Did you hear the one about left-wing comics?
Kathy Griffin transformed from jokester to punchline this week by holding the image of the president’s severed head. Offending comes with the territory, but some comics mistake this as their raison d’etre. They miss that the essential aspect of comedy, even (especially?) in hyper-politicized times, remains to provoke laughter.
Griffin mistook shock for humor. Where but at the ISIS Improv does anyone laugh at the beheading of a president?
Senator Al Franken canceled a joint appearance with Griffin over the controversy.
“After hearing from many Minnesotans who were rightfully offended,” the Minnesota Democrat explained, “I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be best for her not to participate in the event we had previously scheduled. I understand why Minnesotans were upset by this, and I take that very seriously.”
The senator overruled Stuart Smalley. Politicians seek to control the message. Comedians prefer a more free-wheeling, freedom of speech. These two factions warred for Franken’s soul this week. In ditching Griffin, Franken in effect ditched his former Saturday Night Live self. Hopefully the senator can still look in the mirror and join Smalley in saying, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”
Franken, like Griffin, holds decidedly left-of-center views. Franken, unlike Griffin, boasts a history of making people laugh. Do you recall even smiling at anything Kathy Griffin said or did? Audiences increasingly laugh out of ideological solidarity rather than the inherent funniness of anything said or done. Many famous comedians rank as unfunny comedians. Joy Behar, Janeane Garofalo, Trevor Noah, Dean Obeidallah, Griffin, and many other ideological bores got ahead by misunderstanding their profession’s charge to be hysterical.
Roseanne Barr is really funny. George Carlin made people laugh hard. Sarah Silverman, at least on her Comedy Central program, was hysterical in the right way. So leftish views don’t rob one of humor. A total-politics mindset does.
A mission creep pervades everything. The same sportswriters who praised the 1-10 Colin Kaepernick bashed Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady. They play quarterback but strangely receive judgment on displaying a “Make America Great Again” hat in a locker in the case of the latter and in taking a knee on the national anthem in the case of the former. Brendan Eich suddenly becomes a horrible tech CEO because of the causes to which he donated and Florida elementary school teacher Veronica Fleming suddenly becomes an unfit teacher because she posted in support of President Trump on her Facebook page.
The same mentality that bases rooting interests on how the quarterback votes dictates a response to a comedian on his or her partisan affiliation (Tina Fey, D-NY, haha; Dennis Miller, R-CA, boo). It’s not exactly laughing on the cue of the grim man holding the machine gun off camera but this unhealthy tic comes from the same place.
Politics, which fuels so much contemporary comedy, kills so much humor.
In his 2010 book Humorists, Paul Johnson judged political correctness “fatal to humor; if enforced and persisted in. For one vital element of humor is inequality, and striking visual, aural, and physical differences. Differences in sex, age, color, race, religion, physical ability, and strength lie at the source of probably the majority of jokes since the beginning of human self-consciousness. And all jokes are liable to provoke discomfort if not positive misery among those laughed at. Hence any joke is liable to fall foul of hate laws. The future for humorists thus looks bleak, at the time I write this.”
True, but in appointing themselves cultural guardians comics make themselves authorities, a class of people unintentionally cracking us up as much as class, color, size, and other differences do. So, although PC enforcers limit what we can laugh at, the comedian-commissars ensure that we laugh at them. Think the stern-faced Joy Behar losing it on The View when Norm Macdonald persisted in saying that Bill Clinton murdered people despite repeated warnings not to say that or a so-serious Amy Schumer bizarrely turning an episode of her Comedy Central show into an infomercial for gun control.
They don’t get the joke. The punchlines rarely do.