NOTE: I am copying sixteen essays from my old blog ("Random Notes") to this blog. Some are cited in other essays, but most are simply essays that struck me as interesting while I was going through my search for essays to fix broken links.
I have to correct one of my oldest misapprehensions. You see, one thing I always had to admit was, though the political right is clearly much closer to the truth in all things political and economic (well, most of the time), we are a rather humorless lot. Be it the outright robot-like humorlessness of most Objectivists (who sometimes make Star Trek's Vulcans look like Dr. Phil) to the rather pathetic attempts at "Christian humor", to the host of awful blue collar/redneck comedians, the right just can't seem to make people laugh. There are exceptions, Dennis Miller, when not being exceedingly pompous and smarmy, can make jokes with a conservative/libertarian edge, P.J. O'Rourke is a riot (though sometimes I wonder if that is because he is a reformed leftie), and both Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh can hit the right notes at least part of the time. But by and large the right is better at politics than comedy.
Of course, much of the comedy on the left is pretty bad too. There is a lot of humor that falls just as flat as humor on the right. But, for the most part, the best comics have been those whose political views have been far left of my own. Granted, as I argued in "The Problem", once they become too strident in their politics, as happened to George Carlin, Michael Moore, Lenny Bruce and others, their comedy suffers (in the case of Moore, disappears entirely), but for the most part, the left just seems better at getting a smile out of people than the right.
Then again, it makes sense, to a degree. The left's basic message, as I argued again and again ("The Citizen Dichotomy", "Man's Nature and Government" ,"In A Nutshell", "Cognitive Dissonance Part 2", "Utopianism and Disaster", "The Importance of Error"), is that people are incompetent and need to be told what to do. Incompetence is, in itself, funny. Describing a world of morons too incompetent to run their lives without big brother's help is clearly a better situation for comedy than one in which people know what they are doing.In short, the left's world view may be part of the reason they are better at humor. Or, maybe, the world view most consistent with humor is the same one which drives most comedians to the left.
But that seems to be changing. Not that the right is getting any funnier. No, the Rand Army is just as grim as ever, and now joined by Paulites and FairTax "read the book" chanters, all showing not an iota of humor in their determined march into some future Galt's Gulch only they can see. Oh, some others try, but Buchananites can't seem to interest anyone in their "funny Nazi stories", and Brent Bozell's family friendly limericks just don't get many takers. And so the right is still a great wasteland when it comes to all things comedic.
What has changed is that the left has started to become just as bad.
It started a while ago, in November 2000 to be precise. The same date marks the death of comedy and the birth of the Angry Left. And that is no coincidence.
As I said before,t he essence of humor is being unpredictable. Whether it is a knock-knock joke, a shaggy dog story, a sight gag, slap stick or even a pun, the one thing that makes humor funny is the incongruity of the outcome. And to be incongruous it must be unpredictable. That is why jokes become less funny as they are told over and over, the more you remember the less surprising it is. And it is also why, as I argued in "The Problem", those with a point to make, those who have something they are trying to sell, be they political partisans or religious missionaries, make such bad comedians. Because they have such a clear belief, and because that belief makes their statements so predictable,t hey just can't be truly unpredictable, and so, they can't be truly funny*.
And the Angry Left is nothing if not predictable. And so is their humor. "Why did the chicken cross the road? Because it is smarter than George Bushitler Chimpy McFlyboy the President Select and Great Decider Karl Rove's boyfriend who is just a sock puppet for Cheney and the oil industry... nobloodforoiloutofIraqnowtherewerenoWMDsBushliedpeopledied... andhestolethelectionfromAlGorein2000andFloridalethimand heblewuptheTwinTowersandtheleveesinNewOrleanstoo nottomentionauthorizingtortureatGuantanamoandkillingallthoseciviliansinIraq andallthedomesticspyingandnotcaringaboutbblackpeopleandgivingustheworsteconomysinceDiocletianand....YEARGGHHH!" I'll grant that they have a lot of energy, and they definitely have a world view more distant from reality than the most outre Monty Python or Kids in the Hall skit. (Chicken Lady has nothing on the Bush funded skin divers blowing the levees in New Orleans.) But the problem is, everyone knows their whole routine in advance, every joke, every punchline, it is all informed by that tirade I typed out above. The minute an Angry Leftist starts, you know the outcome. Bush-Cheney-Rove did it. They are so predictable, their thought processes so utterly mechanistic, they make the rants of LaRouchers look enigmatic**.
But even with the birth of the Angry Left, the left still had some more sane comedians left. Some, such as the Daily Show and others, managed to even gain some respectability by distancing themselves from the insanity that was the Angry Left. They might join the Angry Left in laughing at Bush's verbal blunders, even suggest he was a cretin, but by and large, these comedians kept themselves a bit more flexible in their views and so could continue to surprise people, and thus remained funny.
Until 2008 and the Great Obama Love-In.
And as it was forbidden to make even gentle fun of the Windy City Messiah, the potential for all political humor dried up on the left. Since mocking the right tended to sound just a bit too strident and predictable, and with the president off limits, there was not much left for the left to laugh about.
And you can see the outcome in these juvenile sites I found (here, here and here), the sort of pointless "humor" which passes for wit among many on the left. Oh, yes, there are still a handful of funny people left on the left, but they are exceptions, just as the handful of truly funny voices on the right always were. The bulk of the left has been rendered, through the combination of the Angry Left and Obama love, as unfunny as the right.
Well, maybe some great comedic genius will arise among the communists. There certainly aren't too many funny people left any closer to the political center.
* In my original post I argued this point with Crawfish, as he said he knew several ministers who were simultaneously very funny. And I agreed that sometimes religious figures could also be funny, but, at least as far as I have seen, only when they act as comedians first and preachers second. The more they preach, the less funny they are. The only way around this, at least in my experience, is to tell a joke, completely free of preaching, and THEN tie it into a message, hiding the predictability until the end. There is one other exception. When a preacher is explicitly trying to make a point about rigid patterns of thought or absurdity of assumptions, be it in Zen koans or tales of Nasruddin, then he can likely both preach and make jokes, as the unpredictability is itself part of the message. But those are unusual circumstances and don't really invalidate my general rule.
** I realize that the followers of LaRouche are not quite as common as they once were, and with technology making physical trips to the post office less common, perhaps my younger readers are unaware of his beliefs. I won't go through the whole mad world of LaRouche here, the "Queen of England is a drug dealer" madness and so on. Largely, think of LaRouche as a hybrid paleo-con and old-school Democrat with a bit of a Tesla fanatic thrown in. He had lots of perpetual motion machine type lunacy combined with insane protectionist economic policies, mixed with some covert antisemitism disguised as criticism of the ADL and Israel. (He pioneered that "Being anti-Israel isn't antisemitic, you damn Jew! I don't hold it against you that you murdered Jesus, control the world banks and seek to enslave gentiles, so get off my back!" argument.) He also, in his paranoia about the Bilderbergers and other internationalist groups anticipated many of the worries about the NAU, New World Order and other hobby horses of certain paleo-cons and other haters of "neocons". I am sure there are still sites up that document his whole pitch for those interested. My point here is simply that they were incredibly, almost inhumanly predictable in their ability to tie any event, no matter what, to some Jewish/internationalist conspiracy.
Yes, this is truly a frivolous post, I know that. But having watched political humor grow both more one-sided and ever less amusing, I couldn't help myself. Maybe if I complain enough someone on the right will go out and learn how to be funny just to shut me up. At least, that is my dream.
Originally posted in Random Notes on 2009/09/03.