Tool Time

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Memo to Doug Giles: YOU ARE DUMB.

But you're funny. Never doubt that you're funny. Sure, it's not the way you think or wish you were, but the point of comedy is to get a laugh, and concerning yourself with the picky details of how you pull it off is like asking a centipede how it keeps all those legs straight. Best not to think about it.

Giles writes for Townhall.com, a right-wing blog that's made more than its fair share of appearances in this space, and his latest column is about why conservatives are losing the comedy wars. The simple answer is that conservatives aren't funny, but the reality is much more complicated.

There are all kinds of conservative comics out there. The Blue Collar crew. Dane Cook. The entire on-stage population of Branson, Missouri. Every non-Carlin over 60. I'd go so far as to say that Lisa Lampinelli and Carlos Mencia are conservative comics. And lots of these people are popular and do quite well, even though they're a veritable cavalcade of inability-to-crack-me-up.

But they're not political comics. More specifically, they're not Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert. And that's what Giles is getting at. Why isn't there someone doing what THESE guys do, only from a right-wing point of view, garnering the critical and popular acclaim that these guys do? It's rank envy, but let's not be surprised. The only conservative value held more deeply than "don't let anyone else have what I've got" is "I need whatever they've got".

The problem, of course, is that Giles suffers from a deep misunderstanding of what comedy is, how it works, and what the Stewarts and Colberts actually do all day before taping. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"The liberals, on a 24/7 basis, are tossing us soft balls that we should be driving out of the park in a humorous, prime time, way. It’s so easy it’s stupid. All we have to do is just read the crap that the left does, out loud, and it’s hilarious. We don’t even have to be that imaginative and try to develop quips, as they provide an endless supply of ammunition. We couldn’t make up the stuff they do even if we wanted to—no one on the planet is that creative."

And that is why you fail. I'd love to see Giles take his "Wacky Liberals Do This" routine before any audience in the country. I mean, even Larry the Cable Guy knows it's not that easy. Five minutes on stage and Giles would know what suicide bombers feel like. Because even basic absurdity-identification comedy aimed squarely at the choir requires some context-building and joke-crafting. That's why this column isn't just a link to what Giles wrote. I make the bare minimum of effort, which is beyond what Giles thinks is necessary.

And speaking of what Giles thinks is necessary, he's actually deluded enough to believe that conservative comedy is hamstrung by its own conscience:

"Well, I think they’re too nice. They don’t really set the hook. They don’t really deliver the dig. For some reason, the laughmeisters of the Right are PC addled. Fear of negative press has gripped most of our funny men and women. When one is worried about what others will think they cannot really queue up to deliver a scorching and hilarious screed aimed at deflating whoever they’re after. Political correctness kills the comedian’s ability to say what needs to be said and how they need to say it. If conservatives want to compete comically they’re going to have to get raw. I’m talkin’ gloves off UCF slugfest funny."

The great thing about that idea is that it's almost true. Well, except for "UCF slugfest funny". The Ultimate Fighting Championship league, in addition to knowing what order its initials go in, knows it's not trying to make people laugh. But the rest of it has a sort of quasi-truth to it.

If conservative comics really were this bunch of timid nancy-boys afraid of offending anyone, that would be a huge barrier to their comedy. It isn't the case, of course. Conservative comedy's problem is not that it doesn't pick on people. Giles, like all conservatives, desperately needs to believe that power imbalance doesn't matter. But it does. That's why Ted Haggard's downfall was funnier than Matthew Shepard's. It's not political correctness that keeps the picking on the weak and downtrodden from being funny. It's the fact that most of the audience is relatively weak and downtrodden too.

The other problem with Giles is that his comedy priorities are all fucked up. Yes, Jon Stewart is a liberal. But he's a comedian first and a liberal second. You go where the joke is. You don't go to a barren comedy wasteland and try to put up a shack. Agenda comedy forgets that at its own peril, as does Giles:

"In regards to the secularists and their jacked up notions of where they’d like to take America, when the killer conservative comedians come forth and deftly employ their craft, I believe they will sway, through laughter, tens of thousands of ideological fence straddlers that are just waiting for us to get more hip and lighten up a bit. Comedy is a tool the conservatives have got to champion and use against the secularists tools on the left."

Any conservative who goes out there thinking of themselves as a tool will prove themselves right. Comedy isn't an agent for change. If it were, Jon Stewart would have cost Bush the election in 2004. Stewart's not just being modest when he says The Daily Show is just a stupid basic-cable comedy show. He knows he's not trying to sway ideological fence-straddlers. Because that's not funny. Watching someone try to sway ideological fence-straddlers and falling flat on their ass in the process, however, is fucking hilarious. And thus, so is Doug Giles. Whether he means it or not.