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The 1/2 Hour News Hour: American Conservatives and Their Crime Against Comedy

The 1/2 Hour News Hour team

I sympathize with any attempt at conservative comedy. I really do. I sympathize because liberal-leaning comedy is ubiquitous. Any given film or sitcom can be critical of the right without having to provide an explanation or even any context. The joke might be funny or it might not be, but nobody really suspects the motive.

Imagine, however, the alarm-bells that would be ringing in a viewer's head if George W. Bush were mentioned in a sitcom without being in some way the butt of a joke. Or if he were portrayed--unironically--as the "decent guy dealt a lousy hand" his supporters suggest he is, while Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton were slapped around like strawmen? It wouldn't fit. We'd either assume it was sarcastic, or become immediately suspicious of what we're watching. There's very little precedent for that particular angle of attack, and we'd have to assume it has a deliberate and very specific agenda.

This means that conservative comedy more or less has to announce itself as being conservative comedy. How else could we know how to read it? Right-wing comedy needs to provide the non-traditional context for what we are about to see. That's a clunky start, and it's unfair to the humorists themselves. It also burdens the film or program with a PRODUCT OF CONSERVATIVES label that implies endorsement. The Simpsons can say whatever they like about Republicans without anyone believing that the family necessarily represents the general liberal mindset. The 1/2 Hour News Hour has no such luxury. It announces itself as an intentional assault on the dominant comic viewpoint, and as an audience we can't in good conscience ignore that.

What is The 1/2 Hour News Hour? Let's let creator Joel Surnow describe it in his own words: "You can turn on any show and see Bush being bashed. There really is nothing out there for those who want satire that tilts right." His response was to create The 1/2 Hour News Hour, addressing this lack of right-sympathetic comedy. And he sold it to its most politically-appropriate home: The Fox News Channel.

And you know what? That's all right. It could have worked. Couldn't it? Comedy skews in favor of the left, but does it have to? I refuse to believe that comic sense can be the direct result of political affiliation. If Bill Maher became a Republican tomorrow, would he no longer be funny? And when would this newfound humorlessness take effect? That morning? The precise moment of conversion? When he casts a Republican vote? After his first 24 hours of scowling and kicking children? And if he later started voting Democratic again, would he automatically have his sense of humor restored?

It's preposterous--and just plain ignorant--to suggest that comedy is incapable of overcoming social boundaries. But the left has a rich and continuing history of strong and successful satire (Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Politically Incorrect...hell, even All in the Family). Where are the conservative equivalents?

Certainly not here, with The 1/2 Hour News Hour, which was very quickly canceled but had a lot going for it, technically speaking. The show had a tried-and-tested format (the humorous news broadcast) that was a pretty logical fit. NBC's news leans left, and its fake news (Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live) has a similar slant. Fox News leans right, and its fake news should do the same. It's not out of place, and while it's probably not the most interesting way to make a comic statement ("We'll do exactly what they do...but in reverse!") there's certainly nothing wrong with adopting a basic format that has been proven to work.

The trouble is, of course, that they forgot to make it funny, and they didn't even seem to be aware of what they were actually saying. In all honesty, in the process of rebelling against the left-leaning comic status quo, they seemed to reinforce its necessity, making the Republican party itself look exactly one thousand times worse than Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert or Will-Ferrell-as-Dubya ever did. Illustrative clips ahoy; watch them, and then read on.

The Atheists Three

Before we get too far into things, let's pretend that this comedy skit fell from space. It's in English--miraculously--but it's stripped of any American-specific (or Earth-specific) attitudes toward religion, God or politics. We recovered this clip from a crater along with 45 pounds of smashed meteorite. What do we make of it?

Well, to be perfectly honest, it's not a bad sketch, at its core. If we can remove our personal reactions to the larger points being made here, there's very little--and maybe nothing--to take issue with. The sketch consists entirely of a simple illustrated irony: a character dismisses the existence of a certain creature or force, and is then taken down by that very creature or force itself. Stripped to its skeleton it's no different than Sam the Eagle railing against nudity on television only to look down and realize he doesn't wear clothes either. Or the quick Monty Python gag in which a letter of complaint is written by a man who has worked in a tall building all his life and has never fallen out, only to fall out in the very process of writing his letter. Ha ha.

