Obama’s Godless Atheist Thanksgiving »« New Mexico SOS Reveals Her Own Fake Claims

Conservatives Can’t Be Intentionally Funny

The complete collapse of Dennis Miller’s ability to be funny over the last few years should convince everyone that, with rare exceptions, conservative just aren’t funny. And when Glenn Beck tries to be, it will just make you cringe. Here’s a clip from a new conservative alternative to the Daily Show that Beck is running on his network. Prepare to gape in astonishment:

Ironically, it was Dennis Miller himself who once remarked that Jerry Lewis made him laugh when he was trying to be serious and left him stone-faced when he was trying to be funny. That is exactly the reality of right wing comedy — they’re only funny when the humor is unintentional.

Comments

  1. Michael Heath says

    Ed writes:

    The complete collapse of Dennis Miller’s ability to be funny over the last few years should convince everyone that, with rare exceptions, conservative just aren’t funny.

    I don’t get the ‘collapse’ observation since I’ve never found Dennis Miller funny; in spite of my being a fan of the type of humor Mr. Miller performs and therefore having far more patience with him than I would for most comedians.

    Endured 1:05 of the video when my gaping muscles collapsed at that point.

  2. says

    I sat through them all a few days ago, and not only are they dreadfully unfunny, a couple are even borderline racist.

    If it wasn’t something produced for Glenn Beck, I would suspect they were being deliberately unfunny, but that would be too clever by for his audience.

    Some by the name of Brian (Sad) Sack is in charge of this stuff, he actually claims to be non-partisan, skewering both sides, but if he is, he’s not going to last long on GBTV. Apparently he started off by doing a ten minute Leno-like standup at the end of Beck’s main show, but people in Beck’s audience called in to complain that he was insulting them, so they gave him a separate show. Tough crowd.

    Beck, on the other hand, says Sack is the funniest guy he knows…

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/11/22/glenn-beck-s-daily-show-is-the-right-s-latest-bid-at-funny.html

  3. Who Knows? says

    Decades of being in a constant state of outrage has completely extinguished the sense of humor in conservatives.

  4. Chiroptera says

    Heh.

    I remember discovering the comic strip “Mallard Fillmore” about 10-15 years ago. I wondered to myself: “Do I just not ‘get’ conservative humor, or is this really as lame as I think it is?”

    Me, I think “lame,” but I admit I might not be an unbiased judge.

  5. says

    If I didn’t know better I would think that these were skits from public access TV.

    About Dennis Miller; he was as bad a sports announcer as he was a comedian. Hopefully he has found a career more suited to his talent,such as, um, um… well, something.

    And while I am here: the one word that best describes conservative humor is SHALLOW.

  6. says

    Eh, I see where they were trying to go with this, but it just didn’t work. Sketch comedy does require patience sometimes as some jokes not only fall flat but drag on. And on. But if it’s produced by Glen Beck this probably really is as good as it gets.

    I like to think the fact that I like The Daily Show doesn’t reflect a political bias on my part (not that I share Jon’s state socialist views). I like it because Jon Stewart is hilarious and is even a good interviewer. If there’s a conservative show that’s just as funny, I’ll gladly watch it but to my knowledge none exists. Really, being funny requires a liberal mindset even if you aren’t liberal in the political sense. A racist joke isn’t funny if the teller is actually a racist.

  7. says

    That was painful.
    It’s what I would imagine a comedy show put together by Joseph Goebbels to look like. Except the comic foil, instead of a Native American, would have been a hyper-stereotyped Eastern European Jew.

  8. Akira MacKenzie says

    I’ve always said that humor requires a large degree of irreverence and conservatives fail at humor because if their ideology is about anything at all it’s absolute, unquestioning reverence; reverence for political authority, reverence for religious supersticion, reverence for traditional institutions for social control, etc.

  9. frankb says

    I could only watch 2.1 minutes of it. I thought that the so called joke about burning the wife at the stake was particularly vile. If this was actually broadcasted I can’t believe it.

  10. generalfactotum says

    I tried to watch this on my iphone, but it kept seizing up. Wow – who knew Jobs had programmed them with a gag reflex?

  11. John Hinkle says

    Among the books that made the “shortest books in history” list:

    Conservative Humor: The Wild Years of 1980 to 2011

  12. Doc Bill says

    I’ve always maintained there was a direct link between humor and intelligence; one is the hallmark of the other.

    Pilgrim “Funnies” was simple-minded and mean-spirited. Sort of second grade humor, as in elementary school second grade.

    Now I’m going to YouTube and pull up some Carlin.

  13. Pierce R. Butler says

    P.J. O’Rourke has had a few good moments.

    Christopher Buckley’s novels include some good laughs.

    And at times Terry Pratchett has revealed a rather conservative side (ever notice how his authority figures show consistent benevolence & competence?), but never loses his mastery of Teh Funnye.

    Otherwise, I’m drawing a blank on contemporary exceptions to our esteemed host’s headline.

  14. tbp1 says

    Agree with #14, although Buckley doesn’t seem to be as rigidly doctrinaire a conservative as his father.

    Also Evelyn Waugh, but he might not count as contemporary, being dead since 1966 and all. The Loved One is one of the most scathing, and funniest, books of the 20th Century.

  15. Azkyroth says

    The problem is that humor requires self-awareness, perspective, and insight into the minds of others.

  16. says

    I don’t even detect an attempt at a joke. And it’s not because they’re mostly deadpan…there just aren’t any jokes in there. It’s almost creepy. Is that supposed to be the joke?

