It appears Fox News is having another go at "conservative comedy." The latest attempt is The Greg Gutfeld Show
, an hourlong Sunday night effort by Greg Gutfeld that wants to be The Daily Show
without the laughs, or The Colbert Report
if The Colbert Report
was co-hosted by Glenn Beck and a migraine headache.
The first episode went about as well as can be expected, which is to say it may or may not have qualified as its own circle of hell.
That was followed by an extended rumination about what truly qualifies as evil, with Gutfeld seeking to make the point that the left demonizes conservatives when the term ought to be limited to inarguable examples, like the terrorist group ISIS burning a woman who refused to be raped.
“Torching a girl is a true war on women, unless you see it as the next renewable fuel,” Gutfeld said, demonstrating the difficulty in seeking to wring humor — or even pithy wordplay — from the grimness of current events.
is one way to put it, I suppose. Then there was the segment featuring Gutfeld interviewing himself
, a bit clearly inspired by the regular Colbert segment but whose only apparent comedic inflection was extended banter about what a fine fellow Greg Gutfeld was, and guest appearances by fellow "hosts" Gretchen Carlson and Geraldo Rivera in a segment that was not so much ha-ha
funny as it was dreams you have after taking too much cough medicine
funny. All of this has left onlookers asking the usual questions
There are several theories about why conservatives haven't done the sort of political satire that Stewart, Stephen Colbert or John Oliver do. One of the most popular is that conservatives are wired to prefer different types of comedy, jokes with clear-cut endings instead of irony or sarcasm.
Head below the fold for more on this story.
Perhaps, but if that were true then "conservative political comedy" would be successful in some form, in some venue—even if it looked considerably different from its non-conservative counterparts. It hasn't been. Conservatism has been in a foul and grumpy mood lately, what with the emphasis on making sure people get less medical care and how America should maybe get into more wars and how gay people are coming to kill us all; while all of those are ripe for irony or sarcasm for those individuals who have the ability to parse such things, it's hard to make a pie-in-the-face punchline about the lazy poors getting too much food or too many healthcares nowadays. It can be done, but "comedy for sociopaths" is a damn narrow niche.
My own hypothesis on these things remains that conservative humor does not work because conservative "humor" derives its punchlines from punching down instead of punching up, though Colbert did prove having little understanding of sarcasm to be at least a secondary characteristic. More to the point, though, humor requires the listener to separate the mundane from the outrageous—to know which is which. If your audience is already primed to believe poor people dine on lobster, the president is secretly a foreigner and a military operation in Texas is preparing for inevitable martial law, good luck finding the "punchline" phrase so obviously out-of-place that it sends the required neural jolt.
Gutfeld's closing segment seemed to support that theory. Rather than make jokes about how everything is awful, he defended his country, the police and the military.
... under the conviction that those things made him brave and controversial, because "Comedy Central" liberals don't like such talk. And it of course misses the point entirely, because the humor of Stewart, or Colbert, or HBO's John Oliver is not about love of country or police or military, but about how those protestations are so often used as flimsy cover for the most silly or self-serving or outright horrific things. Loving your country is not controversial; declaring that your country should do this or that malevolent thing because it is just that
superior, however, might be. Everyone understands that being a police officer in gun-fetishizing America is a dangerous if not nigh-on impossible profession and that those that do it should be supported; supporting those officers does not dictate that law enforcement ought to have free rein to shoot a string of unarmed men, teens and even children without the rest of the nation having the temerity to pipe up about it. Supporting the military means giving them the tools to do the job they are asked to do, and asking them to do those jobs only as the last of last resorts—and, perhaps, not presuming the troops are all one helicopter ride away from oppressing you and your freedoms if the president you don't like asks them too.
Humor requires a keen enough mind to understand that there is nuance in these things—it thrives on teasing out the sometimes-shocking line between the mundane and the malevolent, and being able to tell the difference between the patriot and the charlatan, and the powerful and the powerless. None of these are characteristics one would associate with Fox News viewers.
Separating out the question of whether "good" conservative political humor can exist, in other words, it's entirely possible that the Fox News version of the thing simply can't, no matter how many times it's tried, because after watching all the rest of their programming their audience never knows which parts are the straight bits and which parts are the punchlines. At best you get the Gutfeld approach, a series of monologues praising the bravery of believing what you already believe in a world that doesn't want to to believe it.