'Can Conservatives Be Funny?' Frank Rich Says No, Insists The Free Market Proves It

Frank Rich, the cultural leftist that used to write Broadway reviews and then opinion columns for The New York Times, writes for New York magazine now. He’s just launched a new 4,000-word opus on the question “Can Conservatives Be Funny?” His cheeky verdict? The free market says no.

Spurred into this task by Rush Limbaugh’s attack on rising CBS late-night star Stephen Colbert, Rich had to admit it’s a desert out there. “Conservative comedy is hard to find on television once you get past the most often cited specimen, Dennis Miller.” Indeed, some Americans haven’t figured out that Colbert’s satirizing a conservative moron.

Rich repeats the standard left-wing trope: that comedians mock the rich and powerful, so conservatives can’t really be effective comedians. “Is the very notion of a conservative comedian an oxymoron, given that comedy by definition is often the revenge of underdogs against the privileged? If the powerful pick on the less powerful, or worse, the powerless, are the jokes doomed to come off as bratty, if not just plain mean?”

Leftists are apparently always the guardians of the underdogs. They are never privileged or powerful or pompous. You can’t really mock this president, because he’s the Underdog President. Any mainstream comedy about Obama still carries the half-embarrassed vibe of We Kid Because We Love You.

Rich also argues that somehow you can’t be a comedian unless you’re hip and favored by the young people (i.e., the Obama-favoring millennials). “The core audience for conservative humor – like Fox News (median age 68) – is not exactly a lucrative demographic for television advertisers.” Meanwhile, Jon Stewart and Colbert have a median age 25 years below that.

But that’s playing apples-and-oranges games. The other cable-news channels -- CNN and MSNBC -- each have a median age of 60.


At age 64, Rich even mocked Fox’s Greg Gutfeld (and his book Not Cool) as out of touch with the youngsters: “If there's one universal rule of comedy, it is, as Gutfeld himself has said, that ‘it's hard to be funny without being truthful.’ But when he jokes that politically correct Americans are relabeling Fort Hood terrorism ‘workplace violence’ and that they would rather use the term "unlicensed pharmacists" than ‘drug dealers,’ he seems to lack any firsthand knowledge of conversation as practiced on the ground in -present-day America. His examples of p.c. speech sound instead like the typically outrageous anomalies unearthed by Fox News. He needs to get out of the studio and meet some young people.”

One glimmer of hope on the TV, Rich reported, was Michael Loftus and his forthcoming syndicated comedy half hour called “The Flipside.” He says Loftus is “genial and smart, if not in possession of a rapier wit.” He quoted a funny line: “Jay-Z complaining about income inequality is like Honey Boo Boo saying television just ain't what it used to be.” But no one knows whether a syndicated show will catch on.

Rich thinks that the “free market” says the well is dry: “If Rupert Murdoch could find right-wing comics who are funny, you could bet he’d make a home for them on the Fox network or FX, alongside his liberal staples ‘Louie,’ ‘Family Guy,’ and ‘Glee’ rather than ghettoize them on Fox News. Most liberals would snap them up too.”

That’s a reference to the very short-lived “Half-Hour News Hour” on Fox News from 2007, which was about as successful as CNN trying a comedy show with D.L. Hughley at the end of 2008.

He then added the right could fund its own comedy regime: “And if wealthy conservatives covet an entertainment platform of their own, they can build it. Glenn Beck, whose own stand-up--comedy tour was something less than a national sensation, is now starting a film division-symbolically enough, at an Irving, Texas, studio where such iconic liberal movies as Silkwood and JFK were shot. If David Koch can underwrite the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center, surely he can pony up for a television comedy studio alongside Comedy Central's ten blocks down Tenth Avenue.”

Rich concluded his “investigation” of conservatives and comedy with Matt Stone, one of the “South Park” vulgarians, who claimed Hollywood just wants to make money, as if politics aren’t in play. Rich added: “Anyone who believes in free markets, as American conservatives profess to, should understand that few markets are as ruthless as show business. It is the customers, not some shadowy conspiratorial gatekeepers, who give comedians the hook – or catapult them into the capitalist nirvana of the one percent.”

It's true that Glenn Beck or the Koch brothers have the funds to create their own comedy operations if they choose. But the powerful, long-established TV networks still currently define how comedy influences our politics, and that’s never left to chance. At present, our major comedy tilts left, just like our major media.

Earlier Bozell & Graham column: Greg Gutfeld's book on Obama and the "hipster elite"

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis