Can Conservatives Be Funny?

That’s the question Andrew Sullivan is asking. Here’s my response to his contention that conservatives no longer have a sense of humor and liberals do:

While I agree with your point, I think the psychoanalysis claiming that conservative can’t be funny is way off. It used to be the other way around. Ronald Reagan had a fine sense of humor. So did Bush 41. I remember going to Republicans events in the 90′s and finding people who were optimistic, upbeat and humorous. Conservatism has always had its humorists — O’Rourke, Mencken, even Twain* to some extent in his way (although they tended to be more of a libertarian bent). Hell, back in the 90′s, Rush Limbaugh was consistently hilarious. I swear.

(*I’m sure a lot of people will balk at the idea of Twain as conservative. Certainly he was anti-religion and anti-bigotry. But he was deeply distrustful of people in positions of power. It is, after all, Twain who said that all kings is mostly rapscallions. I wonder what he’d say about our current leaders.)

A big reason for this was that, until the 90′s, liberals were in power, so conservatives were outsiders. And liberals were just so silly and made for such easy targets. I remember, as I came of political age in the 80′s and 90′s, being surrounded by dim humorless liberals who would occasionally do a painfully unfunny roast for a retiring senator or something. They were all so deadly serious about everything, so *concerned*, so wracked with that aggravating mixture of moroseness and self-righteousness that surrounds true believers.

I’m not sure when things changed, but I agree with your reader who cited Bill Hicks: it is the rise of fundamentalism that has drained the humor out of the Right. And when the talk shows hosts were invited into the halls of power, they lost their satirical bite. Moreover, the Left has moved away from the absurd sanctimony of the 80′s and 90′s. These days it is the GOP that spends all their time wailing and gnashing their teeth about things no sensible person would bat an eye over (e.g., gay marriage, the various notroversies surrounded the President). These days it is the Right who are so sanctimonious and self-righteous. Nowhere is this more visible than Limbaugh, who has become painfully unfunny, as the Sandra Fluke thing demonstrated. By contrast, the Left is … well, not sensible … uh … maybe a bit less silly … about certain things.

Maybe a lot of conservatives don’t have a sense of humor now. But it was not always so.

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