  17. Azkyroth says

    I like to think the fact that I like The Daily Show doesn’t reflect a political bias on my part (not that I share Jon’s state socialist views).

    You have an absurdly low threshold for “socialism.” Or was that another attempt at humor?

  18. blainedelancey says

    @#14
    O Rourke has become drastically less funny since about 2001, IME. As far as Pratchett, I think that the only competent, benevolent high authority figures that I can recall are Sam Vimes and Lord Vetinari, and Vimes is a jumped up Sergeant, which is usually the highest rank to ever show any competence. You’ve got the aristocrats of Ankh Morpork, who are inbred arrogant morons in the main, the hapless and ineffectual King of Lancre, the violent and pigheaded high command of Borogravia, etc on the incompetent authorities side.

  19. Modusoperandi says

    Meh. It’s about the level of of a bad high school level skit dress rehearsal (then they get it in front of an audience and find that none of it works. Unless the parents are there. They laugh politely. Except for Huey Morganstern’s dad, who won’t shut the hell up about “how funny my boy” is. Damn you, Huey Morganstern!)

  20. says

    Research into the psychology of conservatives shows that they have much higher death anxiety, more intolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty, less openness to experience, a greater need for order, more fear of loss, and less integrative complexity, among other things.

    It’s no wonder that such people have a hard time making jokes or understanding funny. If you look at what passes for right-wing humor, it’s typically their usual denunciation of liberals dressed up with an extra dose of sneering and spitefulness.

  21. says

    I’m noticing the same thing, specifically with a libertarian/right wing comic named Tim Slagle. He hits all the right wing notes, but only occasionally do his stylings raise a mild chuckle. It’s not because I disagree with his politics, as far as I can tell. I love a good skewering of politicians, even if they’re ones I happen to support. It’s because his jokes just aren’t very funny.

  22. says

    Research into the psychology of conservatives shows that they have much higher death anxiety, more intolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty, less openness to experience, a greater need for order, more fear of loss, and less integrative complexity, among other things.

    What psychological impairments are characteristic of liberals?

  23. says

    Research into the psychology of conservatives shows that they have much higher death anxiety, more intolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty, less openness to experience, a greater need for order, more fear of loss, and less integrative complexity, among other things.

    Anecdotally speaking, I tend to see a fair bit of that list. The fear of death shows up strongly with the topic of terrorism and an eagerness to give up freedoms for the illusion of security. I’d also add in an inability to deal with nuance and tendency to form false dichotomies, though that might be part of ‘integrative complexity.’

    Whenever I see the current form of ‘conservative’ argue about an issue, it’s often like they’re missing important thought processes I take for granted, just like anti-science trolls I’ve faced.

  24. Akira MacKenzie says

    O’Rourke WAS funny back in his post-National Lampoon, “Republican Party Reptile” days when he wrote articles that mentioned his personal drug use and sexual activities (that “irreverence” I mentioned earlier) even while defending Reaganomics. Then he made the fatal mistake that many creative individuals make: he got married, reproduced, and got old.

  25. Pierce R. Butler says

    blainedelancey @ # 20: … the only competent, benevolent high authority figures that I can recall are Sam Vimes and Lord Vetinari, and Vimes is a jumped up Sergeant …

    Vimes is not only the high muckety-muck of the Ankh-Morpork Watch (at least I don’t recall him having to answer to higher-level cops), but also married to a Duchess and privileged accordingly.

    Granny Weatherwax also qualifies as an authority figure (in which book does someone say, “There is no head witch – Granny wouldn’t allow it.”?), as does good ol’ Death.

    Pratchett has also tossed out a few smacks at affirmative action and the like with distinctly Tory overtones.

  26. Doubting Thomas says

    I have a hard time imagining even hard core conservatives finding any of that funny. True, I didn’t watch much of it and never got to the wife burning. Someone needs to do some polling to see if the actually do find it funny. My impression is that conservative humor has to be more blatantly racist or sexist for them to ‘get it’.

  27. Jim says

    Who would have thought that one could put so much stupid in such a small video. Made it to about a minute twenty. Couldn’t take anymore.

  28. jonhendry says

    “Pratchett has also tossed out a few smacks at affirmative action and the like with distinctly Tory overtones.”

    Pratchett? Whose novels have been a continuous string of stories where some disliked minority species get included into the watch, despite common prejudices, leading to their eventual acceptance by society? Trolls, dwarfs, golems, werewolves, zombies, Igors, vampires, gargoyles, orcs, goblins… I’m sure I’m leaving some out.

  29. Azkyroth says

    What psychological impairments are characteristic of liberals?

    What makes you think there’s a symmetry?

  30. says

    This same subject came up on another blog I frequent, earlier today.

    My two comments:

    “Comedians are, in reality, social critics. They use their sense of humor, hyperbole, sarcasm, irony and sardonicism to examine and comment on societal and personal problems. Inside every good comedian’s rant is genuine truth.

    The reason that there are no conservative comedians to speak of is that conservative politicians already do all of the things listed above–except that they lack a sense of humor and have no idea what the truth is, never mind any intention of owning it.”

    and

    “Stewart and Colbert both use the SPF*’s own burnin’ stoopit to lampoon them. Rush, Annie, Glennie, Hannity, Savage, Corsi and the rest of the factaversive fools on the reichwing? They just make shit up–not funny shit, just shit.

    I know there are people who think that those sick fucks are funny; those are the people who cheered when Ron Paul said that people who can’t afford healthcare should just die.

    *SKKKrotalMurKKKinPatriotiKKK Front.”

  31. passerby says

    Wow. I have seen some bad sketch comedy before, but that was at the top of the horrible pile.

