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Question: Why the dearth of conservative comedians?

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 25 Feb 2012 00:58 UTCSat 25 Feb 2012 - 12:58 am UTC 

The last time I watched Dennis Miller perform on Fox News I remember wondering yet again why it is that there are so few conservative comedians. I'd like to write a feature article for the local paper on this subject and seek a list of, say, five persuasive reasons why this is the case.

Googling "why no conservative commedians?" does elicit numerous hits, but in none of them did I find the kind of enumeration of reasons that I could use to form the basis for a column. That said, the following article does provide a good start:


Some of the more intelligible and less vitriolic of the comments that follow the column are also helpful.

This next article includes bio sketches on someone's opinion of the top 10 political comedians. I was struck by this text from the write-up on #5, Dennis Miller:

"For whatever reason, there aren't a whole lot of "conservative" comedians (actually, I can think of about 10 reasons, but I won't get into them here). So, as the only real conservative comic on the list, Dennis Miller represents a very different point of view when it comes to political comedy."

The link: http://comedians.about.com/od/top10lists/tp/top10politicalcomedians.htm

Interesting that the columnist alluded to 10 reasons for the dearth of conservative comics, but then opted not to cite even one.

Although I have my own visceral sense of why liberal comedians outnumber conservatives so dramatically, I would rather not offer them up here. Much better to get an uninfluenced answer from a savvy researcher! Such an acceptable answer will include at least five reasons that would be conducive to using as expandable bullet points in a feature community newspaper column.




 25 Feb 2012 13:38 UTCSat 25 Feb 2012 - 1:38 pm UTC 

It's probably   - no, just maybe -  a liberal comedian's joke: 
"The best conservative comedians are all in office ..."

elected by the majority.  Makes it difficult for most people to appreciate the humor of their performances, but they often get reelected.

Up for reelection this year is the mayor of London, Boris Johnson: 




 25 Feb 2012 15:26 UTCSat 25 Feb 2012 - 3:26 pm UTC 

A guaranteed $10 tip for an acceptable answer of five reasons.




 25 Feb 2012 15:27 UTCSat 25 Feb 2012 - 3:27 pm UTC 

Hi Nautico

There ia a dearth of conservative comedians because most of them are now dead.

However, here in the UK, we still have David Cameron and a few others.


David Sarokin 


 25 Feb 2012 15:30 UTCSat 25 Feb 2012 - 3:30 pm UTC 


I think you labelled Dennis Miller a conservative comedian because his routines often revolve around social issues and he takes an obviously conservative stance on them.

Most comedians avoid overt politics in that way. They may personally be very liberal or very conservative, but they make fun of whoever is in power, regardless, when doing political routines. Jay Leno is a good example...I have absolutely no idea what his personal politics may be...he takes shots at everybody.

And most comics are riffing on their love life, or work life, or human stupidity, or other stuff, without really revealing what their personal politics are.

As a matter of fact, it's hard to come up with a liberal equivalent to Miller...a stand-up comedian who is actively liberal in his/her routines, rather than their personal lives. Jon Stewart and Bill Maher are the only ones who come to mind, but they're a pretty new breed of comic and can't really be said to be representative of the entire world of comedy. George Carlin, rest his soul, had no shortage of political opinions, but it's hard to say if he was liberal, conservative or .... what???

So, I'm not sure I agree with the premise of your question. What makes you think that there's a dearth of conservative comics?






 25 Feb 2012 16:32 UTCSat 25 Feb 2012 - 4:32 pm UTC 

I believe that the two links I cited in my question make a good case for the paucity of conservative comedians, and by "conservative comedians" I mean those comics whose political rants overwhelmingly target liberal personages or liberal ideas. They're as rare as hen's teeth, and I believe that's true no matter what party currently occupies the White House.

I've been able to come up with only four tentative reasons for what I believe to be a real phenomenon:

1) The performing arts in general are more apt to attract liberals than conservatives to such careers. One might as well ask why there aren't more conservative folk singers or more conservative ballet dancers.

2) Conservatives tend to regard stand-up comedy in particular as a frivolous endeavor, one that's not worth either watching or performing and/or that they believe may at best trivialize, at worst undermine, political agendas they hold sacred.

3) Conservatives are not wont to be self-deprecating, an important comedic ingredient. The whole notion of making fun of oneself would be at odds with the serious business of advancing an ideologically based agenda.

