Friday, February 16, 2007

When conservatives aren't funny

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Conservatives aren't funny. They think they are, and their base loves the partisan potshots they consider humour, but mature, intelligent comedy isn't what they do best. As if to prove that point, the incomparable Fox News (comparable only to state-run TV stations of the former Soviet bloc) is debuting its Daily Show rip-off The 1/2 Hour News Hour this Sunday. There are clips at YouTube should you desire a preview. And check out Troy Patterson's pre-review at Slate: "The mind strains to conceive of political humor that might be less humorous..."

As for the comparison with The Daily Show, what conservatives don't understand is that Jon Stewart's satire is not partisan in nature. He's liberal and generally Democratic, but his satire is spread evenly across the spectrum. If Republicans are the targets of a majority of it, it's only because one of them occupies the White House and because until just a few weeks ago they were in the majority in Congress. And, too, there's that dastardly disastrous war launched by the Republican president, his Republican warmongers, and his Republican rubber stampers in Congress. What have Democrats done to deserve equal treatment?

And yet Stewart targets Democrats, too. He may have been more sympathetic to Kerry than to Bush in '04, but Kerry was often satirized, if not ridiculed, throughout the campaign. So were Howard Dean and John Edwards. And one of Stewart's friendliest guests has been John McCain. Furthermore, Stewart has made fun of the new Democratic leadership of both houses of Congress as well as the leading Democratic presidential contenders. Indeed, as any regular viewer knows -- and I suspect many of The Daily Show's conservative critics are not regular viewers, or, if they are, only view it through an ideological prism -- the show has spent far more time covering Clinton and Obama than anyone on the Republican side.

For example, consider this hilarious send-up of the leading Democratic contenders referenced by Patterson: "The fact-based setup found John Edwards bounding across a blue-draped dais to 'Our Country,' John Mellencamp's populist jingle/Chevy anthem. The Daily Show then presented us with Obama at the same event, rescoring things so that he walked to the podium to the chorus of 'Jesus Christ Superstar' -- a more incisive joke on Obama-mania and political theater than the News Hour's whole bit. For a kicker, they juxtaposed footage of Hillary with some vixenly bars from Kelis: 'My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard...'"

Obviously, we'll have to wait to judge The 1/2 Hour News Hour -- if we bother to watch it, that is. For it all seems like partisan comedy for the converted and propagandized, comedy that isn't funny at all, vitriol masquerading as satire. Conservatives may long for a right-wing rival to The Daily Show, and this show may satisfy them, but they evidently don't get The Daily Show -- they don't get what makes it so funny, so edifying, so culturally important. Besides, what they want isn't satire but potshots at their enemies, perceived and real alike.

And just to prove that point, here's a sneak preview of the show that appeared on a recent Hannity & Colmes. You'll see what I mean. (Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are in it. That should tell you all you need to know.)

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