives exercising theirs (or, at least, their ignorance):
Berg then says that Clinton’s “deplorables” remark had conservatives wearing the phrase “like a badge of honor,” and it inspired them:
Retailers began selling T-shirts with funny versions of the meme, such as “Team Deplorable” and “Friends Don’t Let Friends Join the Basket of Deplorables.”
Hilarious! You want to know what my favorite t-shirt of this election was? Just this riotous little gem right here:
That kind of sums up why conservatives aren’t funny. Their political humor is political first, and if they remember to throw in something reminiscent of a joke at the end, whoop-dee-doo. But the reason why Berg and every other conservative who craves conservative comedy will never actually get what they’re asking for is because when it comes to politics, conservatives are incapable of being self-deprecating. Self-deprecation is a key to the left’s political humor—it was standard for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert when they were on Comedy Central, and it’s essential for newcomers John Oliver, Samantha Bee, and Trevor Noah. But self-deprecation is a sign of weakness to those on the right (it’s why you’ll never see Trump take a jab at himself), and without that ingredient the humor can never really work.
And self-deprecation is a prerequisite for an even more important component of humor: introspection. This is especially true when it comes to political comedy. It’s all well and good to poke fun at the opposition, but without the ability to critically reflect on your values, you wind up doing nothing more than creating strawmen of your opponents’ positions. You’ll see this self-reflection and self-mockery in humor coming from liberal circles even if it isn’t politically charged: the portrayal of hippies as aged, unwashed stoners who believe in magic, or of young, urban hipsters as more-cynical-than-thou assholes.. And you can find it in the late-night shows Berg derides. Kate McKinnon’s portrayal of Hillary Clinton was basically that of an authoritarian sociopath. Her portrayal of Kellyanne Conway is much nicer.
What I’m getting at is that if conservatives are at all interested in creating comedy rather than propaganda (sorry, Dave, but Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson are not satirists or quippers), they have to first ask themselves whether they can laugh at themselves. I doubt it. I mean, how does a conservative satirize his ideas about race, religion, gender equality, homosexuality, and inequality without discovering the darkness inherent in his positions? No, really. I’m asking.