Unfortunately we have to come back to reality and acknowledge that this skit did not fall from space, and, in fact, was written with a very specific Republican agenda in mind. To view it, therefore, without keeping that agenda in mind ourselves would be foolish; it's propaganda and propaganda needs an agenda to justify its existence. And before anybody takes issue with that, calling it propaganda is not insulting. 1984 is propaganda. Catch-22 is propaganda. Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is propaganda. The difference is that those three examples are actually well-written artistic statements. And this sketch is...well, sloppy at best.

The idea is that three filthy, snarling atheists have written filthy, snarling books about how not-real God is...and God strikes them dead one by one. To teach them a lesson, I guess...though one would have to question the value of any lesson that can only be taught via death of the student. The studio audience hoots and applauds. And why not? They hate atheists! To see atheists struck dead is rewarding enough, but to see them struck dead by the Hand of God Itself...why...that's just a great big bowl of frosted applesauce. In fact, the audience (and writers) are so excited by this spiritual vindication that they don't pause to consider anything they're actually saying.

Because, yes, this sketch has decided (within its own reality) the existence of God. Do the writers realize, though, that they've decided the existence of a very cruel, insecure and completely unlikeable God? After all, the God of The 1/2 Hour News Hour doesn't just dislike people who speak out against Him; He personally murders them in cold blood. And the studio audience eats it up. To understand my concern, imagine that this sketch is about a dictator instead. Three authors write books speaking out against his oppressive regime and he turns up at the end of the sketch to mow them all down with machine gun fire. Would anyone laugh at that? Maybe. Would anyone hoot and applaud in adoration of the dictator with the gun? I truly doubt it. And yet, within the reality of this sketch, is there even a difference?

The deaths of the atheists are treated as a very necessary comeuppance. Structurally, the audience feels, this is what should happen. That's how they view atheists, and that's telling. But man oh man, it sure is a lot more telling the way they seem to view God. (I'm reminded of the vengeful asshole God that Fred Clark discusses in his analysis of Left Behind. And sure enough, in both that case and this one, the general audience reaction is to point at the casualties and say, "See? You got what you deserved, you pieces of shit." An attitude I'm not entirely sure Christ would endorse...)

God is also, evidently, profoundly stupid. A simple, "My book is fiction I swear!" on the part of the third author is enough to spare him from the fate of Divine Strangulation and/or Bludgeoning. Why does that work? If God exists, shouldn't the ability to see through that paper-thin lie be easily within His omniscient capabilities? Hell, my third grade teacher could see through stronger lies than that; by the logic of this sketch, she deserves to be worshiped more than He does. (Also, she never killed any of us for disagreeing with her.) And isn't the third author's conversion more a response to his fear of death than it is a demonstration of any love for God and His Word? Also, why must God murder people to prove he exists? Wouldn't other immediate miracles (the curing of all disease, an end to war and suffering, a really bitchin' cosmic lightshow) be more productive and less...psychotic?

The answer to this problem is simple: the conservative God isn't interested in proving He exists; He is only interested in punishment. It's not conversion He's's revenge. This God is the bloodthirsty reflection of what a certain type of Republican believes, and it's the type of Republican that writes / produces / enjoys shows like The 1/2 Hour News Hour. (And presumably voted Huckabee.)

I find it hard to believe that The Real God--whether or not He exists--would watch this sketch and align Himself with the writers. Aren't they making Him look worse--by painting him with such an unflattering, hateful personality--than the atheists would have? Surely "He doesn't exist" is closer to a neutral assessment than "He will fucking club you to death in your sleep."

I'm reminded of a very funny thing Drew Carey used to say in his stand-up act, though I have to paraphrase. Drew would confess to his audience that he is an atheist, and then he'd explain why he doesn't lose sleep over the chance that he might be wrong. "You see," he'd say, "if there is a God, then He knows I don't believe in Him and He's letting me do it." It's a good thing for Drew that he was never asked to appear on The 1/2 Hour News Hour; they'd still be forking his guts out of the studio's air-conditioning vents.

Global Warming

Allow me please to quote Eugene Novikov's concerns about An American Carol: "Does An American Carol look like a clever parody of Moore's documentaries, or just a partisan attack on the filmmaker? Or, put another way, is the clip of Bill O'Reilly slapping around Kevin Farley's 'Michael Malone' a commentary on the rivalry between the two, or right-wing wish fulfillment? One thing to note before answering is that O'Reilly appears in the film himself, while Moore does not."

