Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Laughter vs. Clapter

 

If your job is to write comedy, there’s only one way to know you’re doing it right: the audience laughs. Lately, though, the problem from some comic writers — on both sides of the fence — has been to deliver a joke that’s actually funny, rather than a joke that just pleases the political outlook of its audience. What happens then isn’t laughter, it’s applause. Or “clapter.”

Tina Fey explains what clapter means in this interview with Reader’s Digest:

RD: What pleases you more, applause or laughter?Fey: Laughter. You can prompt applause with a sign. My friend, SNL writer Seth Meyers, coined the term clapter, which is when you do a political joke and people go, “Woo-hoo.” It means they sort of approve but didn’t really like it that much. You hear a lot of that on [whispers] The Daily Show.

She’s right. Look, we all know that’s basically what the Daily Show is, mostly — a soothing round of clapter for the left. And we’ve complained about it and complained about it, but mostly all we’ve done on our side is deliver up some clapter of our own.

Which is too bad, because done right, comedy can be politically powerful. Once you make a fool out of someone, once you can evoke genuine laughter (as opposed to clapter), it’s awfully hard to take that person seriously again. We haven’t done such a great job at that, on our side. We’ve made each other laugh, of course, but we haven’t yet managed to draw real blood.

This, though, is different. if I could embed it, I would. The immensely clever folks at RightChange.com have done something truly funny, truly witty, and devastating to that useless bag of bones Harry Reid. They’ve turned him into Michael Scott, the hapless and futile character from The Office.

Don’t miss it.

There are 15 comments.

  1. Profile Photo Member

    Woo-hoo.

    • #1
    • September 9, 2010, at 11:05 AM PST
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  2. Pat Sajak Contributor

    Rob, the earliest example of clapter I can remember was from the second Jackie Gleason variety series around 1962. Known as “Jackie Gleason’s American Scene Magazine,” it was done in Miami Beach. The audiences loved him, and they would applaud every line: “Miami Beach audiences are the greatest audiences in the world!” or “How sweet it is!” They would applaud when he did a “take” after sipping from a glass. They would applaud when he came out and when he danced and when he fell and when he rolled his eyes. But they almost never laughed. Even as a teenager, I found it sad that such a great talent was skating through his show.

    • #2
    • September 9, 2010, at 11:14 AM PST
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  3. Mel Foil Inactive

    As the stakes get higher and higher, American politics is getting less and less funny. I don’t know if, like “Hogan’s Heroes,” it’ll take twenty years to be able to laugh about it, but American politics just doesn’t seem very funny anymore.

    • #3
    • September 9, 2010, at 11:21 AM PST
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  4. Rob Long Founder
    Rob Long Post author

    I’ve seen clips of that Gleason show, Pat, and you’re right. Kind of sad and empty. But it did make you realize how incredibly great he was, in his prime.

    • #4
    • September 9, 2010, at 11:28 AM PST
    • 1 like
  5. EJHill Podcaster

    It’s hard to laugh when they’re flushing your country down the toilet, isn’t it?

    The legendary radio comedian Fred Allen insisted that there were only about a dozen jokes period and the secret was to know how to keep rewriting them and still keep it fresh. His good friend Jack Benny had about two or three really good jokes and made it a career, as did George and Gracie.

    The difference back then was is that, more often than not, we laughed at folks like Jack, they weren’t laughing at us and ridiculing us. Their humor was non-partisan and jibed at the human condition. It’s like Bill Cosby talking about parenting. All kids are exactly alike no matter what the color of their skin.

    • #5
    • September 9, 2010, at 11:38 AM PST
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  6. Profile Photo Member

    Jackie Gleason from 1968… decidedly not 1974

    • #6
    • September 9, 2010, at 11:44 AM PST
    • 1 like
  7. Johnny Dubya Inactive

    A lot of the “Bush is dumb” jokes elicited clapter. I think even Bush haters found them tiresome, but they still wanted to show their appreciation. The response became almost Pavlovian.

    • #7
    • September 10, 2010, at 1:15 AM PST
    • 1 like
  8. Duane Oyen Member

    Those Harry Reid episodes need to run on Nevada TV non-stop. The clown needs his time under the Lights Of Ridicule.

    • #8
    • September 10, 2010, at 1:31 AM PST
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  9. Bill McGurn Contributor
    Pat Sajak: Even as a teenager, I found it sad that such a great talent was skating through his show.

    Yes, for those of us who adored The Honeymooners, almost everything that came after was a dud.

    • #9
    • September 10, 2010, at 1:32 AM PST
    • 1 like
  10. EJHill Podcaster
    Bill McGurn Yes, for those of us who adored The Honeymooners, almost everything that came after was a dud. · Sep 9 at 1:32pm

    Gleason was the Orson Welles of comedy. Peaked right out of the box.

    • #10
    • September 10, 2010, at 1:49 AM PST
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  11. Michael Tee Inactive
    EJHill: It’s hard to laugh when they’re flushing your country down the toilet, isn’t it?

    It’s like Bill Cosby talking about parenting. All kids are exactly alike no matter what the color of their skin. · Sep 9 at 11:38am

    Bill Cosby: [after spanking the kids] My wife comes downstairs with a broken stick. She throws it on the table and begins to talk out loud to… NOBODY! “Gonna tell me that you’re not going to do something when I tell you to do something. I mean you MOVE when I say move! Think I carried you in my body for nine months so you can roll your eyes at me? I’ll roll that little head of yours down on the floor. You don’t know who you’re fooling with. I’ll beat you until you can’t grow anymore!”

    • #11
    • September 10, 2010, at 2:40 AM PST
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  12. Andrew Klavan Contributor

    This is a great post, Rob, and I was really chuffed to see what Tina Fey had to say, how much common sense she has. I like Fey’s work a lot. Her writing can be genuinely clever and human. Plus she and Steve Carrell managed to get through that cute “Date Night” picture without a single off-putting political crack and I appreciated it. A lot of people can’t forgive her for her Palin imitation, but frankly, if I looked like Tina Fey, I’d do a Palin imitation too. Also, if I looked like Tina Fey, it’d be easier to get dates. A man can dream can’t he?

    • #12
    • September 10, 2010, at 3:02 AM PST
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  13. Steven Potter Thatcher

    All they need now is a “that’s what she said” joke from Sen. Reid for the episode.

    • #13
    • September 10, 2010, at 5:07 AM PST
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  14. Profile Photo Member

    Hate to be the fly in the ointment, but I think John Stewart is one of the greatest comic performers ever.

    And his writers are close to genius.

    And, over the past year, he has departed significantly from his staunch Left line and really torn into Obama and his hapless crew on many occasions.

    He seems to be more concerned with being funny than with carrying Obama’s Kool-Aid.

    • #14
    • September 10, 2010, at 6:11 AM PST
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  15. Doctor Bass Monkey Inactive

    I always enjoyed Mark Russell’s political satire because he skewered both sides pretty well. You don’t see as much of that now with the hypersensitivity and need to be right trumping being able to laugh at ourselves.

    • #15
    • September 10, 2010, at 12:26 PM PST
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