    I’m going to have to get my old ‘Whitest Kids U Know’ DVD’s out and bleach my memory of this tragedy.

  32. says

    What makes you think there’s a symmetry?

    I don’t. I just think it would be tremendously odd if conservatives suffered from a laundry list of depressing abnormalities whereas liberals were psychologically perfect. It just might betray a bias on the part of whoever is making the evaluation.

  33. says

    I always found Miller to be working along the edge of unbearably smug rather than funny, but since 911, he’s gone over the edge.

  34. jameshanley says

    @Gretchen,
    What psychological impairments are characteristic of liberals?

    Codependency. Passive-aggression. Multiple personality disorder.

  35. says

    Re the liberal-conservative thing, it seems to me that people are less funny as they become more pervasively ideological and ideologically brittle.

    I’ve known liberals who lose their sense of humor to ideological demands. Perhaps it does have significance when people are really insistent about mapping all of social reality to one morally-infused theory of social reality.

    In a way, I can see a cognitive parallel between ideology and paranoia. One big idea, becomes the narrative that maps everything. Unfortunately, what doesn’t fit the big idea gets twisted, ignored and filtered to eliminate any ambiguities and uncertainties that weaken the power of the idea.

    Humor messes with our sense of certainty. Paranoid people are, in fact, pretty damned humorless. I think all humor might involve an implicit admission of universal human uncertainty and the folly that so easily arises from certainty; paranoid people and hardcore ideologues don’t seem to have the greatest appreciation for that.

  36. dingojack says

    Dr. X
    “I’ve known liberals authoritians* who lose their sense of humor to ideological demands”

    FTFY
    Dingo
    —–
    *

    “You could have left-wing authoritarian followers as well, who support a revolutionary leader who wants to overthrow the establishment. I knew a few in the 1970s, Marxist university students who constantly spouted their chosen authorities, Lenin or Trotsky or Chairman Mao. Happily they spent most of their time fighting with each other, as lampooned in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where the People’s Front of Judea devotes most of its energy to battling, not the Romans, but the Judean People’s Front. But the left-wing authoritarians on my campus disappeared long ago. Similarly in America “the Weathermen” blew away in the wind. I’m sure one can find left-wing authoritarians here and there, but they hardly exist in sufficient numbers now to threaten democracy in North America. However I have found bucketfuls of right-wing authoritarians in nearly every sample I have drawn in Canada and the United States for the past three decades”.

    The Authoritians. Bob Altermeyer. p10

  37. sc_6720505c69414543b11b35ca2fca12d5 says

    The problem here is that they’re trying to do subversive humor. That works as long as it involves the powerless poking fun at the powerful, but in order to be “conservative”, it has to involve the powerful poking fun at the powerless, which comes across as mean-spirited.

    I got as far as clip 3, where the joke is basically, “Oh, those wacky Indians! They don’t like the name ‘Indian’ for some doubtlessly-silly reason and insist on being called ‘Native Americans’. America’s Founding Fathers called them ‘Indians’, so how come we’re not allowed to do that today?”

    Liberal comedians could do basically the same joke, but they’d adjust the subtext a little, and make it clear that we’re supposed to be laughing at the simple-minded ignorance of the Pilgrims instead of agreeing with them.

  38. dingojack says

    Word salad (#43) – “Liberal comedians could do basically the same joke, but they’d adjust the subtext a little, and make it clear that we’re supposed to be laughing at the simple-minded ignorance of the Pilgrims instead of agreeing with them”.
    Da Camptown Races?!?”
    Dingo

  39. says

    @sc…………..

    The problem here is that they’re trying to do subversive humor. That works as long as it involves the powerless poking fun at the powerful, but in order to be “conservative”, it has to involve the powerful poking fun at the powerless, which comes across as mean-spirited.

    Good point, in their humor, it’s the Massa who puts one over on the slave.
    Dingo,

    Yeah, it is authoritarian, A I think it’s a much bigger part of the right today than the left, as it was 40 years ago. But I know some older lefties who have a problem laughing.

  40. says

    Humor messes with our sense of certainty. Paranoid people are, in fact, pretty damned humorless. I think all humor might involve an implicit admission of universal human uncertainty and the folly that so easily arises from certainty; paranoid people and hardcore ideologues don’t seem to have the greatest appreciation for that.

    I agree with you that ideological purists tend to be humorless, and that’s just as true on the left as it is on the right.

    However, humorlessness has to do with one’s response to something most would find funny. Ed’s claim is that the right is less capable of producing something funny, which is different.

    I don’t think it’s impossible to be a funny conservative, but I tend to agree that conservatives aren’t as good at it (which is not to say that there are no funny conservatives–just that there are fewer of them). And I think there’s a reason for that. Humor relies on the unexpected and the subversive. The funniest comedians are the one’s who deliver punchlines you don’t see coming and that somehow subvert some common belief or assumption. Even simple observational humor like Jerry Seinfeld relies on the audience having a reaction along the lines of “I know what you’re talking about, but I never thought of it that way.”

    Conservatism is mostly about resisting social change and preserving the status quo. As such, it doesn’t lend itself to humor in the way liberalism does. And the type of person who’s attracted to the idea of leaving the current structure of society unchanged usually isn’t going to be well-adapted for making unexpected and subversive claims.

