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Can Conservatives Be Funny?

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The conservative-comic response to Obamacare was revealing in its toothlessness. Larry the Cable Guy came up with a few retro one-liners (“The Bronze Plan is what color your fingers are going to look like after you give yourself a prostate exam”), but his more sophisticated peers were too angry to accept the huge comic gift that this big-government calamity had handed them. Miller’s lazy pro forma insults were typified by the tweet “They just mistook the Obamacare rollout in Florida for yet another sinkhole.” Colbert’s line of attack—a horror-movie parody titled I Tried to Sign Up for Obama­care—was far tougher. Gutfeld not only declined to make jokes about Obamacare but humorlessly attacked the jokes others were making: “It’s only so we avoid the biggest joke of all, an ideology that denies universal truths about the human condition in order to control you.”

Anger is a mighty source of humor, but it takes talent to refine a crude gusher of rage into comic fuel. Eric Golub, a fringe comic so far right he actually glories in the label conservative, has figured this out. “To blame Hollywood liberalism—which does exist—is an excuse,” he told Politico last year. “Maybe some of the conservatives that are trying are just not that talented.” To see Golub’s point, sample the comic stylings of one vocal complainer about Hollywood’s suppression of non-liberal humor, Evan Sayet, a former Maher writer who turned right after 9/11. His stand-up may have killed at the Republican Jewish Coalition banquet in Santa Monica, but it’s not remotely ready for prime time except as a vanity presentation on public-access cable.

If Rupert Murdoch could find right-wing comics who are funny, you’d bet he’d make a home for them on the Fox network or FX, alongside his liberal staples Louie, Family Guy, and Glee, rather than ghettoize them on Fox News. Most liberal moguls would snap them up too. And if wealthy conservatives covet an entertainment platform of their own, they can build it. Glenn Beck, whose own stand-up-­comedy tour was something less than a national sensation, is now starting a film division—symbolically enough, at an Irving, Texas, studio where such iconic liberal movies as Silkwood and JFK were shot. If David Koch can underwrite the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center, surely he can pony up for a television comedy studio alongside Comedy Central’s ten blocks down Tenth Avenue.

As no less an authority than Matt Stone of South Park has said about the entertainment industry, “They just want to make money, you know? And there’s something kind of beautiful about that.” Anyone who believes in free markets, as American conservatives profess to, should understand that few markets are as ruthless as show business. It is the customers, not some shadowy conspiratorial gatekeepers, who give comedians the hook—or catapult them into the capitalist nirvana of the one percent.


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