There are two things I'd like to take from this (accurate) observation of Novikov's and apply to our show here (well, I'll apply half of it now and the rest to the next video clip). Take a look at the "climatologist" character in this clip. Does he represent a "clever parody" of liberal ideals? Or their objectives? Or even their superficial behavior? Or is he a not-even-cleverly-masked punching bag? This man isn't a caricature of a liberal...he's a bog-standard showboating buffoon with a Gore 2000 sticker on his Prius, and that's about as close to "satire" as you're going to get. You know when you go to the boardwalk and pay someone a few dollars to draw a funny picture of you? They tend to pick up on a few things about your appearance or personality and exaggerate them for comic effect. That's a caricature. What they emphatically do not do is draw a picture of a donkey pissing and shitting into its own mouth and hand it back to you. Whether it's funny or not is academic; the point is that it owes nothing to its source material. It's not caricature; it's an irrelevant shot at something that isn't there.

(The ACLU skit that is appended to this clip proves that The 1/2 Hour News Hour is not incapable of producing passable examples of satire...agree or disagree with the point being made, the character speaking to us at least addresses a valid concern: liberals can be so concerned with fighting for personal rights in a general sense that they miss--and cause--instances of specific harm. It's a valid comic approach to a serious issue and it uses a real-life example to make its point. But this only serves to make the "punching-bags" that much more irritating because we know the writers are capable of producing passable satire, and instead intentionally choose not to engage its audience or their concerns intelligently.)

And yet it works. Listen to the introduction of our Global Warming Specialist. What are his qualifications? He's an ex-gameshow-host. He's meant to be entirely representative of environmental scientists, and his only qualification is that he once stood in for Pat Sajak. But did you notice anything during that introduction?

There was no laughter from the audience.

I'll say it again, because this is important: there was no laughter from the audience.

Is it because it wasn't funny? No...we've already established that this particular audience will laugh at anything they know is supposed to be funny; they're just that cooperative. There was no laughter because this wasn't even recognized as a joke. They were willing to accept this as background information. Now, if somebody introduced me to a professor of literature, for example, and told me he got his degree from clown college, I would laugh, because I recognize that that's not the way this sort of thing works. I would have recognized it as a joke.

But to Fox News' audience, an environmental scientist is introduced as being an ex-gameshow-host and there's nothing particularly funny about that. It's believable to them. It's neither setup nor punchline. To this relentlessly preached-to choir, they expect exactly this of the liberals already...particularly those nasty psuedo-scientist liberals who want to stop us cutting down trees and dumping sludge into natural preserves. (Those shitheads.)

Interesting also is the passive suggestion of tolerance on the part of the hosts. They play along with this preposterous game of his. At no point do they ask the perfectly reasonable (and important) question: "This is all well and fun, but are you aware that you have no scientific evidence whatsoever?" There are two definite reasons they don't raise this question. 1) It makes it look as though the right are sympathetic. This poor fool really believes he's an environmentalist when all he has is a mastery of a reappropriated Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Look how patient the conservatives are! Even in the throes of such nonsense, they let the man continue. They don't interrupt. Hell, they encourage him. Those Republicans; they're good people. The Democrats may spew gibberish, but it's their gibberish and the Republicans would never dream of taking it away from them. ("Let the baby have his bottle," as says Homer.)

Then there's... 2) They don't ask why our environmentalist doesn't have science on his side because he does have science on his side. However large a boob this particular Alex Trebek poseur might be, environmental science has an awful lot of research to fall back on, and it's more than happy to share it with you if you choose to ask. The 1/2 Hour News Hour does not wish you to ask, so it plays it safe by not mentioning science at all. I mean, imagine that! All you'd have to do is say the words "scientific evidence of climate change" and people might actually think to Google it. And then where would The 1/2 Hour News Hour be? It'd have one less vein to mine for humor.

And, as we've seen, humor is a precious resource in the world of this program, and the show can't afford to burn a single nugget.

Rush Limbaugh's Loyalty Test

Back to Novikov's quotation--in which he refers to the real O'Reilly getting to slap the fake Michael Moore--in this clip representatives of the conservative mindset are given the opportunity to appear on the program by way of endorsing its views and objectives. However no recognizable liberals, at any point in the brief history of The 1/2 Hour News Hour, were invited to appear. (Nor was such an invitation ever intended.) "Oh, come on," you say. "It's a comedy show. Comedy doesn't need to be fair."

