Why prophets are funny

Mark Evanier:

Comedy is about taking on the rich and powerful, not siding with them. The first great American comedy movie star was a tramp, not a banker. To the extent it’s funny watching a person slip on a banana peel, it’s funny to have it be a fat, pompous tycoon as opposed to, say, a homeless person. A lot of comedy is about bringing the powerful and inflated down to “our” level so it’s done from a lower POV. You couldn’t make a Marx Brothers movie and have Margaret Dumont be the funny one.

Eugene @ A Life in Juxtaposition:

Which I guess is my very long winded way of saying that mocking a preacher or a church for being ridiculous or stupid can be incredibly healing. Like I said, it may not make sense to you if you’ve never had to deal with any spiritual abuse but if you had, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Crossing that line without any eggshell walking empowers you.  Being able to mock them strips away all their power over you. It’s not just helpful, I think it’s kind of necessary. It’s all a bluff but you will never truly know it until you call it. Once you see them as they really are they won’t have a hold on you ever again.

Mary:

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

 

  • Albanaeon

    I don’t know.  I’ve found plenty of conservatives funny.

    Until I realized that they were serious…

    But seriously (hee), part of the real problem of conservatives trying to be funny is that the modern conservative machine is all about making sure people are angry, which seriously disrupts any attempts at humor.  Sure a few jabs here and there, but then it’s back on message. 

    Humor is also dependent on knowing what reality is.  You can’t satire a worldview that is already completely at odds with what’s really going on.  Which is why The Onion seems behind the curve these days and Poe’s Law seems to be approaching General Relativity in being true.

    Add in that modern conservatives are more about authoritarianism, which absolutely can’t have humor at the expense of the authority, and you’ve got Fox News.  A place to keep you angry, confused, and in line with the party message.  Humor would be counter to all of that.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Too many right-wingers like to use humor in a mean and assholish kind of way. The classic example is the “HUR HUR HUK HUK WHITE HOUSE DOG” think Rush Limbaugh did.

    Also:

    http://timscogitorium.com/tinblog/2012/09/conservative-you-keep-on-using-that-word-i-do-not-think-it-means-what-you-think-it-means.html

  • Random Lurker

    >> the real problem of conservatives trying to be funny is that the modern
    conservative machine is all about making sure people are angry, which
    seriously disrupts any attempts at humor.

    This singlehandedly explains those emails we all get from “that” family member.  Or coworker.  Every single one is not a true joke, but a misrepresentation and then mocking of the other side so that the reader can kick back and say “haha! those guys are so stupid!  Isn’t it great that I’m not that dumb?”

    That’s not humor, that’s self indulgent feeding of indignation.  Come to think of it, this may be why my in-laws never seem to get a joke as well.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Um, a lot of the anti-Margaret Dumont “comedy” in a Marx Brothers movie is about tearing down an uppity female. Evanier is right about his basic premise, but he chose a very poor example.

  • vsm

    I’m not sure if Margaret Dumont was ever uppity, or do you have such an example in mind? I think she was always more respectable and stuffy. Not that there isn’t an element of sexism to a lot of the Marx Brothers’ comedy.

    As for funny right-wing comedians, how about Parker and Stone? Their Libertarianism is perfectly visible in South Park, yet the series has remained popular among both critics and the audience for 16 years.

  • http://vicwelle.wordpress.com victoria

    I thought from the title of this post that there would be mention of the Stephen Colbert/Cardinal Dolan talk at Fordham the other night.  There was a media blackout but a lot of one liners were tweeted during the event (see #Dolbert).  Apparently one of Colbert’s comments was “I’m not a prophet–I’ve seen how things end for those guys. I make jokes.”

  • Michael Cule

    It’s odd that anyone can come to the conclusion that conservatism is necessarily humourless. Most satire has been a very conservative thing from the days of Alexander Pope to C. Northcote Parkinson (or did you think PARKINSON’S LAW was in favour of the bureaucracy created by the welfare state).

    Thing is that in America (and possibly elsewhere) the conservatives no longer see themselves as the natural rulers, the default bosses. They might say they are but too many of their standpoints are no longer the Received Wisdom but rather Quaint Ideas. (“No national health service? However do you manage? ” “No gay marriage? My dear! How Quaint!”) So they see themselves as beleagured defenders of real civilisation not its masters. They can’t dismiss the other side with mockery and all too often the other side can chip away at them.