4) The absolutist aspects of social conservatism are more of a lightning rod for satirical humor than the putative relativism of liberal ideologies and, therefore, are more apt to attract comedians who seek to ridicule such absolutism.

While I do believe these reasons valid, I acknowledge that I've not adequately buttressed them here. I also think other factors may be at work. For example, I can't help wondering about all the reasons the second link columnist mentioned in passing in his blurb about Dennis Miller, but then chose not to name.

I would be interested in whether other researchers agree with David Sarokin that there is not, in fact, a dearth of conservative comedians, or, more precisely, a lack of stand-up comics whose principal schtick is that of skewering liberals and liberal ideas.


David Sarokin 


 25 Feb 2012 16:45 UTCSat 25 Feb 2012 - 4:45 pm UTC 


If you haven't come across Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind, you might be interested in some of his material:


He starts off by discussing the different reactions of a liberal and a conservative to seeing Michelangelo's David for the first time.

I don't that he ever explicitly gets to comedy in his work, but it's interesting material, just the same.





 25 Feb 2012 23:13 UTCSat 25 Feb 2012 - 11:13 pm UTC 

Thanks, David.  Haidt's talk was very interesting and led me to look for something else by or about him, finding this:

I think the article makes a couple of points that may be pertinent here: 
that psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists) are overwhelmingly liberal/Democrat.  I would venture to suggest that good comedians have much the same interest in humans and human nature, i.e., that by inclination, like the academicians, they tend to be liberals - open minded. The butt of their jokes is, of course, the conservatives, a large enough group to be fair game.  The conservatives still laugh at the jokes, despite being deprecated, in my interpretation, from their confidence in numbers.  Haidt gives an example that they don't out themselves, when they are in the minority.

Another point is the bias in favor of minorities, some misplaced as the article goes on to explain.  Conservatives feel most places that they are in the majority.  Even if they don't feel protective towards the "weaker" minorities (see the video), political correctness these days precludes poking fun at minorities, unless one is a member of the minority.  Afro-Americans, Jews, blondes, ..., can tell the most unflattering, uncouth jokes about themselves.  It's hard to tell a PC joke with "bite", and it still might backfire.

A final personal thought:  liberals relish in the feeling of being the minority; they would be upset if they were in the majority.  Furthermore, they are diverse target, a much more diverse target than the conservatives.  I think a good joke about liberals would have to pick on a specific group among the liberals, and these days a joke about liberal psychologists might even be non-PC.

On that site, one can click to a link to take Haidt's "Your Morals" test.

Nautico, off thread here, but on another site in an interview Haidt talks about Gay Marriages: 




 26 Feb 2012 19:06 UTCSun 26 Feb 2012 - 7:06 pm UTC 

I think I have been able to come up with my own five reasons for the paucity of conservative comedians, the four that I cited above, with minor edits, and a fifth just added:

1) The performing arts in general are more apt to attract liberals than conservatives to such careers. One might just as well ask why there aren't more conservative folk singers.

2) Conservatives tend to regard stand-up comedy in particular as a frivolous endeavor, one that's not worth either watching or performing, and that they believe may at best trivialize, at worst undermine, the political principles and agendas they hold sacred.

3) Conservatives are not wont to be self-deprecating, an important comedic ingredient. The whole notion of making fun of oneself would be at odds with the business of advancing an agenda based on a self-consciously serious ideology.

4) The absolutist aspects of social conservatism are more of a lightning rod for satirical humor than the putative relativism of liberal ideologies and, therefore, are more apt to attract comedians who by nature seek to ridicule such absolutism.

5) Conservative comedians, to the extent they exist, tend to poke fun at minority stereotypes, which mainstream audiences feel more uncomfortable listening to than to the anti-fat cat rants of their dominant liberal counterparts. The kind of subject matter that could be said to have characterized conservative humor in the 1950s and 60s (“Did you hear the one about the three Polacks?”) is now thought to be either politically correct or taboo and, therefore, neither laughable nor widely marketable.

I believe I'll cancel this question if I don't receive an answer that includes additional reasons by the end of next week. I have appreciated all your comments to date.




 28 Feb 2012 20:42 UTCTue 28 Feb 2012 - 8:42 pm UTC 

A few thoughts:

A) There are a number of conservative stand-up comics, but they are at the blue-collar end of the conservative spectrum, e.g. Jeff Foxworthy's Blue Collar Comedy Tour (also featuring Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable).