And, hey, maybe you're right. Nowhere is it written that comedy is an equal-opportunity insulter. But let me ask you this: when have you laughed the hardest? Was it when you were sitting around with a group of friends and one of them told a funny story that everyone enjoyed, or was it when one person in the group singled out another and bullied him with relentless and obvious cruelty under the guise of humor? I guess it's a matter of opinion, but one form of comedy is certainly far removed from the other.

Left-leaning comedy is--often--more the former than the latter. It's not afraid of allowing right-wing figureheads into the fun as a gesture of good faith that works in the favor of both parties.

In the world of The 1/2 Hour News Hour, Rush Limbaugh (the real one) is President of the United States of America. His vice president is Ann Coulter (the real one, again). Is this funny? Well...yeah. It kind of is. The joke works across party lines because it's clear to everybody--no matter how far left or right their allegiances might lie--that Limbaugh is far too polarizing a figure to ever be elected to public office...let alone the highest public office in the land. This is funny, in theory. This is well within the comic rights of The 1/2 Hour News Hour and you can't fault them for it.

However the lack of any appearances by a visible member of the political left is a hugely selfish omission. Saturday Night Live raised some Democratic ire this election season by inviting John McCain and Sarah Palin to appear as themselves on the show that previously lampooned them. What the complaining critics didn't realize was that this was an important service that helped both parties. It helped the left, obviously, by establishing that they weren't entirely closed-minded and opposed to looking the other party in the eye. It helped the right because it showed that they could take a few barbs in stride, and even smirk along with the joke for themselves. It made McCain human again, at a time when he sorely needed such a thing. It endeared him to the left, even if they didn't plan on voting for him. The 1/2 Hour News Hour had no interest in endearing Barack Obama / Hillary Clinton / Bill Clinton / John Edwards / Al Gore / Nancy Pelosi to the right. Hell, they didn't even have interest in shaking hands.

And it's interesting that the disguised Limbaugh, in the above clip, singles out criticism of Barack Obama as the crushing death-blow to one's career in news. Remember that this was aired when Obama was no more likely to take the Democratic nomination than Clinton, and only slightly more likely than Edwards. It was a forward-looking moment for the right. If Barack happened to get the nomination, they'd need something ready-made to use against him, this man who seems to have led a shockingly clean, scandal-free political life...and so here you see one of the earliest uses of that "The media is in love with Barack Obama!" dismissal that we heard right up until election night.

Was the media actually in love with Obama, or was the Obama campaign was simply making fewer mistakes? Obama wasn't perfect, and when trouble reared its head the media certainly did pounce (Rev. Jeremiah Wright, anyone?)'s just that Obama was almost absurdly cool and calm and ran a mostly-honorable campaign that just wasn't subject to the in-fighting and back-biting that political news coverage loves so much. Was the media unfair to McCain, or was it simply McCain who was making the larger mistakes? He was suspending his campaign in a terrible demonstration of how he might handle pressure, refusing to engage his opponent directly during key debates, and he selected a fluttering nincompoop as his running-mate. There's a reason the press was more negative to John McCain: he was spoon-feeding them material.

So why is it that the left extends a hand toward the right and allows Sarah Palin to appear as herself to get in a return punch at Tina Fey, or asks McCain to perform in a sketch underlining his financial trouble, while the right didn't give any Democrats the chance to humanize themselves on The 1/2 Hour News Hour?

For all the complaining the Republicans have done over this past election cycle about unfairness in the liberal media, it's important to remember that McCain turned down Letterman...Letterman did not turn down McCain.

Gun Control

Now a lot of people reading this might say that I'm being too analytical here, and that I'm assigning to the show a political motive that isn't really there. Sure, you might say, it's taking a few potshots at Democrats, but so what? Does that necessarily mean they're out to change any minds? Why am I approaching the show as though it's making grand, sweeping statements about both parties?

Well, I'm approaching the show that way because that's exactly what the show is doing. Remember the lack of laughter when the environmental specialist above was revealed to be an ex-gameshow-host? The laughter didn't come because it wasn't even a joke to these was a direct (and not even exaggerated, to their ears) reflection of reality. Here, in this clip, we are introduced to a character who represents Americans Against Guns...and as soon as we hear the name of this organization, the audience stars booing.

That's not the response a comedy sketch without an agenda would get. What's inherently funny about the words "Americans Against Guns?" Nothing. These organizations exist. The name is not particularly sarcastic or over-the-top; it's a little vanilla, but fairly representative. The booing, however, reveals that it's not laughter this sketch is looking to's anger. When Fox News' audience hears something like "Americans Against Guns," which (silly as such an organization can be made out to be) doesn't actually represent anything threatening, they know they are dealing with a villain who needs to be spat upon, hissed at, and run out of town.

