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 15:26 UTCSat 25 Feb 2012 - 3:26 pm UTC
A guaranteed $10 tip for an acceptable answer of five reasons.
25 Feb 2012 15:30 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.
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.
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?
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.