    That’s what’s really wrong with that “Pilgrim Funnies” video. I watched the whole thing, just because I was rather fascinated by how predictable each joke was. Once the set up was made, it was easy to guess what the punchline was going to be every time. They’re just operating on a set of well-known stereotypes and tropes. They tried to fit it into the increasingly tiresome “awkward moment” style of humor (Damn you, Borat!), but other than that it’s a stereotyped set up followed by a punchline that anyone could foresee. At no point is there even an attempt to venture into the unexpected, the subversive, etc.

  41. says

    Now that I think about it, demeaning ethnic and racial humor was really common in the US until maybe 30 years ago. For some people it stretched later into the 80s and I’m still there are still some jamokes around who use it. But it was an entire genre of humor probably most easily compatible with conservatism, and it’s pretty much been abolished. Oh, and jokes about gays were widely acceptable too.

    This humor wasn’t subversive. Some of it actually could be pretty funny, but just not a good thing because it demeaned people who weren’t white bread, protestant American. Some of it was just plain fucking mean. But it’s complicated because some of it was just arising from the growing pains of people from very different backgrounds trying to live together in urban and suburban America. But again, it was the kind of humor that was a natural fit for conservatives because it demeaned difference and unfamiliarity.

  42. Hatchetfish says

    I remember a TED talk discussing correlation of different values and psychological tendencies among the left and right. I’d be curious to see the study mentioned here. (Given the amazing rarity of MPD, I assume that jameshanley is joking, however. If not, that one I’d really like to see…)

    The TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind.html

    Also interesting, found while looking for the talk: Discussion of a study on correlation of sensitivity to noise, and political views. http://blog.ted.com/2008/09/23/the_physical_di/

  43. dingojack says

    Dr. X – granted. It’s not any kind of ideology (‘Left’ or ‘Right’), it’s the need for rigid certainty, low empathy, the lack of self-awareness and self-inspection that undermines the whole ‘humour’ thing.
    I am, as usual, in furious agreement with you.
    Dingo

  44. modeller says

    @pierce: Pratchett is conservative? Sorry, don’t buy that for a femptosecond.

    A constant campaigner for Equal Rites, reason, and humanity (well, any sentient creaturity). His books are full of anti-establishment themes. He is a vocal atheist and his latest campaign is for the right for assisted suicide and dignity in death.

    You do mention Vetinari. He’s an assassin who fought his way to the top, and rules the city by balancing the different guilds using insanely clever means. Like regulating begging and thievery. this is your strongest claim.

    You cite Vimes – but his rise from the gutter to marry a Duchess is hugely anti-establishment and his character is constantly used to contrast and expose the wrongness of the aristocracy as he fights for the underdogs (and underwerewolves).

    Death’s character is one of someone dutifully doing a job but with as much humanity as possible while fighting the Auditors for christ’s sake.

    Affirmative action? No, this is equal rights and it is indeed refreshing to have a male author with so many memorable, positive and strong female characters. Where there are female characters, the good ones are fighting for their correct station and generally get it, while the bad ones get their come-upances.

    Finally, the guilds are almost without exception run by the most bumbling, useless and idiotic characters in Discworld. Who can forget the Wizards at Unseen University which is one of the biggest piss-takes of education and authority imaginable?

  45. says

    Still thinking about this, a little more tangentially, does anyone else think that 9/11 changed humor, not just making Dennis Leary very unfunny, but that it changed what’s acceptable? I mentioned the disappearance of racial and ethnic stereotype humor above, good riddance, but it also seems to me that tragedy humor disappeared. I wrote something about that a couple of years ago:

    How does Google complete a search beginning with the words If Ted?

    A famous satirical Volkswagen ad was created back in a time when tragedies in the news were followed by a slew of insensitive jokes that circulated widely through American society, often within a matter of days. The seriousness of the tragedy didn’t seem to matter and nothing was sacred. I must have heard half a dozen jokes about serial killer John Wayne Gacy in the first week after his arrest. First day, girlfriend comes home from work and asks me:

    She: What’t the temperature at John Wayne Gacy’s house?
    Me: what?
    she: 27 below.

    In Chicago, it was often said that this humor originated with traders–a group known for dark humor. I don’t think tragedy jokes are told much anymore. Did they end with 9-11 or did their demise come earlier?

    One of my commenters from Mississippi has a sister whose a reporter and he thought reporters were generating these jokes. He recalled that immediately after Waco, reporters had a slew of these jokes about what was a scene of brutal, gruesome mass death. He thought that such jokes went away post 9-11 as well, as if “too soon” applied not just to 9/11 but to all tragedy.

  46. says

    Dr X:

    There was a lot of dark humor surrounding the Shuttle tragedies (mostly Challenger, as Columbia recycled most of it):

    “Did you hear they discovered Christa McAuliffe was hiding a severe dandruff problem?”
    “Yeah, NASA found her Head and Shoulders on the beach.”

    “What does NASA stand for?”
    “Need Another Seven Astronauts.”

    “How many astronauts can you fit in a VW Beetle?”
    “Eleven. Two in the front, two in the back, and seven in the ashtray.”

    Personally, I’m a fan of dark humor. I thought Gilbert Gottfried’s post-9/11 joke was particularly hilarious: “I have to leave early tonight, I have to fly out to L.A. I couldn’t get a direct flight, I have to make a stop at the Empire State Building.”

    ####

    Another data point in the “conservatives aren’t funny” category: Brad Stine.

  47. says

    James Hanley:

    “Codependency. Passive-aggression. Multiple personality disorder.’

    Multiple personality disorder, oh that’s the silver lining. It’s only the liberal then? Rimshot. Hey, I’ll be here all week, try the veal, seethed in mother’s milk!