    Desperation is ruinous to the sense of humour.

  • reynard61

    “I dont know. I’ve found plenty of conservatives funny.

    Until I realized that they were serious…”

    QFT, man. Whenever Mitt RoMoney has a “Shit My Politician Says” moment and I’m tempted to laugh, I just remember that what he’s saying could; sooner or later; become something that he’ll actually *do* that’ll affect this country (not to mention the whole World!) for years/decades/centuries to come. So while I may still laugh; I’ll be laughing *at* him, not with him — and I’ll damn sure be voting *against* him!

  • Mary Kaye

    One of Isaac Bonewitz’s eleven criteria for deciding if a group is cultish is something along the lines of “Intolerance of humor directed at the group or its leadership.”  Problematic groups can have plenty of teasing and mockery but it always flows downward–the higher-ups tease or mock their inferiors.  It takes some degree of spiritual health for a group to tolerate mockery of its leadership.

    I’ve found this a useful rule in assessing martial arts schools.  If the students can laugh at their sensei or sifu, it’s probably a decent place to train.  If no one laughs at anyone, it may be okay but it’s not for me.  If the teachers can laugh at the students but not vice versa, stay away–it won’t be a good or a safe place to train.

    My aikido dojo has a lot of respect for its head instructor–she’s an incredibly good teacher–but when she says “It’s natural movement” about some bizarre manuver, we tend to respond in chorus “–And in 20 years you’ll think so too!”

  • Jay

     The South Park duo, at least in their scripts, seem to be socially liberal and fiscally apolitical.  OTOH, I haven’t seen every episode.

  • vsm

    Much of the humor in South Park is based on mocking liberals and liberal ideas. For instance, they did an episode where the smugness of hybrid car owners became an environmental catastrophe. It may or may not refer to a real phenomenon, but if you want to satirize something related to global warming, it’s pretty right-wing to pick that as your target instead of climate change denialism.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Which I guess is my very long winded way of saying that mocking a preacher or a church for being ridiculous or stupid can be incredibly healing. Like I said, it may not make sense to you if you’ve never had to deal with any spiritual abuse but if you had, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Crossing that line without any eggshell walking empowers you.  Being able to mock them strips away all their power over you. It’s not just helpful, I think it’s kind of necessary. It’s all a bluff but you will never truly know it until you call it. Once you see them as they really are they won’t have a hold on you ever again.

    Which is why we descend on weekly Left Behind updates so eagerly, and tear the series to pieces with such joyous vigor.  

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Add in that modern conservatives are more about authoritarianism, which absolutely can’t have humor at the expense of the authority, and you’ve got Fox News.  A place to keep you angry, confused, and in line with the party message.  Humor would be counter to all of that.

    Which is why I get my measured doses of Fox News filtered through The Daily Show.  Only when their anger is diluted with humor can I actually keep it down without wanting to throw up.  

  • Lori

    Parker & Stone are Libertarians in the sense of the old joke that Libertarians are Republicans who like to smoke pot. They’re socially liberal about stuff they like or which they believe lets them win some imagined “more open-minded than thou” contest with Liberals. About other things, not so much.

    (Full disclosure: I haven’t seen a new episode of South Park in years, in large part because the underlying asshole factor always bugged me even when I found the show funny. If it’s changed radically in the last 5 years or so I’ve missed it.)

  • Albanaeon

     I think part of it is that Trey and Stone are part of the gigantic noise machine that’s been built, so they get to do the mocking of authority, acknowledging reality, and not been angry about everything that turns Conservative humor into the the powerful mocking the lessers that ruins most of their attempts. 

    That being said, they aren’t immune either.  Their episode on hate crimes was a case in point.  They created a strawman caricature of why someone would be convicted of a hate crime (Cartman obviously) that his victim was black and them went with a superficial “its already illegal, why add more to it.”  It completely ignored that the victim of a hate crime was only part of the victimization that characterizes a hate crime.  The other part is a campaign to terrorize other marginal groups and that is what makes “more” of a crime.    Not acknowledging that is what people who’ve never had to face that situation can’t get, and made that particular episode completely unfunny as we were supposed to sympathize with the powerful being the “victim” of the powerless.

