Why does there seem to be a lack of conservative comedy and comedy-news compared to liberal?

dsollen 08/15/2018. 13 answers, 8.215 views
united-states media

In the United States there are a number of liberal comedians which emphasis their liberal status in their comedy, and in particular a wealth of liberal comedy focusing on recent event's/news. To name a few off the top of my head there is "The Daily Show", "Last Week Tonight", and "late night".

I'm unaware of any comedians that emphasize conservative commentary in a humorous manner. I'm aware of comedians who are also conservative, but not ones making regular conservative commentary using humor.

Are there shows like this on the conservative side that I'm unaware of, and if not is there any reason for this to be primarily a liberal/democratic phenomenon?

13 Answers


Brythan 08/15/2018.

Dennis Miller is an openly conservative comedian. He had several television shows, although most have been short-lived since he came out as a conservative after 9/11. His radio show lasted until 2015.

Miller is probably the most political, but there are other conservative/Republican comedians. Ranker.com has a list.

Rush Limbaugh also includes comedy in his show, although it often has a more serious tone. The farding in cars (pronounced like farting) show was pure comedy.

Greg Gutfeld has a comedy show on Fox News. The 1/2 Hour News Hour was supposed to be the conservative version of the Daily Show. Jesse Watters hosts Watters' World, which is one of those reality comedy shows that goes around asking people on the street questions.

It's also worth noting that it is easier to make comedy about the president than other politicians. So liberal comedians are more obvious when it's a Republican president. When it's a Democrat, liberal comedians have a different set of jokes. So right now, it is unsurprising that most people remember the liberal jokes about Donald Trump.

Trump also took advantage of comedy. Is there anyone in the US that does not know that Trump wanted to build a wall, ban Muslims, and Make America Great Again? When liberal comedians pilloried those positions, they also spread them. Hillary Clinton's more nuanced positions didn't draw as much criticism nor repetition.

People also tend to ignore the jokes about candidates they like. This leaves the unpopular Trump an open target. Meanwhile, people forget about fifty-seven states and the objectification of Kamala Harris.

Much of comedy is aimed at twenty-somethings. People at that age tend to be more liberal than their parents and grandparents. For the most part, they pay little in taxes, so they have little concern about what has traditionally been one of the main Republican issues. They aren't the best market for conservative humor. This pushes conservatives into other venues: talk radio (Limbaugh); sitcoms (Tim Allen, Roseanne Barr, etc.); conservative news (Gutfeld, Watters, etc.). Meanwhile the liberals dominate the late night comedy space.

It's interesting that Gutfeld is one of the more libertarian conservatives. Because a lot of comedy is about things that conservatives avoid discussing: jokes about farting and other offensive bodily functions; sex. Limbaugh disclaims the farding/farting comparison now. Howard Stern's view on taxes is quite conservative even while his views on sex aren't.

Perhaps the real problem is that taxes just aren't that funny to people who pay them. So Stern and other comedians don't do a lot of tax humor but do do a lot of not so conservative body humor. If you select a group for their willingness to make body humor jokes, perhaps it is not surprising that their politics are often not conservative.


Carduus 08/15/2018.

A liberal/conservative divide happens between sparsely-populated rural areas and dense urban ones, with the rural settings more likely to be conservative, and the urban ones more likely to be liberal. I won't get into the reasons why that is, but given that mass media has historically required a large number of people with a wide variety of talents that tend to fit better into cities (a stagehand in a small town wouldn't be able to make enough to do that full-time, whereas one in NYC very well could), mass media itself has grown up as a thing of the cities, and thus of liberal thinking.

Humor is by no means a 'liberal' thing, but due to the way a comedian's career tends to play out (larger and larger in-person venues, to TV specials, to fat-man-skinny-wife sitcom, and ideally parlayed into an acting career), it tends to mirror the tendencies in mass media. You are more likely to find an audience that likes your humor in a big city, you are more likely to be paid enough to do comedy for longer periods, and you are more likely to be able to pursue careers that don't focus on general necessities of life (like comedy). So while humor isn't a liberal/conservative thing, the process of becoming a comedian (in the vein of John Stewart/John Oliver/Stephen Colbert) is heavily biased towards those willing to spend their lives in large cities.


PoloHoleSet 08/15/2018.

I'd disagree that it doesn't exist. Certainly, with conservatives being more supportive of established conventions, irreverent humor that tends to be particularly political in how it will mock or skewer those conventions might tend to be a liberal genre. And, certainly, the idea some conservatives espouse that mocking those conventions is a sign of the deterioration of society is going to prevent certain types of self-deprecating humor from being particularly widespread.

There are plenty of comedians who deal with either the excesses of liberalism that are conservatives, themselves. Finding the humor in everyday life, government and relationships wouldn't hold to any particular viewpoint.

Dennis Miller, while some of his rants took a more pointed and seemingly less funny turn, still can see the absurdities in life and society in a funny way, when his focus is on that and not making an angry political point.

YouTube - Weekend Update w/Dennis Miller and Dennis Miller on Gary Hart

Scott Adams, the hugely popular satirist who's Dilbert cartoons mock the silliness of workplace conventions is a decidedly pro-Trump person. Or, perhaps, more of an anti-activist-liberal, but definitely in the conservative or libertarian column.

Dilbert Comic homepage

There are conservative humorists who have shows that skewer the uber-seriousness and contortions that "social justice warriors" sometimes bend themselves into.

Tim Allen is pretty well known for being conservative, and his humor tends to deal with more real-life issues and doesn't dwell overtly on politics.

YouTube: Tim Allen - Men Are Pigs (Stand Up Comedy)

Both Tim Allen and Rosanne Barr have had hugely popular, top of the Nielsen ratings, long-running comedy shows on major networks.

Does it seem like there are more liberal comedians, or they have wider popularity and general appeal? Possibly. That might say something about the comedians, but it might also say something about the audience. If conservatives were more open to all kinds of humor, and liberals had sticks wedged in unmentionable places when it comes to issues more dear to them, it might manifest itself with liberals and "liberal humor" being more widespread and popular, as well.


gerrit 08/16/2018.

A perspective from the United Kingdom.

Since 1990, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has regularly broadcast Have I Got News For You. They ridicule everybody, but as far as politicians are concerned, their more successful guests are more likely to be Conservative than Labour. The Conservative politicians are simply perceived to be more funny, in particular in the great British tradition of self-mockery. Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg and funny and ridiculous, they know they are, and thrive in it. But invite Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell or one of their allies to what is supposed to be a satirical news quiz, and they're going to answer every question with a deeply serious message about how the country needs fixing, and the audience — who are there to laugh — get bored.

I believe that Americans don't practice this art of self-mockery (very well). Would a TV show invite Sarah Palin with the expectation that she makes fun of herself? I don't think so. In the UK, very much so. In a country where people are unwilling to make fun of themselves or their allies, only their political opponents will make fun of them. So that means:

  • In the UK, comedy news shows tend to favour Conservative guests, because Brits make fun of themselves, and Conservatives are more funny.
  • In the USA, comedy news shows tend to be more progressive leaning, because Americans make fun of people they disagree with, and conservative-leaning folk are more funny.

I'm from The Netherlands. In The Netherlands, neither of the above works, because Dutch people mostly aren't funny. There's a (partially progressive-leaning) weekly show called Zondag met Lubach, which tries to mimic the American "late night (comedy) show" concept. It aired some brilliant little satirical pieces such as America First, Netherlands Second, but a lot of the show is not actually comedy.


Laetus 08/16/2018.

The entertainment and media industry is incredibly liberal because the people that work there are incredibly liberal.

Take a look at the chart below, taken from here.

enter image description here

In the end of the day, you cannot reasonably expect a very biased group of people to produce a neutral content. This also explains why there are few prominent conservative leaning figures in those fields.

Of course, you might ask why are liberal people more likely to work in those industries, but that's another question.


j4nd3r53n 08/16/2018.

I have read about several studies of the psychological differences between 'conservatives' and 'liberals'; conservatives apparently tend to be more apt to feel treatened by the new and unusual, where liberals are more willing to play with new ideas. I suppose this is hardly earth-shattering news - it is sort of implicit in the two terms.

Meanwhile, the subjects of humour seem very often to focus on elements of surprise and absurdity - if the above analysis is correct, conservatives would more often feel threatened/offended by it where liberals would tend to be more willing to enjoy the surprise.