    Dr. X:

    There’s a book I read recently, “Thumbs, Toes and Tears” by Chip Walter. In a chapter titled, “Howls, Hoots and Calls”, he cites the work of R.R. Provine and Y.L. Yong in “Laughter: A stereotyped human vocalization”. You might find their work interesting.

    So; how many Kennedy’s does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
    5, one to hold the bulb and the other 4 to drink until the room spins.

    How many surrealist painters does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Fish.

    How many radical feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? That’s not funny!

    How many Republicans does it take to screw in a Teabaglightbulb? None, the teabaggers screw themselves.

  48. axilet says

    @51: Not to forget Small Gods, which had a strong theme along the lines of questioning authority – including that of your god(s).

  49. lofgren says

    I thought the pilgrim funnies were hilarious. If you’re not into that deadpan style humor then obviously you would be bored. I love this stuff. Actually I thought it was very much in the vein of something the Daily Show would do. You guys do realize that weak jokes poorly delivered with over the top fanfare is the whole point of the sketch, right? Every time they sing “Pilgrim Funnies,” that’s the punchline. And of course the fact that each of the three comedians was acting as if he was in a completely different style of sketch. They’re very much making fun of themselves. Every time they look at the camera at the end of a joke with the look that says, “Yep. We got paid for that,” it’s the same as walking down the street with a Kick Me sign on your back just to let some stranger relieve a little stress at your expense.

    And honestly, unless you recognize the guys in the sketch or the names of the writers (I don’t, so I’m not going to guess either way), I would hesitate to assume that this was written by conservatives. It’s not like liberals don’t produce plenty of bad comedy. I didn’t see much ideology in this. It could just be the product of whoever was willing to take the job, politics aside. I don’t think many sketch comedy writers are turning away gigs these days.

    Hey, if you didn’t find it funny, you didn’t find it funny. Nobody can be talked into finding something funny. But I found it hilarious so I don’t think we should correlate conservatism to finding this funny.

  50. dingojack says

    Lofgren – ‘there’s no accounting for taste’ (or lack of thereof).
    ‘Deadpan’? I think you meant ‘braindead’. That looking at the camera, to me, signalled the actors willing the audience: ‘kill me, kill me now’.
    Even as (supposed) deadpan satire it’s still pure fail.
    Dingo

  51. says

    Yeah, this is brilliant fucking satire.

    Go over and read the commentst on Glennie’s website. Comic fucking genius–totally unintentional and unconscious, but comic nonetheless.

  52. rramsey says

    Oh my god that was bad. I can’t believe I sat through it all. Did they just grab people at random off the street? Hee Haw was funnier than this. Yakov Smirnoff is funnier.

    In honor of Thanksgiving, I sat through Thankskilling, a horror movie featuring a wise cracking 505 year old zombie turkey, and it was funnier than this. Yikes.

  53. jeevmon says

    Humor often comes from a position of powerlessness. When the powerful try to be funny, it’s just bullying.

  54. lofgren says

    @62
    I think you are missing the point. The Native Americans are not the butt of the joke. The comedians are the butt of the joke.

  55. zmidponk says

    Personally, I found the first one mildly amusing. The rest varied between the kind of jokes a ten-year-old would think up, jokes done in incredibly poor taste, and jokes that were simply not funny.

  56. lofgren says

    In response to Wes, the sketch was very subversive. It was a ribbing of the whole late night sketch comedy style. This skit scooped every single tired gag trotted out each year about pilgrims and Indians and the first thanksgiving. If you watch late night sketch comedy you’ve seen these bits three thousand times. If I can get through a whole Thanksgiving without hearing two or three variations on these themes I count myself lucky. You’re not seeing the subversiveness or the comedy because you are trying to laugh on the wrong beat.

    There were three things they were working with. I don’t know any of the technical terms so you’ll have to bear with me. The first thing they do is fulfill your expectations, that’s the setup. Right away you see that their performances are stylistically incongruous. The first pilgrim from the left seems to have thought they were going to play actual pilgrims, so he plays it straight. It’s a caricature, but he plays the caricature straight, if that makes any sense. The second pilgrim is in a different sketch entirely. The type of sketch where you behave wildly inappropriately for a pilgrim. Together they make a standard duo, with a straight man and a clown. The Indian seems like he’s running through lines and nobody told him the camera was on.

    Then they start the small loop. That’s the setup-punchline-pause for laughter bits that take a few seconds each. The setup is the ridiculously over-the-top fanfare of the title card and the introductory premise. How was your halloween? How’s your wife? Etc. The punchline is the punchline to the written joke, the horribly predictable laugh line that we have all hear a million times. But that’s not the audience’s punchline. The audience’s punchline is in the pause for laughter that never comes, and then that ridiculous fanfare announcing that there is yet another one to come.

    The small loop forms a bigger loop, so first you get a setup with the establishing sketch the explains with patience that the scene is the first Thanksgiving. The fact that this bit lacks an obvious punchline (instead letting the stammering and mugging fill that role) should be your first hint that the real punchline is coming later.

    The second small loop provides the variation on our setup, a sly wink from the writers that follows the small loop’s punchline in which the actor playing his bit most straight tells the clown that his punchline (the clown is somehow aware that they are in the past, and that the mortality rate is high compared to the future) is “accurate.” As he says this line, trampling what would be laughter if the audience was intended to laugh at that point in the small loop (and which every other signal tries to impel you to, save actual humor), he looks up at the camera briefly as if to say “You are about to get an accurate summary of Pilgrim and Indian jokes told at Thanksgiving. No more. No less.”

