For reasons that I don’t fully understand, conservatives have a hard time being funny, at least about politics. (That’s not the same as saying they have no sense of humor. In my experience, they can be as funny as anybody on other topics. A couple of my funniest friends have been conservative — just not on politics.)
My working theory is that humor is largely based on presenting familiar things from a different, unexpected perspective — as a comic, you’re always looking for that “I never thought of it that way” insight — and different, unexpected perspectives are not a conservative strong point.
Whatever the reason, the disparity is pretty glaring. Look at the success of politically themed humorists such as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and Bill Maher on the left — there’s a lot of fame and money awaiting someone who can be equally witty on the political right. Yet nobody has emerged to fill that lucrative vacuum.
(And if you bring up Dennis Miller as your counter-example, I would say thank you, I rest my case: Conservatives have a hard time being funny about politics.)
Some on the right do excel at humor of the inadvertent sort, in which they’re funny precisely when they’re not trying to be funny. Sarah Palin, for example, comes across these days as a Colbert-type, too-far-out-there-to-be-real caricature in which everybody is in on the joke except poor Sarah herself. Frankly, the sadness of that destroys the fun for me. I’ve never been a fan of humiliation humor.
For deadpan unintentional humor, we do have Ted Cruz, the one-man filibuster and late-night king of comedy.
Those moments of attempted hilarity came back in 2013, when Cruz launched a 21-hour, 19-minute melodramatic protest trying to block a Senate vote on a funding bill So it was worth a wry giggle this week when Cruz was asked how Congress could break the current stalemate over funding of the Department of Homeland Security.
His stern-faced answer?
“The answer is for Senate Democrat not to be obstructionists.”
Ted Ted Ted Ted Ted….
House Speaker John Boehner, the son an Ohio bar owner, at times shows some chops at barroom humor. In private, I’m told, he can be quite funny and cutting. His best public moments, though, have come out of exasperation with his fellow House Republicans. He once joked that things had gotten so bad in the House, he couldn’t get enough votes to make Mother Teresa a saint. And then there was this priceless moment:
Not surprisingly, barroom language is also a Boehner specialty, and in a remarkable feat of investigative journalism, the Washington Post this week attempted to find a correlation between the degree of foul language used by Boehner and the degree of frustration that he feels. No correlation seems apparent, although the effort was worthwhile nonetheless:
The inspiration for the chart came when Boehner, like Cruz, was asked this week how Congress is going to break the stalemate over immigration and Department of Homeland Security funding.
“Why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they’re going to get off their ass (Note: That would be an “A” word) and do something other than to vote no?” said the speaker.
He didn’t mean it to be funny, but context is everything. Coming from a speaker who has presided over by far the least productive era in U.S. congressional history, a speaker who has now scheduled 56 totally futile floor votes to say “no” to ObamaCare without a single committee vote on a plan to replace it, well, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over that one.
I do know that the choice that Boehner is trying to force upon the Senate and President Obama is distinctly unfunny. “The House did its job,” Boehner insisted in that same press conference. “We won the fight to fund the Department of Homeland Security and to stop the president’s unconstitutional actions. Now it’s time for the Senate to do their work.”
In other words, if Obama doesn’t resume the forced mass deportation of the so-called “Dreamers” — kids brought here illegally by their immigrant parents, kids who have known no country but this one — Boehner and his colleagues will shut down a major department of the federal government. I know of no perspective from which that is a laughing matter.