It's political. We're not 25 seconds into the sketch and already we realize the "comedy" will come second. (If at all.)

Later on we learn that this specific anti-gun zealot is actually a career criminal. Okay, so he was a villain after all. Why isn't the audience hissing after they learn that he's a drug-crazed bank-robbing little-old-lady-mugging scumbag? Well, it's because they already inferred that from the fact that he belongs to an organization called Americans Against Guns, and so this additional information is not surprising. The audience already did its now they're waiting quietly off-camera with a bucket of tar and a sack full of feathers.

Is there really any good humor in this skit at all? And I'm not referring to good-natured humor...I mean good as in quality humor. It's a single joke repeated many times, and the punchline (if it can be called that) is that the criminal hears a siren and runs off. Tee hee hee!

If this show existed just to make people laugh, this sketch never would have been aired, because without its political agenda it would serve no function. It isn't funny. If it ever made it to air on the basis of its ability to generate laughter it would have to have gone through at least one severe rewrite.

But what is the agenda? Oh, come know the answer to this. Anyone who wants to ban personal firearms is really just trying to weaken the nation's citizens to make them easy pickin's for the bad guys, and anyone who wishes to retain their personal firearms is a good, strong, independent, patriotic hero who just wants to protect himself and his family.

As usual, though, The 1/2 Hour News Hour forgets to give its sketches a second going over after the initial squeals of anti-liberal delight have died down, because--surprise surprise--they mixed their own message. Just as the God we were supposed to love actually came across as less sympathetic than the atheists we were asked to hate, the writers have lost the ability to see the difference between what they intend to say and what they are actually saying.

Simply by making the Americans Against Guns representative such a bad guy, they have made him a spokesman for career criminals. Okay? Follow along now, because this means the character is also arguing against guns for the bad guys. Which means, hey, this guy doesn't have such a bad idea. Is it feasible? No. But can you begrudge a man who wants both sides to drop their weapons? Is that really so bad? In reality, if a man spent his life robbing people for heroin money but then, after being shot, had a reawakening and changed his ways, spending the rest of his life organizing rallies for peace, why shouldn't we applaud this change of heart?

Why is the right so afraid of redemption? Why must God murder His opponents rather than invite them to come around? What's so scary about an ex-criminal who doesn't want to carry a gun anymore? And how on Earth did any of these sketches qualify as passable satire to any member of the viewing audience when they unravel with even the smallest pressure of applied logic?

The Legacy of George W. Bush

Now we see that this show is brave enough to confront its own party's issues head on. Right? I mean, this is fair and balanced. We got a lot of laughs out of Al Gore and Barack Obama and the rest of those clowns...but what about the Bozo-in-Chief? The leader of the free world? The conservatives have been espousing--whether directly or indirectly--their superiority over their most serious opponents--the liberals. And you know what? That's okay. We all have the right to stand up and say that we think our own team is the winningest of them all. Every high school pep-rally celebrates their own school as the best. It's okay. It's natural.

But when "your team" is actually the team that's in charge of things...when "your team" has been the administrating power while the country slid along into record dept / unemployment / war casualties...when "your team" has for its star player a man with the lowest popular approval rating in all of approval-rating history, you just might have to account for the discrepancy.

So we have The 1/2 Hour News Hour "confronting" the issue by...mentioning it. That's fair, isn't it? For all the jabs thrown at the opposing party, the writers here were at least big enough to mention that George W. Bush is unpopular and raise the question of what that might mean in terms of his legacy...but then they ditch the issue altogether for the sake of more liberal bashing.

Which is a shame. Does The 1/2 Hour News Hour really believe there is nothing funny about Bush's presidency? Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show never had any problem lampooning Clinton...and it's not because he was a weak leader. It's because he was a human being. It's because he was not above criticism. According to this sketch, however, Bush is so far above criticism that nobody would dare question him. Except for Jimmy Carter, and really, really, really stupid people.