I am aware that this sort of micro-explanation is bound to be superficial, but I think it has some merit.


CamaroBro 08/16/2018.

This is due to the monopoly of the mainstream media. Conservative comedians automatically are not going to get the same type of recognition due to the culture of television, and the news. According to briansolls.com, the top 10 news outlets were:

1 – USA Today, 2,113,725, N/A

2 – The Wall Street Journal, 2,082,189, N/A

3 – The New York Times, 1,039,031, 1,451,233

4 – Los Angeles Times, 723,181, 1,019,388

5 – The Washington Post, 665,383, 868,965

7 – New York Post, 558,140, 357, 168

8 – Chicago Tribune, 501,202, 858,256

9 – The Houston Chronicle, 425,138, 583,364

10 – The Arizona Public (Phoenix), 389,701, 516,562

These are just the top 10 news outlets, there are many other liberal news sources that are popular like CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, and MBCSN.

There are also good conservative comedians, they just aren't recognized my the mainstream media because of how our culture works in America. You may see some conservative comedians like Dennis Miller, who has always been a political comedian, but he began to favor conservative comedy following the 9/11 attacks. He used to often appear on Fox News, often agreeing with the network's republican leaning hosts. Jeff Foxworthy is another conservative comedian, and Adam Carolla supported Ted Cruz in the 2015 Republican primaries. Other conservative comedians are Joe Rogan, Larry the Cable Guy, and Tim Allen. But, when you turn on the TV, these people aren't going to be the main talk show hosts. Due to the American Culture.

There also is conservative youtube sensation Louder with Crowder, who I encourage you to check out. He has actually said that youtube attempt to audit him and some of his videos. So when you have a virtual monopoly of the media, this is normally the result putting comedians like Louder with Crowder under the shadow. The virtual media monopoly doesn't include talk show hosts, but this does affect the culture, creating people who are going to likely laugh at Jimmy Kimmel's tonight show jokes about Trump rather than Louder with Crowder's conservative jokes.


userLTK 08/16/2018.

I think some of the answers/comments need to be pointed out as flawed.

"The liberal media", doesn't make sense because TV is a for profit business and if a conservative comedy hour drew enough listeners, it would be aired, in fact, given that conservative listeners tend to be quite loyal, I'd go so far as to say TV stations would fight for the rights to air a conservative comedy hour that drew a sizable audience. Dennis Miller doesn't have a larger audience because he's not very funny. I would add, the Daily show would make fun of a liberal politician in a heartbeat if it made good TV. Would Dennis make fun of conservatives? If he would, I've never heard him do it.

"Punching up vs punching down", in one of the comments. While I absolutely agree with that statement, Obama was president for 8 years. George Soros is a billionaire. Nancy Pelosi was speaker of the house and a powerful congresswoman for decades, successful liberal actors who speak out are, rich and successful. Making fun of any of them IS punching up. It's incorrect to think Republicans/Wealthy are the only ones who are "up" and the only subjects to comedy.

And I tried watching that awful video by Prager U, and while some of his comments were fair, he doesn't understand comedy. Yes, there's political correctness in today's world, but not all comedians yield to political correctness. Many defy it. Political correctness might raise some objections, but some comedians tell the joke anyway and what's funny is still funny, perhaps even more so when it's edgy.

I think all of those answers miss the mark.

What it comes down to is this. Funny is hard and funny is rare. It takes a precise set of criteria to make something funny and it's not easy to do. I've heard it said that Hitler jokes are never funny, and I've never heard a funny one, so, I'm inclined to agree, but John Cleese pulled it off in Faulty Towers. That said, Cleese was brilliant, and they found a clever angle, a guest at the hotel was sensitive, so "don't talk about the war" and one thing lead to another.

But being funny is hard, especially for 4 shows a week.

The essence to this question can be summed up like this. Why is Sarah Palin comedy gold but Nancy Pelosi isn't. Sarah's clumsily worded moments invite mockery and I'm tempted to say, funny stuff, while Nancy's are simply cringe worthy, but not the material of real humor.

Sarah is comedy gold, Nancy isn't. Why is that? Basically this is just re-asking the question, but it helps narrow down what I think is the answer. The criteria for funny is easy to miss and hard to hit. There's a very narrow range where the comedy actually works, draws a sufficient audience and most important, makes people laugh out loud, cause that's what the audience is there for.

