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‘Creating Oneness’ through Progressive Comedy

Netroots Nation is an annual conference for online progressive activists. Over the past few days, the group held their ninth annual event in Detroit — America’s finest example of unchecked liberal policy.

Unbeknownst to the organizers, I attended the conference to see what the other side thinks about economics, education and the midterms. If their presentation on comedy is any guide, conservatives don’t have much to fear.

“The Left is supposed to be funnier than the Right, damn it,” the panel description stated. “So why do we so often sound in public like we’re stiltedly reading from a non-profit grant proposal?”

This defensive tone was apparent throughout the hour-plus session, brought up repeatedly by speakers and audience members. Much like a co-worker who doesn’t get anyone’s jokes but insists, “I have a great sense of humor!”

After futzing with computers for 10 minutes, the panel’s four comedians showed highlight reels, with one apologizing for the lack of audience laughs. (Her show was made for the web, you see, so it doesn’t have cues for laughter like television does.)

The crowd was most pleased with Russia Today’s Lee Camp, whose video mocked America’s regressive attitude on gays and oil drilling without noting he gets his paychecks from Vladimir Putin.

“Comedy creates oneness and that is what our side wants,” according to Julianna Forlano, host of a news parody without laughter cues called “Absurdity Today.” She noted how her stand-up performance even created “oneness” at a Pennsylvania Elks Lodge, despite the crowd being filled with racist men (she could tell they were racist from the animal heads displayed on the walls).

Katie Halper agreed with her fellow white comic that racism is endemic in their industry. “When the right says we have no sense of humor, it’s a great way for racist/sexist/homophobic men to make themselves seem funny.” Halper is a founding principal of Qualified Laughter, a production company “dedicated to comedic social justice media.”

Halper expressed concern that far too many comedians cross the line with offensive jokes. She listed several types of jokes that no one should tell; anything involving a “disenfranchised population” is off-limits.

Elon James White, creator of the web series “This Week in Blackness,” grudgingly admitted the obvious: “There is a segment of the left that is humorless.” He then lambasted African-American SNL writer Leslie Jones for telling jokes that invoked slavery.

Forlano agreed it is important not to tell jokes that reference ugly historical crimes, sexism or racism. “Sure, it might get a laugh — if that’s what you want.”

To ensure a joke isn’t unintentionally offensive, Forlano even recommended running it by a professional comedian first. Everyone on the panel agreed. “There is a difference between a comedian who covers politics,” she said, “and a comedian who is an activist.” Forlano prefers the latter.

The audience had several questions about what they were allowed to joke about and even how comedy works. A white septuagenarian proudly stated that she no longer tells jokes to black people because that might expose them to unwitting racism. Camp and White sadly noted that her preface of “I’m not a racist, but…” confirms that she is, in fact, a racist.

Another audience member asked how progressives can shut down funny, effective lines coming from the right on talk radio, blogs and Twitter. “The right has short, pithy things to say because they lie,” Halper replied.

She explained that clever jokes by conservatives aren’t actually funny because such people lack empathy and nuance. “Progressives are more nuanced, statistically speaking,” Halper said. The science is settled.

According to one audience member, “what makes Jon Stewart brilliant is that he only has to say the first line and the audience starts laughing because they already know the punchline.” There was general agreement that more young people should get their news from Stewart, Stephen Colbert and YouTube clips from the panelists.

As the session ended, audience members quickly walked toward the door. “Well, that was very funny,” a stone-faced woman said to a friend.

  1. MLH

    From Merriam-Webster online: 
    1 fun·ny adjective \ˈfə-nē\
    : causing laughter
    : odd or strange
    : not well : somewhat ill

    So, um, which are they? 

  2. Mark Wilson

    MLH:

    From Merriam-Webster online: 1 fun·ny adjective \ˈfə-nē\ : causing laughter : odd or strange : not well : somewhat ill

    So, um, which are they?

    See, this is an example of how “The right has short, pithy things to say because they lie.”

  3. Peter Wicks

    It’s a sad thing to encounter a person for whom “This is funny” really means “I approve of this message.” How much sadder it must be to be such a person.

    Two quotations on related themes. The first is from an old essay by Florence King:

    “The women-and-wit conundrum came to a head in a 1976 book called The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation by Janice Delaney, Mary Jane Lupton, and Emily Toth. In a chapter on menstruation jokes, this earnest trio came up with one of the finest oxymorons of all time: ‘We would like to think that feminism will help women develop a different sense of humor, one that is warm, loving, egalitarian, compassionate.’ That’s like telling people to have calm orgasms.”

    The second is from Peter Cook. When asked about his reasons for starting his nightclub featuring ‘satirical’ acts, The Establishment, Cook explained that he had been inspired by “Those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War.”     

  4. Mike Rapkoch

    Ha! Ha! Ha! By that I mean the Sandra Fluke picture. I’m guessing she hasn’t laughed since she was tickled at age 1. 

