Liberal satire takes the limelight, so why no jokes for the GOP?
The Santa Clara
February 1, 2018
It’s a common belief among conservatives that the media actively censors their views. Rather than arguing that they are overtly censored, the right wing sees the overrepresentation of leftist views as a kind of censorship. Most noticeably, liberal politics reign supreme in the popular genre of late night political satire. Programs such as “The Daily Show” or “Last Week Tonight” take complex political topics and break them down in a palatable way for a broad audience while peppering the host’s narrative with satirical humor.
In 2015, journalist Oliver Morrison presented an idea in his 2015 article for The Atlantic, “Waiting for the Conservative Jon Stewart,” stating that much of conservative theory in our society inherently supports the powerful. So mocking the people who lose when conservatives win can come off as additional, unnecessary bullying or gloating.
In contrast, when Trevor Noah pokes fun at the rich and powerful, he comes off as if he’s sticking up for the little guy.
American culture loves people who stick up for the little guy. Perhaps this phenomenon is a result of the revolutionary war that occurred at the nation’s founding. To be American—specifically a funny American—is to be the scrappy rebel taking on the big empire.
Three years and one new president after Morrison’s article, it’s time to take another look at why right-wing politics haven’t taken to the networks. If Donald Trump and conservative ideology could gain enough support to win a presidential election, there must be a market for conservative programming.
One of the first attempts at tapping into this market was “The ½ Hour News Hour,” which ran for one season as part of the Fox News lineup in 2007. “The ½ Hour News Hour” featured skits and commentary from the hosts. While the show was a complete failure critically, it became one of Fox’s most viewed programs. Fox canceled the show for cost reasons, according to the New York Times.
More successful than “The ½ Hour News Hour” is “The Flipside” with host Michael Loftus, which has run a weekly program since 2014 and featured similar content to “The ½ Hour News Hour.” “The Flipside” is currently only available through YouTube, Spectrum and Vimeo. It is also listed in TV Guide, but there are no scheduled showings.
The premise of the show was this: “There are a lot of conservatives in the U.S., and they like to laugh, so there’s probably a market for a rightleaning version of Comedy Central’s offerings,” said The Week in its review of the show. Loftus might have overestimated that market—critics have made it clear that “The Flipside” is just not really that funny. But, according to The Guardian, Loftus “thinks a wave of conservative satire is ‘bubbling under the surface.’’’
While I agree with Morrison’s theory about the failure of conservative political satire, I think the divide between liberal and conservative humor goes deeper than positions of power. It’s a matter of the process of constructing left and right political beliefs.
The best jokes have a bit of truth to them. Conservatism doesn’t really benefit from pointing out the true, harsh realities of society because those truths often point out flaws or moral ambiguities in conservative theory. It’s hard to turn the truth of, for example, systemic poverty caused by a social system that supported by conservative thought into a joke.
Stephen Colbert, host of “The Colbert Report” and “Late Night with Stephen Colbert” put it best at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner: “Reality has a wellknown liberal bias.”
However, as a left-leaning person, I need to acknowledge the bias that I hold. It’s easy for me to accept that the failings of right-wing political satire are a result of their ideology.
Rather than an issue of ideology, perhaps comedians such as Loftus are hindered by a lack of marketability. After all, today many people receive a large amount of their news solely through social media. The writers of “The Flipside” just might not be writing jokes that translate well into shareable Facebook videos.
Maybe Loftus is correct and it is just a matter of time before conservative comedians find a way to compete with liberal late night TV.
However, if past trends are anything to go by, satire will remain the domain of liberal comedians poking fun at the big, bad GOP.
Contact Ethan Beberness at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.