The subject is either inside the Goldilocks zone or they aren't and Nancy, or Obama, or other democrats, for better or worse, were never comedy gold. Some of Nancy's comments invited enormous reaction and repetition, but she was never quite right for comedy.

Perhaps, it's not the mistake that's funny, it's covering up the mistake that invites the comedy. That's the Lucile ball principal. It's not getting upset that's funny, it's pretending you're not upset when the audience knows you are.

That said, dissecting what makes something funny is far from a perfect science, and when I tied dumb to funny, people got offended but in a sense, dumb can be funny. There are in fact, several types of funny, some articles say 9, 10, 11, I saw one that listed 20. I still think the answer to this question lies in looking at specifically what's funny and working backwards, because there's a narrow window that actually is funny.

That's my answer. It's not about making big assumptions but about reverse engineering why things are funny. Start with the skit and work backwards and find the elements of humor. The Daily show appears liberal, though I maintain, they would make fun of a liberal politician in a minute if they thought it would get laughs.


blip 08/16/2018.

This Atlantic article mentions a few potential reasons. But first, they make a very important counter-point to many of the theories already mentioned:

Liberal satirists are certainly having no trouble making light of liberal institutions and societies. Portlandia is about to enter its fifth season skewering the kinds of liberals who don’t understand that eco-terrorism and militant feminism may not be as politically effective as they think. Jon Stewart has had success poking fun at Obama’s policies. And Alison Dagnes, a professor of political science at Shippensburg University, has found that the liberal Clinton was the butt of more jokes on late-night shows of the 1990s than either George W. Bush or Obama would later be.

This is an important point that a lot of the other answers are ignoring. "Liberal Comedy" isn't about "mocking liberals". It's about "satirizing politics" and they are as willing to satirize the left as much as the right. And audiences are fine with that. They can appreciate the satire regardless of the target when it's done well.

The article continues. The first theory:

One explanation is simply that proportionately fewer people with broadly conservative sensibilities choose to become comedians. Just as liberals dominate academia, journalism, and other writing professions, there are nearly three times as many liberal- as conservative-minded people in the creative arts according to a recent study.

In summary, there are simply more liberals in the creative arts. Comedy is a creative art.

Theory two:

...The 1/2 Hour News Hour, the first major attempt to create a conservative counterpart to The Daily Show in 2007. It was cancelled after just 13 episodes and has remained the worst-rated show of all time on Metacritic. It was widely panned by critics who complained that it was trying to be political first and funny second, so the jokes were unsurprising and flat.

This could be interpreted a number of ways, but one way to explain that is perhaps they were "trying too hard". Comedy doesn't work well when forced.

Theory three:

Greg Gutfeld, the host of Fox’s Red Eye, can also be funny, but his willing-to-be-controversial style often comes across as more hackneyed than insightful. “You know you’re getting close to the truth when someone is calling you a racist,” he once said. Gutfeld has also railed against “greenie” leftists who shop at Whole Foods, tolerance, and football players who are openly gay. Gutfeld’s shtick works okay during its 3 a.m. timeslot, but a recent controversy over sexist jokes about a female fighter pilot highlighted just how far his humor is from working in prime time.

I think this example falls into the 'punching up vs. punching down' dilema. This article which actually focuses on liberal comics who have punched down and met push back describes that well.

And to continue with theory three, which the article spends the most time dissecting (and I'd suggest is worth a read):

But what is it about political satire that makes it so hard for conservatives to get it right?

 

Political humor, in particular, might have an inherently liberal bias. Alison Dagnes spent years looking into this question for her 2012 book A Conservative Walks Into a Bar. She spoke to dozens of working comedians who self-identified as liberals, and as many who identified as conservatives as she could find. One of the reasons she posits for a lack of conservative satire is that the genre has always been aimed at taking down the powerful, from the Revolutionary War through Vietnam and 9/11. “Conservatism supports institutions and satire aims to knock these institutions down a peg,” she wrote.

This is, essentially, also speaking to the 'punching up vs. punching down' issue.


Machavity 08/16/2018.