Pay close attention to the portrayal of the "presidential historian." From the moment he appears on camera he's physically loose...but too loose. He's not loose in the let's-get-to-know-each-other kind of way...he's loose in the I'm-a-totally-unqualified-dude! kind of way. The conservative hosts of the program anchor this sketch (as they do all of the others) in the "reality" this show is hoping to present. They are the doubled voice of reason. The "presidential historian" is supposed to be some sort of specialist. He's apparently representative of what should be the best of all possible liberals: he's well-educated, successful, turned to for contemporary political analysis. Within the suggested reality of this show, The 1/2 Hour News Hour didn't find some schmoe for us to laugh at...they gave the liberals a more than fair chance by intentionally spotlighting one of "the good ones."

But wouldn'tcha know it, even the best of all possible liberals is a hopeless dunderhead! He makes silly faces and spins around in his chair like a little boy spending a day in the office with dad. His voice even cracks with helpless excitement when he says "he was a hero!" This is the best the liberals have to offer!

The joke, essentially, is that our "presidential historian", hell...replace that with "everyone who hates Bush" missing the point. He goes out of his way to shower glory upon Democratic presidents (as all liberals must!) regardless of how poorly they might have handled the country. Also, in a related gesture, he must condemn every action a Republican administrator has ever taken. Under no circumstances would a liberal ever concede that a Republican had a good idea. (Ignore the fact that in this most recent presidential race Barack Obama pointed out more than a dozen times over the course of three debates the good ideas that John McCain had...while McCain refused Obama that same courtesy in return.) Our foolish historian--like all liberals, all historians, and, especially, all liberal historians--turns verbal cartwheels to keep his party on top.

And yet the real joke of this sketch is unintentional: it's the verbal cartwheel that The 1/2 Hour News Hour pulled to bring it to us. The question, if you'll recall, was about W.'s legacy. His countrymen and his country's ex-presidents are concerned that his administration is among the worst. That was the problem we were promised the sketch would address. Instead we are introduced to a caricature of a liberal scholar who has more in common personality-wise with Daffy Duck than with any historian I've ever met.

Bush's approval is at an all-time low? Yes, but maybe you forgot that Clinton once got a blowjob! It's a perfect--and unapologetic--dodge, and it's served the right very well for decades. It's also entirely meaningless and not connected at all to the issue at hand. This is the one time a gesture is made toward a mature acknowledgment of why the right might get such a bum rap...and all they do is turn around and throw more custard pies at a nutjob liberal stand-in.

Compare our presidential historian here to the personified PC in the Mac ads. We are not asked to hate the PC. He's portrayed as a soft-spoken, intelligent, well-dressed man. He is professional and difficult to fluster. And Macintosh (the company) is content to let us believe that. PC is not portrayed as a bounding, hooting lunatic; he's allowed to stand before the camera and be comfortable with who he is.

Macintosh--financing the ads--obviously wants to sell us their computer over any other...but it's comedy and not hate that fuels those ads. PC doesn't have horns and a tail and a pitchfork. PC is a businessman who is respectable for one simple reason: no matter how many times Mac shows him up, he remains true to himself. He prefers the PC. Maybe he can't always articulate why...but he knows what's in his heart. Macintosh's ads sway opinions without actively generating hate. Why can't The 1/2 Hour News Hour manage something better than this clown whose verbal acrobatics have him assigning Bill Clinton the blame for 9/11? That actually sounds like something a poorly-informed Republican would say...not a poorly-informed Democrat. Did this show lose track of which party the character was meant to satirize? (The one heartening thing about this clip is the fact that the studio audience, who had no problem with the rest of this sketch, groaned sorely upon hearing this...making it perfectly clear that this went too far even for the class of Republican it was meant to appeal to.)

I'll leave you with a clip specifically designed to "lampoon" the "liberal" "bias" in "the" "media." I think, by this point, you're ready to start pulling these apart without me. So, by all means...tuck in, kids.

Liberal Bias

About this entry


Excellent stuff.

It always fills me with dread when anyone says that they’re going to specifically target their comedy in a particular political direction. The likes of The Daily Show are perceived as left-leaning shows, and of course that reflects their creators’ affiliations (let’s use “left” in the American sense for now, eh? ;-) ) - but really, they essentially poke fun at any absurdity, wherever they find it. It’s just that the Republicans are in power, and have been for the last eight years - and all good satire tends to spend more time on those in power rather than those who want to be in power. If The Daily Show had been as politically-focused during the Clinton years as it became from 2000 or so onwards, then I’m sure they would have found plenty about the Democrats to tear into. Maybe I just have too much faith in the sort of witty and erudite people who tend to do the good political comedy, but I’d like to think that they’re pretty fair in their targeting - and if the new Democrat administration balls things up, then they will absolutely be there to criticise. You only have to look at The Friday/Saturday Night Armistice, which despite being made by the clearly-non-Conservative (that’s Conservative in the UK sense) Iannucci, Baynham and co, was just as mean to the Labour party as it was to the Tories - and that only became more intense once it became apparent that Blair and the gang were going to win in ‘97.