  • vsm

    I remember that episode. Every proponent of hate crime legislation was white and the person arguing against it was black. That struck me as a particularly unfair trick even in my less politically conscious days when I first saw it.

  • Fusina

    Which is why I get my measured doses of Fox News filtered through The Daily Show.  Only when their anger is diluted with humor can I actually keep it down without wanting to throw up. 

    Indeed! Not to mention placed back to back at times with the same people stating opposite opinions a few months/weeks/days and on at least one occasion, hours apart. More flip-flops there than in the whole state of Florida, I think.

  • Carstonio

    That type of mockery shows that they’ve bought into the anti-intellectual straw man that reactionaries have been pushing for decades. It’s the phenomenon that Thomas Frank described – too many people think of elitists as Hollywood celebrities and not as the far wealthier tycoons, as if smugness were a worse crime than the advocacy of greater economic inequality.

  • Vass

    Agreed, but with a couple of special cases:

    a. The boss/guru/whoever actively encourages humour at his expense, but only as a form of venting which allows the disaffected group-members to continue maintaining the status quo. For instance, in the old British sitcom Drop the Dead Donkey, every now and then someone will snap and start shouting what they really think of the manager, Gus, and he’ll beam (except for his eyes) and say “Ah, office humour. Excellent.”

    b. There’s this extremely weak tea form of humour some Christian groups have. Like “Why does Jesus cross the road?” “Because he’s JUST SO GREAT!” “Ahahahaha! Get it? It’s funny because Jesus IS great!” I’m not sure what that’s about, but I suspect it’s in the same category as the classic job interview question and correct answer “What is your greatest weakness?” “I’m too much of an overachiever.” It means that no honest answer or actual joke is acceptable in this context.

    Your aikido dojo sounds great.

  • AnonaMiss

    Parker & Stone have their problematic moments, but I still find them funny even when I think they’re completely off-base.  I think it’s because their brand of humor has enough intentional offense that if I get offended, I have a litany of hilarious celebrity outrage to look back on and tell myself, “You don’t want to be like those assholes – be cool.” Everyone thinks they’re right even when they’re wrong, so it’s important to react to criticism and mockery with grace and reflection.

    …I think I just summed up my feelings about communication in one sentence.
    I do think they count as actually-funny conservative comedians, at least in the episodes when the comedy is about the absurdity of a liberal position. They’re less funny in those episodes, but they’re skilled enough at their craft that they can get away with it.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I’m not sure what that’s about, but I suspect it’s in the same category
    as the classic job interview question and correct answer “What is your
    greatest weakness?” “I’m too much of an overachiever.” It means that no
    honest answer or actual joke is acceptable in this context.

    I’ve always hoped someday I’ll have the courage ot answer “Kryptonite. But since that’s a fictional substance, I don’t forsee it being a problem.”

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    If I ever am in a position to interview someone I will dispense with all the ridiculous hoop jumping and just ask two questions:

    1. “Can you breathe?” (Humor, breaks the ice.)
    2. “Tell me about one non-work-related thing about you that isn’t on your resume.” (How well do they think on their feet?)

    Then I will randomly pick from the resumes after dropping the ones where they seriously blew it.

    Seriously, insisting that every employee has to have the mystical quality of “adding to the synergy of an organization” – that’s shit.

    People will either do well, or they will not. If they don’t, then they should be told directly – with no trying to screw them around to make them quit so you don’t have to pay severance – that they need to move on.

    The most promising candidates can look like doofuses two months in. Marginal candidates might prove to be diamonds in the rough.

    Very few people are in jobs they want to work at, and making them act like it’s the next best thing since sliced bread when the mantra in our society is “job security is DEAD” – that’s a peculiarly diabolical level of mind-fuckery.

  • SketchesbyBoze

    I find that once I acquire the ability to laugh at a thing, it no longer has power to hurt me.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     I used to think that, then came George W. Bush.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Even so, he availed himself of some laughably ridiculous statements to the point where I was embarrassed for him, such as the “he was going after my daddy” line about Saddam Hussein.


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