It's important to note that a lot of this type of media is produced in California and New York, two deeply blue (liberal) states (both states are considered D +20). So trying to get a strictly "conservative" program means going to regions of the country that aren't going to be initially receptive to that kind of message.

I think a lot of people miss that comedy tends to go after easy targets, however. In other words, despite their liberal bent, conservative humor is still produced, even from liberal sources. At the end of the day, comedy needs laughs, and avoiding great liberal source material would be detremental. Saturday Night Live (famously made in NYC), for instance, opened its post-election episode with their actress portraying Hillary Clinton promising she'd be back. But the first sketch was quite possibly one of the most conservative pieces of humor produced, showing Dave Chappelle (later joined by Chris Rock, an SNL alumnus) openly mocking the increasing derangement of their liberal friends who are stunned at the election of Donald Trump. It's biting satire from a typically liberal source. Even The Daily Show has mocked Democrats.


Paul Smith 08/16/2018.

As a non-American, I would like to offer a different perspective. One of the issues with holding a political position (being 'one of us') is that it becomes easy to cast anybody who doesn't share your position as being 'one of them'. Whether you see yourself as 'conservative' or 'liberal', you start to see everybody who attacks one of your own as being one of the others. However, most of the comedians who had satirized the previous administration are still on air and doing their jobs, satirizing the current administration. They haven't changed their position, but their position is not what you think it is. They are not there to push their personal 'liberal' or 'conservative' views, their job is to highlight and lambast the hubris, insincerity and hypocrisy of those in power, whoever they currently happen to be.

-------------- Updated

Satire: "the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues". If you relate to the people being pilloried 'us', then you tend to call the satirists 'them'. The comedians and their shows are neither left nor right, they are satirists!


agc 08/16/2018.

That's in the nature of comedy itself rather than anything politically topical or contemporary like demographics or whatnot.

Humor exists as a kind of relatably pleasant surprise, even if it's somebody getting run over by a bus -- in the vein of humor what might otherwise be a catastrophe generally seems just on some unspeakable level.

  • Liberalism tends toward novelty, change, and attempts at improvement -- such pursuits are full of surprises, pleasant and otherwise.

  • Conservatism is about keeping to the tried and seemingly true. Conservatism therefore offers fewer surprises of any kind, and banks more on inevitability. Stasis is not the soul of comedy, but without humdrum expectations there'd be no surprises either -- this makes conservatives more natural straight men.

The drama of relatably unpleasant surprises is horror -- most horror movies tend to be about going too far, as with Dr. Frankenstein who goes too far scientifically, or Dracula who goes too far morally, etc. To the extent that liberalism owns comedy, conservatism owns horror.


NB: This is not to say there's no such thing as excellent and memorable conservative humor, just that it's intrinsically less common. Universally admired conservative humor usually would involve some unfortunate change or prophecy that momentarily seems quite inevitable but doesn't really pan out, as with failed or mediocre revolutionaries:

...or dire expectations based on some troubled person's history that are stymied by that person doing well.

Even otherwise dull critics become solid humorists when describing the failings of any particularly unsatisfactory production they've suffered through -- from this comes a kind of critical style of humor, as with the conservative Samuel Johnson.


Sidney 08/16/2018.

I'll add to the pile of existing answers with another one about the psychology of liberalism vs conservationism. I'd like to approach with the idea that entities pushing messages have found the best way to push that message.

Liberal entities (people, organizations, comedians) view themselves as more intelligent and refined than their conservative counterparts -- it's easy to play to that bias by making individuals laugh at the absurdity of backwards conservative actions. You'll notice how most popular Liberal comedians are also part-time journalists, and journalists are part time comedians. By forcing people to laugh at conservatives, this group of liberals enhances viewers liberal bias.

Conservative entities view themselves as more morally upright and just than liberals. By making conservatives angry about Liberal immorality and degeneracy media pushers can reinforce viewers conservative bias. By the same token, most Conservative Moral Authorities are also news outlets, and most Conservative news outlets are also Moral Authorities.

To summarize, Liberal Political Media makes liberals laugh at conservatives and Conservative Political Media makes conservatives angry at liberals. I wouldn't say there is no overlap, but these strategies clearly utilize the psychological differences between conservatives and liberals to push two different agendas.

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