B) Dennis Miller's brand of comedy is pretty intellectual, and the limited appeal of that was borne out by his stint on ABC's Monday Night Football.  An imitator would likely run a risk of seeming more elitist than conservative.

C) Conservative speakers such as Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh employ many of the techniques of stand-up comedy without branding themselves in that manner, and instead make outrageous remarks aimed at a kind of "speaking truth to power" rapprochement with their listeners.

D) A survey of conservative viewers of The Colbert Report in 2009 found that a majority of them thought Stephen was on their side.  Need I elaborate?


E) Ventriloquist Jeff Dunham finds a way to channel conservative humor through several of his puppets' personas, e.g. a grumpy old man (Walter) and a (dead) religious fanatic (Achmed).  It would be interesting to research whether this sort of political contrast was a feature of acts in the past.




 28 Feb 2012 21:52 UTCTue 28 Feb 2012 - 9:52 pm UTC 

Mathtalk, you make some good points.

Jeff Foxworthy's good ol' boy, you know you're a redneck if....brand of humor is, for me at least, less conservative than it is cultural, less about national hot button issues than about quaint southern attitudes and practices.

I would remove those from the "comedian" category all who use comedy only incidentally in their roles (some inadvertently!), and that would, of course, include the likes of Limbaugh and Coulter. The periodic snarky utterance does not a comic make.

Almost all humor that's politically driven seems to share one common basis, that "the country has gone to hell in a handbasket." The comedian's sense of his or her own political identity then determines who will be the butt of their jokes.

If you reread my five tentative reasons for why I believe there to be an obvious lack of conservative comedians to balance those with a liberal bent, do you see any of them that don't ring true? Can you think of any other reasons?




 29 Feb 2012 11:46 UTCWed 29 Feb 2012 - 11:46 am UTC 

It's interesting because on the other end of things -- being the target of comedy -- it seems like the stereotype is that conservatives are more game. I think I read one of the Family Guy writers saying that after Rush Limbaugh was on one episode, and I think I've seen where the South Park guys say the same thing about the various public figures they've caricatured.

My favorite political joke is from Lewis Black: "the Democrats are a party of no ideas and the Republicans are a party of bad ideas." But I can see how even that evinces a certain liberal bias while still going for the pox-on-both-your houses impartial angle.




 3 Mar 2012 00:32 UTCSat 3 Mar 2012 - 12:32 am UTC 

@plewis22:  Your mention of South Park reminds me that its creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are self-described as hating liberals.  While they do not self-describe as conservative, they seem in this 2006 interview with Reason to have a degree of comfort with a libertarian label:


Note that South Park and Family Guy are both Fox Network properties, which may have a good deal more to do with the willingness of conservatives to appear (in voice-over) on those programs than the specifics of the shows.  The interview above touches on some of the backroom competition among those and the two other primetime animated shows at Fox (King of the Hill and the Simpsons).




 4 Mar 2012 20:41 UTCSun 4 Mar 2012 - 8:41 pm UTC 

I don't see my getting any closer to an answer to this question.




 6 Mar 2012 20:29 UTCTue 6 Mar 2012 - 8:29 pm UTC 

Finally submitted a final draft:

Why so few conservative comedians?

GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum called conservative polemicist Rush Limbaugh an entertainer who “had license to be absurd sometimes.” Limbaugh himself said he was “attempting to be humorous” in his attack on Georgetown law student and women’s rights activist Sandra Fluke, when he called her a slut and a prostitute. Entertainer? Humorist? This bizarre episode made me wonder yet again why there are so few actual comedians of conservative stripes.

I think I know the reasons, but let’s first define “comedian.” I’m not talking about pundits who inject comedy into their commentaries from time to time, often inadvertently, but about those stand-up comics whose schtick, though not entirely political, usually does include rapier thrusts into the egos of bloviating politicos on both sides of the aisle. That would, of course, exclude Limbaugh and his ilk. 

The butts of their jokes are those in power and those who seek power. Right now the latter translates to the candidates competing in the Republican primaries, and the assault from both late show hosts and stand-up comedians has been both merciless and hilarious. But where are the counterthrusts? Where are the comics who would poke equal fun at our president? Where indeed are the conservative comedians?