Seb Patrick's picture

By Seb Patrick
November 21, 2008 @ 9:42 am

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I really enjoyed this article. I’d be fascinated to see a good right-leaning political satire, but my own (highly prejudiced) theory is that a lot of conservatives actually feel quite insecure about their opinions. Therefore, they don’t want to debate them, for fear of their house of cards falling down, and it’s quite obvious in their treatment of religion here that faith means believing everything you’re told about God without question. If someone gets easily aggressive or defensive about their viewpoints, it usually means the viewpoint isn’t built on much, and it could be that these people want to wallow in hate, as it stops them looking at themselves too much.

Tanya Jones's picture

By Tanya Jones
November 21, 2008 @ 12:45 pm

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Wow. This is…wow. Great piece, Phil, and a bizarre show. “Overly sensitive people you have been warned.” A pre-emptive criticism of the audience? Seriously?!

If you reversed the sketches’ political stance, audiences - liberal or otherwise - wouldn’t be watching, right? If you do a sketch about a pro-gun campaigner revealed to be a career criminal, or a spokesperson against the realities of global warming being a dipstick, it’d be so weak as to be useless; neither funny nor politically useful. Crappy straw man attacks.

Aaron Sorkin may not like Republicans, but he generally writes them smart, capable and with a valid perspective. That’s what makes the debate rich, the comedy funny, and the outcome persuasive.

> If The Daily Show had been as politically-focused during the Clinton years as it became from 2000 or so onwards, then I’m sure they would have found plenty about the Democrats to tear into.

No question. Stewart’s already got a running gag asking where, exactly, is the delivery of Hope and Change he was explicitly promised.

Andrew's picture

By Andrew
November 21, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

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>I really enjoyed this article. I’d be fascinated to see a good right-leaning political satire, but my own (highly prejudiced) theory is that a lot of conservatives actually feel quite insecure about their opinions.

I don’t think that’s really the case. I think it might be that conservatives aren’t all that good at the sort of intellectual, challenging and thoughtful comedy that satire comes from. Generally, when I see a leftist position being satirised well it’s usually one part of the left satirising another - socialists tend to be good at attacking liberals and vice-versa, for example.

Another problem is that satire is supposed to be about lampooning the opposition by making them look foolish and with two of the sketches mentioned above (Atheism and Global Warming) that’s always going to be really really difficult because the “liberals” (as Americans call the left) basically hold all the intellectual cards on both those issues. Things like gun control, for example, are less clear cut. It’s possible to genuinely satirise the American left’s general approach to the issue but by having a career criminal join an anti-gun group? That’s not funny because it’s not true, it’s not a likely scenario at all. It’s just lazy and purely playing to the audience in a very crude way, like having the climatologist turn-out to be a paedophile or something. It doesn’t work as comedy.

A good example of the rights failure to prove their satirical worth is Michael Moore. He’s an easy target but whenever I’ve seen the right try and satirise him they’ve usually done it by saying that he’s fat (well lol), that’s he a “socialist” (even though he actually isn’t) and that he’s “anti-American” (which again, he isn’t). If you want to satirise Moore then you aim for the soft spots - his hypocrisy, his smugness, his “documentaries” which are such crude, crowd-pleasing propaganda even people who agree with them often end-up being irritated by them. These are the things to go for but instead the “satire” is just painting him as a crude monstrosity which doesn’t even reflect the reality. It’s like a leftwing comedian thinking the most hilarious satire of Bush ever is to have him goosestepping around in Nazi uniform shouting “You are eizer viz uz or viz der Jews, I mean terrorists!”. It’s just crap.

I can’t believe that this is because everyone on the political right is stupid or lacks intellectual riguer - I know from personal experience that this is not the case - but it might well be that there’s no tradition of rightwing satire to draw on. It also might be that people of a “rightwing” mindset aren’t naturally very funny - they can intellectualise a reason for withdrawing welfare, for example, but they can’t do it in a way that makes the “other” guy look foolish whilst making you both laugh and think at the same time.