    But seriously. The science is settled, John. Leave it to the left to submit humor to statistics and sensitivity.

  5. Al Sparks

    I read a biography of Gouverneur Morris, I think by Richard Brookheiser, a few years back.  Morris was known for his ribald sense of humor.  But the author also said that most, if not all the Founding Fathers were humorless.  I don’t how he concluded that, but that assertion has always stuck with me, that people today’s conservatives generally admire and who many liberals don’t, didn’t have senses of humor.

    It’s ironic.  I guess they were very serious men.  Perhaps it’s the risks they took to found our country.  Maybe revolutionaries, by their very nature are serious.

    I’d also say that the hard left would consider themselves revolutionaries, though they hardly are taking the same risks the Foundes were.

  6. MLH

    Mark Wilson:

    MLH:

    From Merriam-Webster online: 1 fun·ny adjective \ˈfə-nē\ : causing laughter : odd or strange : not well : somewhat ill

    So, um, which are they?

    See, this is an example of how “The right has short, pithy things to say because they lie.”

     Touche’
    (Oops. There I go again.)

  7. Larry3435

    “comedic social justice media.”  Now that’s funny!

  8. Yeah...ok.

    I thought one of the advantages of ONLINE anything was the reduced possibility of going to places like Detroit.

    Jon, did you have to buy a ticket? How does one gain entrance to such an event?

    Most of my lies fail to produce laughter.

  9. Mike LaRoche

    Larry3435:

    “comedic social justice media.” Now that’s funny!

     That sounds like it could be the title of a class at Patrice Lumumba University.  Or Berkeley.

  10. Nick Stuart

    Bad enough National Review assaults me with a photo of Barack Obama any time I visit their site. Now Ricochet is hitting us with Sandra Fluke. 

    Bear with me while I repeat a post from the grooveyard of forgotten favorites

    There was a young woman named Fluke
    Who ardently loved a good [CoC-non-compliant word]
    But she wouldn’t descend
    Her own money to spend
    Someone else with her tab should be stuck

  11. Susan in Seattle

    I hope that at least you got some decent swag.

  12. Vance Richards

    If this video came out of the Netroots conference, then I would say they know quite a bit about being funny.

  13. doc molloy

    According to one audience member, “what makes Jon Stewart brilliant is that he only has to say the first line and the audience starts laughing because they already know the punchline.”

    They’re programmed. Can’t they think for themselves and the answer in no because they are liberal/ progressive/ social justice/ cause prone ninnies.. “Progressives are more nuanced, statistically speaking,” That explains it.

  14. Edward Smith

    George Washington, perhaps more when he had his teeth out, because they really did cause him a lot of pain, loved a good joke.

    I suspect that John Adams had a sense of humor all his own, and that Thomas Jefferson might actually have appreciated it.

  15. Edward Smith

    NEVER, EVER POST A PICTURE OF SANDRA FLUKE ON THIS WEBSITE AGAIN!

    The lenses of my glasses are plastic and designed to be resilient, but cracks started to appear in them because they were forced to transmit that image.

    Luckily my eyes started to tear up they way they do when you you been cutting onions for an hour or so, so there was no permanent damage to my eyes.

  16. Eustace C. Scrubb

    “Comedy creates oneness and that is what our side wants”

    Um…If you’ve created ‘oneness’, there are no sides.

  17. MJBubba

    nuance.

    That is what keeps Ricochet going.   The quest for nuance.

  18. doc molloy

    MJBubba:

    nuance.

    That is what keeps Ricochet going. The quest for nuance.

     Who knew nuance like I know nuance oh oh oh what a word..

  19. Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    Edward Smith:

    NEVER, EVER POST A PICTURE OF SANDRA FLUKE ON THIS WEBSITE AGAIN!

    The lenses of my glasses are plastic and designed to be resilient, but cracks started to appear in them because they were forced to transmit that image.

    Luckily my eyes started to tear up they way they do when you you been cutting onions for an hour or so, so there was no permanent damage to my eyes.

     Oh, come now. She is not  that  bad looking. My first thought was, “She seems to have lost some weight.” And maybe she could use a less-saggy bra.

  20. Michael Stopa
    C

    Jon, great post! Great *topic* for a post…very thought provoking.

    Maybe not all of it but a lot of great humor is essentially cruel…from the Coyote chasing the Road Runner over a cliff to Monte Python and the Holy Grail (“blue….No YELLOW!”) you have to be comfortable with watching someone be smashed in order to laugh…just think of your favorite Helen Keller joke.

    But (as P.J. O’Rourke, one of our best, once noted) liberalism is sooo sanctimonious. They live the culture of victimhood. Maybe too many liberals have spent too much of their time being the butt of jokes (as adolescents, say) to ever really laugh a healthy laugh again.

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