The last great Republican comic was Bob Hope, arguably the dominant comedian of the twentieth century and an iconic patriot to boot. His playful jabs at Democrats were legendary, the most famous being the punch line in the following dialogue from “The Ghost Breakers,” a 1940 comedy from Paramount starring Hope, Richard Carlson, and Paulette Goddard:

Bob Hope: “You live here?” Richard Carlson: “Yes.” Hope: “Well, maybe you know what a zombie is?” Carlson: “When a person dies and is buried, it seems a certain voodoo priest will have the power to bring him back to life.” Paulette Goddard: “That's horrible!” Carlson: “It's worse than horrible, because a zombie has no will of his own. You see them some times, walking around blindly with dead eyes, following orders, not knowing what they do, not caring.” Hope: “You mean, like Democrats?”

So, where are Hope’s conservative scions today? I believe five reasons account for the dearth of right-of-center comedians:

First,  one might just as well ask why there aren't more conservative folk singers.  Careers across the spectrum of the performing arts seem much more apt to attract those to the left of the political center. Reasonable people can disagree as to why this is the case.

Secondly, conservatives tend to regard stand-up comedy in particular as a frivolous activity dominated by mean-spirited liberals, one worthy of neither emulation nor retaliation in kind. 

Thirdly, the absolutist aspects of social conservatism are more of a lightning rod for satirical humor than the putative relativism of liberal ideologies. Raw material abounds for liberal comedians who by nature revel in lampooning certitude of any kind, especially the sort that trumpets a cartoonish brand of moral rectitude.

Fourthly,  conservatives are not inclined to self-deprecation, an important comedic ingredient. The whole notion of making fun of oneself would be at odds with the business of advancing an agenda based on a self-consciously earnest ideology.

Finally, the kind of belittling humor that tried to pass for comedy in the 1950s and 60s (“Did you hear the one about the three Polacks?”) has long been thought to be either politically incorrect or taboo and in today’s culture is neither laughable nor widely marketable. Although conservative comedians continue poking fun at minority stereotypes, it’s a theme that mainstream audiences apparently feel less comfortable with than the anti-establishment rants of their dominant liberal counterparts. Perhaps that’s a reflection of our don’t kick someone when he’s down attitude and one probably shared by most Americans.

It may well be that, with the exception of Dennis Miller, the entire population of conservative American comedians is contained within the boundaries of Branson, MO, that entertainment mecca for the pious who deplore the Sodom and Gomorrah that are Las Vegas and Hollywood. Think the likes of Bill Cosby or the late Red Skelton. Still, those rare fauna are not so much overtly conservative as they are simply non-liberal, which is to say neither combative nor obscene. 

I miss Jack Benny.




 7 Mar 2012 10:26 UTCWed 7 Mar 2012 - 10:26 am UTC 

Good, but will you get angry comments from Democrats for the Bob Hope joke, or be blasted by Republicans/conservatives for describing them?




 7 Mar 2012 15:11 UTCWed 7 Mar 2012 - 3:11 pm UTC 

I like it; nicely written.

If I were trying to make a more scholarly argument, I'd start with a pejorative-free definition of liberal vs. conservative.  One that I like is that conservatives are opposed to change (in whatever sphere) and liberals are in favor of change.

Both viewpoints are sensible and valuable at times.  For example, the "if ain't broke, don't fix it" dictum is conservative while "if you don't try new things, you'll miss out on lot of things you'd like" is liberal.

From there you can narrow to a specific arena (politics, culture, etc.).  One sees that conservatism is related to authoritarianism and to reactionary views without being identical to either, however easily confused most of us might be.

Finally it sometimes helps to throw in a cultural reference.  I'm not well-versed in current music/pop culture, but I do recall that the central plot device of Name of the Rose (Italian author Umberto Eco's first novel) is germane.  If you haven't read of the book (or seen the movie), I don't want to say more.

regards, mt




 20 Mar 2012 19:05 UTCTue 20 Mar 2012 - 7:05 pm UTC 

My column was published. Most of the comments that follow it are the kind of cybertroll spewed tripe that's come to characterize all such comment venues.



Roger Browne 


 20 Mar 2012 21:31 UTCTue 20 Mar 2012 - 9:31 pm UTC 

Thanks for taking the time to post the link to your article. Like mathtalk said, it's nicely written. If we weren't able to contribute a lot of insight to your question here at Uclue, it's probably because your own ideas were already well-developed.


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