What I think is probably the problem, though, is with the idea that satirical comedy should reflect one viewpoint only. Maybe satire needs to stop the special pleading and try and take hits at all targets from all sides a little more. After all, satire is supposed to challenge us and make us think and I’m rather bored of the smug, soft-left unchallenging satire we have in the UK. What’s the point of tuning-into something that just reinforces your own prejudices? What’s wrong with maybe laughing at yourself occasionally and using satire to make people wonder how right they are rather than just how wrong their opponents are?

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By Zagrebo
November 21, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

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What a horrible show.

> a lot of conservatives actually feel quite insecure about their opinions. Therefore, they don’t want to debate them, for fear of their house of cards falling down, and it’s quite obvious in their treatment of religion here that faith means believing everything you’re told about God without question.

I would agree that this show demonstrates all of these qualities. Unfortunately, this comment is really in the same school as the attacks on the “left” in The 1/2 Hour News Hour. Neither camp is as stupid or as horrible as the other party thinks, and to lump all of them into such broad categories isn’t really helpful - either way: it’s equally idiotic to say all Democrats are God-less, gun-hating, smug hippies as it is to say all Republicans believe in a “god” (whose sole purpose, it seems, is to destroy for the sake of its lovechild Amerikuh) or own both guns and wife-beaters. There are many intelligent, erudite conservatives just as there are many ignorant liberals. Our culture (and, well, pretty much every culture throughout history) tends to constantly and intentionally label “the other guy” as being ignorant and unworthy of any support, and it doesn’t really help anybody.

With that said, I’ll reiterate my first comment: this show is so horrible it melted my eyeballs.

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By Austin Ross
November 21, 2008 @ 7:24 pm

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Just wanted to clarify that that wasn’t an attack on you, Tanya. Re-reading it, my comment sounded a little snarkey. Like I said, this show DOES espouse all of the views you listed.

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By Austin Ross
November 21, 2008 @ 7:30 pm

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I think the main reason we mock George W and Mrs Palin is still that they’re idiots, not that they’re conservative.

And the fact that rather a lot of people seem to be both conservative AND idiots might or might not be coincidence, but can’t be helped.

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By Marleen
November 22, 2008 @ 10:19 pm

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From that last sketch :

“Uh… we don’t take sides, we just report the news.”

For fuck’s sake.

I’ve never been so glad to see that a programme completely crashed and burned and was canned as quickly as possible.

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By Seb Patrick
November 23, 2008 @ 1:46 am

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I didn’t claim it was a impartial opinion, so I’m not offended, Austin :)

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By Tanya Jones
November 24, 2008 @ 1:34 pm

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Oh boy… Well first things first, marvellous article there Phil. This is the sort of thing that keeps me checking NTS.

Secondly, whilst I can’t claim a reasonable enough understanding of American politics to join in the main discussion, I will say this: crikey, that acting is flimsy. I’m going to be generous and blame the (obviously lacking) material rather than the skills of any of the performers, but it just feels very flat.
Is this a reasonable pastiche, in general terms, of a particular type of American programming? The tone - to my British sensibility - seems unable to decide whether it’s chat-show-laid-back or straight-laced-reporting but invariably fails to amuse, doubly so in the ‘behind the scenes’ clip. There’s no need to tell jokes that slowly.

By Ross
November 26, 2008 @ 1:56 am

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Part of the problem is that it’s easier to lampoon extremes. The US Left is not actually left at all, by global standards, it’s centre-right. That’s not a natural target for comedy.

The UK has managed to satirise governments of every colour without the need to play the left-right split game. Private Eye has lambasted Margaret Thatcher and Harold Wilson with equal vigour, and played merry hell with Tony “The Vicar” Blair and “Comrade” Gordon Brown.

Maybe the secret is for the agenda to be, you know, being funny, rather than being right wing or left wing.

By Guy Chapman
December 22, 2010 @ 4:55 pm

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“After his first 24 hours of scowling and kicking children?”

Now that’s funny. Phil Reed knows how to be funny. If ‘the others’ tried that trick, of playing it straight and introducing an outrageous stereotype into the middle of the flow of argument - well, first of all it just wouldn’t occur to them to do that. And secondly, their audience wouldn’t get it anyway because they’d miss it. Half the problem with the humour of the right is its audience. The other half is that they have a vastly reduced armoury available to them.

By Other Paul
December 22, 2010 @ 5:32 pm

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