    Then, as promised, the small loop hammers almost every single tired old gag about pilgrims and indians that gets trotted out each year around the holidays. Pilgrims are dour and hopeless. Indians talk funny. PC labeling conventions. Witches, medicine. They even broke the gags down by disease: cholera, smallpox, childbirth, etc.

    Meanwhile, by about the fourth one you should be thinking “OK, I get it. It’s a stripped-down version of your typical thanksgiving sketch. How many of these did they really make?” So they switch it up on you just a little bit by making the setup for that one call back to the punchline of the previous skit. When the first pilgrim yells “Indian attack!” the second pilgrim yells “Where?” even though in the previous scene he’d pretended he didn’t understand the first pilgrim’s reference to Indians. It’s a cynical note about etiquette as a facade, but it’s also funny because it exposes the first pilgrim’s tribalism, which he normal tries to keep hidden. The breakdown of etiquette has always been a source of humor. See any Marx brothers movie.

    So then they do several more iterations of the small loop. At this point the humor comes primarily from just how long the sketch has gone on. At one point I looked at the little timer shuttle and just started cracking up without any prompting from the actors because the shuttle was less than half way across. The third variation on delivery comes when they switch from a different setup each time to the same “Hey chief why so glum?” setup over and over again. That’s the second broad wink by the actors to let you know that they’re in on the joke and it’s OK to laugh at their haplessness (rather than just feel sorry for them, which would be my first reaction if I thought the actual dialogue was earnestly intended to be funny). They’re tweaking Saturday Night Live, Mad TV, In Living Color, all of the sketch comedies and special holiday episodes of hack sitcoms that have come before them, and of course themselves now that they are in that club.

    Kristen Shaw of the Daily Show does exactly this kind of humor in her stage show. She sets it up as a sketch for a kids’ TV show she used to work for that never aired, and then proceeds to dance awkwardly while her costar sings loudly and badly. You might get a chuckle from the bad dancing and the bad singing, but the real joke isn’t that; it’s in just how long they persist in repeating basically the same thing, until the audience is rolling in the aisles.

    The bottom line is if you thought that you were supposed to laugh at the “jokes,” then you missed the point of the sketch. Again, nothing wrong with that. We all find different things funny. But I promise you, nobody in that writing room thought that just saying “Haha, we’re in the past” or “Haha, Geronimo is the name of an Indian” was funny. Humor often stems from subverted expectations. In this case, the expectation is that a joke will be followed by a clever punchline that makes you chuckle. When they fail to deliver once, that’s the first subversion. When they refuse to give up, failing over and over again, that’s the second. Doing it with complete awareness of yet a total lack of concern for how badly they are failing is the third.

  57. says

    Were these people really trying to be funny? Or are they just trying to pretend they were trying to be funny, after they tried to be serious and failed at it? I’m reminded of Ann Coulter’s fans, who nearly always try to pretend their idol is a comedian as soon as they realize they can’t defend her antics any other way.

    Also, the line between “funny” and “serious” may be a bit blurred for “conservatives” in general, since they a) don’t care about reality; and b) think it’s funny when people they don’t like (and probably don’t consider people) get hurt by their actions.

  58. says

    @lofgren:

    And I bet you think that Family Guy is funny despite its raging misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, and veiled racism. We’re all just “missing the point” when it comes to someone slandering our demographic. Fuck me, it’s offensive and no amount of “no no, it’s satire!” is going to convince me otherwise. These are the kinds of jokes people tell with a disclaimer: “it’s just a joke” “no offense” “my [insert non-privileged demographic] friends laugh at this.”

  59. d cwilson says

    I’m reminded of Ann Coulter’s fans, who nearly always try to pretend their idol is a comedian as soon as they realize they can’t defend her antics any other way.

    Rush Limbaugh’s fans have the same tendency.

    I have to agree with the sentiment that political humor is all about poking at the rich and powerful. It’s old idea that the court jester is the only one who can tell the truth to the king. But modern conservatives have cast themselves as the defenders of the rich and powerful, so political humor is simply beyound their ability to comprehend.

    It’s not you can’t make fun of liberals. Jon Stewart actually does it more often than people credit him for it. It’s just that you have to start with liberals who are in a poistion of authority and point at the contradictions between their words and their actions*. Instead, on the conservative side, we get “jokes” like Dick Morris saying with regards to one of Hermain Cain’s accusers that he “looks forward to seeing her Playboy spread”. It just comes across mean and cruel to someone who, assuming her allegations were true, was clearly in a lesser position of power compared to Cain.

    But that’s ultimately how conservative “humor” works: It’s about destroying targets rather than trying to be funny first. Stewart is successful in political humor because he looks at a situation and his first thought is, “where can I find the humor?” Someone like Dennis Miller looks at the same situation and asks, “How can use this to damage the other side?”

    * A good example of his was his recent takedown of former NJ governor Corzine.

  60. says

    What psychological impairments are characteristic of liberals?

    The only one that comes to mind that would be broadly considered negative is conscientiousness. Liberals are on average less conscientious, and therefore less dependable, than conservatives. Along the same lines, conservatives also tend to keep tidier work spaces, are more punctual, etc.

    Of course, if you’re a conservative, you probably don’t think that the personality traits associated with conservatism are all that bad. You probably think liberals are dangerously lackadaisical when it comes to islamofascism, don’t pay proper respect to authority, and they need a fucking haircut.

  61. lofgren says

    And I bet you think that Family Guy is funny despite its raging misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, and veiled racism.

    No, actually, I don’t find Family Guy funny, but not because of the racism and misogyny. I find it unfunny because their “We’re going to shock your sensibilities with offensive randomness” shtick was predictable by the end of the first season, and better executed by South Park anyway.

