Earlier this week, Huffington Post comedy writer Alf LaMont did a recap of a humor panel he moderated at SXSW titled: “Turn Left? The Lack Of Right-Wing Comedians.”
While it's true those of us on the conservative side aren’t well represented in the industry, almost none of it has to do with the reasons LaMont posits. Predictably, people were forwarding the link to me all day, asking for my thoughts as I have been both conservative and a stand-up comic for most of my adult life. While not generally one to post point-by-point rebuttals of another’s work, I felt justified in doing so here.
LaMont begins with a flawed, if not completely false premise. He asks a group of people to cite examples of something they probably wouldn’t pay attention to anyway and, since they can’t, he concludes that such examples are practically nonexistent.
The panel was comprised of two liberal HuffPo writers and someone from "The Daily Show," all of whom deal with political humor. LaMont assures as he leads to his inevitable conclusion that the discussion was “thoughtful” and-get this-“unbiased.” He followed the assurance with this:
“Yet the moment that spoke volumes during the discussion was a moment when I asked for examples of conservative humor. Only Dennis Miller was mentioned, the rest was an awed silence.”
It should be pointed out that an “awed silence” in Austin (especially at SXSW) is called a “hangover” everywhere else in the country.
But onto the argument, point-by-point, with a quote or two from LaMont’s reasoning to illustrate.
1. Comedy is inherently subversive.
There is a bit of truth in the contention, but it doesn’t apply to the premise of his post at all.
There is no safer, don’t-rock-the-boat approach to not only comedy but any career in the entertainment industry than to be liberal. Getting onstage to do “Sarah Palin is stupid!” jokes (most of which aren’t actually jokes) isn’t quite the Lenny Bruce-channeling experience those doing it might think.
You want subversive? Try getting consistent stage time in Hollywood doing anti-Obama jokes.
The reality is this: regardless of which party is in power in Washington, in Hollywood liberals are always the Establishment. Those who mock the government from a liberal point of view aren’t taking risks, they’re engaged in a Borg-like assimilation.
2. Comedy is often a coping mechanism for adverse situations.
“You don't have to look too far or too deep to realize that comedy speaks to unfairness and injustice. If you haven't experienced them, if there's no struggle, there's less need to find a redeeming quality to your situation by injecting humor into your life.”
My life has been overwhelmed by immeasurable joy since Mr. LaMont informed me that “right-wing” people never experience unfairness, injustice or struggle. I’m not even sure how I can focus on finishing this with all of my concubines clamoring for my attention in the hot tub.
3. It’s easier to sell to the 99% than the 1%.
The OWS reference here was so knee-jerk I sincerely hope LaMont didn’t damage his ACL.
His rationale for this:
“Comedy is part of entertainment, and entertainment is a business. As a numbers game, it's flat out more profitable to mock the establishment when the rest of us will be buying tickets to your shows. Consider it large target marketing when you shill for the downtrodden masses.”
There’s that “establishment” again. Apparently, all of the left-wing humorists he’s thinking about are performing during Eisenhower’s second term.
Speaking from a couple decades of experience on the road I can honestly assure you that the “downtrodden masses” are not buying tickets to comedy shows, what with the food not being available and all.
Synopsis: All the famous comics are leftists so it must be true that it’s better. He starts a list off with Chaplin, then conveniently skips over the comics from the '40s and '50s to prove his point. He is correct, however about the tradition from the 1960s until now. That has to do as much with the nature of Hollywood as the nature of comedy, though. Ben Shapiro’s Primetime Propaganda brilliantly details the hijacking of the industry by liberals in a time frame that coincides with the rise of the famous leftist comics of the modern era.
LaMont’s conclusion here is that, since his side of the aisle has all the stuff he believes to be the “truth,” the other side is ridiculous and deserving of derision so that’s where all comedians will look for material.
No, really, read it. That’s what he’s saying.
Here is the reality. If you are looking at comedians who have become famous, yes, the modern era is dominated by liberals, with libertarian Drew Carey and Dennis Miller being the notable recent exceptions. But there are far more working comics than famous comics. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of us have been out there working in the business in different ways (clubs, cruise ships, corporate gigs, etc.) for decades.
When I began adding some political material to my act, it did seem a little lonely at first. I soon started meeting others who were conservative. Some of them talked about it on stage, some didn’t. But they all kept working. Although I’ve carved out a niche speaking and performing for political groups these past two years, I’ve never really been a “political comic.” (Will Durst is a political comic, a lefty and funny as hell.)
The other part of the reality is this: most liberals in the entertainment industry expose themselves to conservatives about as readily as they would a leper colony. The only conservatives they know are politicians on TV and their great-uncle Cedrick. They assume we’re all book-burning freaks who sit around comparing scowls on those rare occasions when we take breaks from THE WAR ON WOMEN.
The caricature conservatives they know in their heads couldn’t possibly be funny, therefore none of them could ever really exist in the world of comedy.
But exist we do, and we will continue to entertain people in other parts of the country who deserve it just as much as those “downtrodden masses” who can afford tickets to a Sunset Strip comedy club on a Saturday night.