    We’re all just “missing the point” when it comes to someone slandering our demographic. Fuck me, it’s offensive and no amount of “no no, it’s satire!” is going to convince me otherwise.

    You are missing the point. Native Americans are never the intended target of this skit, because you’re never supposed to think of the Native American as a Native American. You’re supposed to remain acutely aware that it is an actor failing miserably on stage. I can recognize the timing and mannerism of a decent actor or comedian who is pretending to be bad at it. They are different than an actually bad actor. This actor’s performance is saying, “Yes, my performance is offensive and stupid. Feel free to laugh at my expense.”

    These are the kinds of jokes people tell with a disclaimer: “it’s just a joke” “no offense” “my [insert non-privileged demographic] friends laugh at this.”

    “It’s just a joke” is the kind of thing that people say when their joke hinges on denigrating the group in question. There is good reason not to let them get away with it. If a joke is only funny if you share the teller’s prejudices then it doesn’t matter if it’s just a joke, it’s still offensive.

    That isn’t this joke. In fact, the humor in this joke relies on the opposite: that you are fully aware of how stupid this stereotype is, and how played out and tired it is. It’s like the Kids in the Hall blackface routines. You are never asked to laugh at black people the way that the original black face minstrels wanted you to. You’re supposed to laugh at the ineptness of the black face performers. Again, it’s similar to the Senior Black Correspondent conversations between Jon Stewart and Larry Wilmore, in which Wilmore casually confirms every black stereotype while aping the style of a CNN or NPR “authority.”

    I’m sure that a handful of racists who thought the Indian’s delivery was in earnest got a chuckle from his clumsy English. I highly doubt that most of the viewers found that to be funny, and I guarantee that the actors didn’t. That stilted delivery is a deliberate choice, one that says “Laugh at me,” not “Laugh at the Indians.”

  62. lofgren says

    Again, I’m not trying to make anybody find it funny. Even if you get the style of humor, you may well find this delivery poor and so still think it is unfunny. But just try watching it again, and this time assume that the actors are in on the joke with you, that they are laughing at themselves right alongside you, and that every choice is a deliberate one. You probably still won’t find it funny but maybe you can see what the writers thought might be funny rather than judging the skit based on the deliberately stupid parts that are there only to set up the actual joke.

  63. Pierce R. Butler says

    modeller @ # 51 (et seq): His books are full of anti-establishment themes.

    Please note I asserted Pratchett “revealed a rather conservative side”, not that he falls 100% into the Murdoch bucket.

    A search for “Pratchett, ‘affirmative action’” on books.google came up with mostly the same quote (somehow attributed to over a dozen Discworld titles) but not the one I (mis?)recalled.

    I can’t argue with any of your examples, though I can also throw in the case of the Bursar at Unseen University, a bumbling but also (mostly) benign character whose problems and reactions clearly draw Pratchett’s sympathy.

    But for my main point, I have to bring up Charles Dickens, and the criticisms of same advanced by George Orwell and others. Those who advance their way up the Watch, or (Making Money, Going Postal, etc) otherwise under Vetinari’s calculating eye, do so by individual pluckiness and their own bootstraps (after the initial helpful skycrane lift from The Top) – the same as D. Copperfield or any of Horatio Alger’s cuties.

    Questions of class, or of any alternative to the existing system, simply never arise. Discworld stories follow the same plotline identified by Brian Aldiss in making his case that fantasy tends toward the reactionary side: after the crisis, everything returns to the status quo (whereas in sf, typically, the world has changed forever).

    So long as Pratchett’s concept of betterment stays within such bounds (which it doesn’t in all cases – the Bromeliad comes first to my mind), he has at least one foot in the prevailing orthodoxy, and no more than a toe in any sort of subversive mindset.

    IRL, otoh&fwiw, his refusal to sell Discworld to Hollywood/Mattel qualifies TP as the second coming of Che – ¡Viva Pratchett!

  64. beezlebubby says

    This reminds me of the time I re-visited a local AM morning talk show that used to be hosted by a fairly innocuous man and woman team. They were conservatives, but in a moderate and light-hearted sense. I hadn’t listened in years, got curious and tuned in. The pair had been replaced by two men trying to be funny. It was after the Haitian quake, and they were talking about people so desperately hungry that they had resorted to eating dirt. Then they made a “hilarious” “joke” about the skyrocketing price of dirt. Then they laughed uproariously about it.

    I cried at their cruelty.

  65. Azkyroth says

    How many fundamentalist teenagers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    0. They plug it into an outlet and claim it doesn’t count.

  66. sinned34 says

    How many fundamentalist teenagers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    Zero, because screwing is a horrible, filthy, disgusting activity that should be saved for the person you love.

  67. Stevarious says

    How many fundamentalist teenagers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    0. They plug it into an outlet and claim it doesn’t count.

    You owe me a cup of coffee. The one that just went through my nose.
    This is perfectly spot on – I could tell you such stories about the other kids in my old church…! But as long as the wee-wee didn’t actually go all the way into the coochie, they were ‘still virgins’. Sometimes, they would slip up but that didn’t really count either because they ‘didn’t really mean it’ and they would ‘rededicate their sexuality to Jesus’ and have a ‘second virginity’ (or third, or fourth, or however many times necessary… the wellspring of self-deception is endless.)
    And of course, since their sex ed consisted of “Don’t!” they all had STD’s. I can’t imagine things have changed at all.

  68. jonhendry says

    @76: “A search for “Pratchett, ‘affirmative action’” on books.google came up with mostly the same quote (somehow attributed to over a dozen Discworld titles) but not the one I (mis?)recalled.”

    That quote is re-used jacket copy. From the US editions, which are published by Harper Collins, a Murdoch company.

    “Questions of class, or of any alternative to the existing system, simply never arise.”

    What about the uprising and the People’s Republic of Treacle Mine Road in Night Watch? Reg Shoe (pre-zombification) sounds like an Occupy Wall Street person, trying to find consensus on their demands, which include “Truth, Justice, Freedom, Reasonably Priced Love, and a Hard-Boiled Egg!”.

  69. Pierce R. Butler says

    Damnit, jonhendry @ # 83 – there ya got me!

    Though if I wanted to be pedantic, I could point out that mocking revolutionaries doesn’t signify supporting them. Quite rightfully, TP’s priority is the Holy Cause of Satire, whose first commandment is that all visible sacred oxen must be gored.

    Those Life of Brian PFJ/JPF bits – which I should add to my list of contemporary conservative humor – however incisive, contribute to “subversive” efforts only as good warnings; ditto most of Pratchett’s precepts.

    Of course, there were various groups seeking his overthrow, and that was right and proper and the sign of a vigorous and healthy society. No one could call him unreasonable about the matter. Why, hadn’t he founded most of them himself? And what was so beautiful was the way in which they spent nearly all their time bickering with one another.
    Guards! Guards!

  70. danielrudolph says

    I agree with lofgren. I can only conclude that this is one of those sketches done at the expense of the audience, considering where it aired.

  71. lofgren says

    I don’t understand why folks are intent on labeling this as conservative or liberal. It seemed entirely apolitical to me. I saw neither conservative nor progressive messaging. It’s the kind of thing that anybody who has watched enough Saturday Night Live and has sufficient willingness to stand up and look foolish might have written. If you can discern the writers’ politics I’d love to know how.

  72. jonhendry says

    @84: “Though if I wanted to be pedantic, I could point out that mocking revolutionaries doesn’t signify supporting them. ”

    It seemed to me to be friendly mocking. Pratchett seemed to be making fun of Reg’s idealism, in the context of depicting the overall efforts favorably. The regime against which they are rebelling is certainly not depicted favorably. The ‘reasonably priced love’ demands come off looking entirely reasonable in the context of Ankh-Morpork, and the logical result of a certain faction objecting to the job-killing prospect of other rebels calling for ‘free love’.

    Virtually everyone in Discworld gets *some* mocking, after all. The watch, the wizards, the witches, Om, Death, etc.

  73. lofgren says

    OK, this sketch goes wrong in every way mentioned above, much like that Fox news sketch show. Politics before humor, bullying of outgroups, trivializing very real problems. I think the idea of a kids show like Sesame Street being a bastion of propagandizing revolutionaries could be funny (in fact I’ve seen bits with that premise before that did well), but this bit fails because the delivery is not sly or clever in any way. It basically falls victim to all of the sketch comedy weaknesses lampooned by Pilgrim Funnies – it’s premise is too obvious to be able to surprise the audience (the source of most humor), it goes on for too long, it receives too much buildup for almost no payoff.

    This is an exercise in confirming the audience’s expectations, which is the opposite of humor. It’s also the very thing that I identified above as making the “just a joke” excuse inappropriate. This sketch DOES target Native Americans and Mexicans, and worst of all it doesn’t seem to think they even need to crack any jokes about those groups. It seems to think that Native Americans and people (or muppets) speaking with an hispanic accent are inherently ridiculous, which to me seems doubly offensive. It’s one thing to crack jokes at the expense of the underprivileged. That at least requires a little work. It’s another to suggest that the underprivileged are funny just because they aren’t exactly like you.

    Still, it’s not like I haven’t seen these same failures in sketch comedy produced by people of all political leanings. Nine out of ten Saturday Night Live skits are utter crap, and I’m pretty sure those drama majors and their Jew overlords aren’t Glenn Beck fans.

  74. Pierce R. Butler says

    jonhendry @ # 87: Virtually everyone in Discworld gets *some* mocking…

    Quite so – and it’s almost always funny, which is proof of Pratchett’s vast talent.

    All I can respond with is another excerpt from Guards! Guards! -

    ‘I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people,’ said the man. ‘You’re wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people, _but_ some of them are on different sides.’… ‘Down there,’ he said, ‘are people who will follow any dragon, worship any god, ignore any iniquity. All out of a kind of humdrum, everyday badness. Not the really high, creative loathesomeness of the great sinners, but a sort of mass-produced darkness of the soul. Sin, you might say, without a trace of originality. They accept evil not because they say yes, but because they don’t say no. I’m sorry if this offends you,’ he added, … ‘but you fellows really need us.’ … ‘Oh yes. We’re the only ones who know how to make things work. You see, the only thing the good people are good at is overthrowing the bad people. And you’re good at that, I’ll grant you. But the trouble is that it’s the only thing you’re good at. One day it’s the ringing of the bells and the casting down of the evil tyrant, and the next it’s everyone sitting around complaining that ever since the tyrant was overthrown no-one’s been taking out the trash. Because the bad people know how to plan. It’s part of the specification, you might say. Every evil tyrant has a plan to rule the world. The good people don’t seem to have the knack.’

  75. interrobang says

    The most current, that is, after 2001, tragedy sick-jokes I’ve seen all originate in Israel, the best example of which was:

    Where was the highest concentration of Jews during the Holocaust?

    In the atmosphere.

    If that didn’t make you at least wince, you’re definitely an insensitive clod of the old school.

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply