Are Conservatives Not Funny?


On the surface it makes no sense. Why should political ideology affect humour? Why should it be less funny to make comedy on the basis of right-wing conservative politics? Or could it be that this entire line of argument just a left-wing conspiracy?

Let’s not waste time discussing conspiracies. Instead, let us examine the facts and take a look at the hypothesis why right-wing social and economic conservatism would not be as compatible with humour as its political counterpart.

1. Subversiveness
Comedy is inherently subversive. It is often used to poke fun at reality. Social conservatives tend to come out in favour of the social and economic establishment in society, and are often keen to maintain the socio-economic status quo. The anti-elitist character of comedy does not tend to favour conservatives.

2. Progressivism
Comedy is anti tradition. It points out ways things in need of change. It has, to put a finer point on it, the character of progressivism. It tends to attack those who have the power now, and argues the need to change. In this case, the anti-traditional character of comedy does tend to favour conservatives.

3. Absence of Empathy
It might well be argued that comedy, like journalism, is best when it comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. It is certainly partly built on empathy – a quality which is inherently more prevalent on the political left.

4. No Self Deprecation
Comedy is often a coping mechanism for adverse situations. The conservative social and economic elite often stands (or aspires to stand) in contrast to the depressed and poor end of society. As opposed to the socio-economic elite, the downtrodden masses tend to be more prone to self deprecation. On top of that, one of the most well understood characteristics of comedy is that it will always be funnier to poke fun of the ones with power than the ones without.

5. Fear
It could be argued that a great deal of conservatism stems from a fear-based rationale about things. Authority tends to be more important to the political right. Think about the emphasis on family, social and religious authority: parents, police, preachers, the outright and unquestioned authority of these figures tends to be valued particularly in right-wing circles. These authorities need to be respected and sometimes even feared. It is hard to be funny and make sure that people remain afraid. However, in the words of Aasif Mandvi, it could also be that “liberals have a more liberal definition of what’s funny.”

6. Seriousness
Conservatives, especially the religious right, tend to take life and death seriously, and thereby miss the entire point of what makes the circle of life and death comedic – the non-serious, the playful and the sexually deviant.

7. The Truth
Without reality there would be no comedy. If there is no reality to poke fun at, comedy becomes a vacuum. In the end therefore, it might well be that the political right is not funny simply because, in the words of Stephen Colbert, “reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Conclusion
In conclusion, conservatism seeks to preserve power, social class, and tradition; it is inherently non-subversive, non-irreverent, and therefore non-ironic. Humour comes at the expense of power’s sway, it undermines tradition, and revolts at the thought of conformity. Conservatism does the opposite. That’s why there is a strong argument that conservatives tend to be less funny; not because absurdity and hypocrisy – staples of political humour – are often said to be far more prevalent on the political right.

8 thoughts on “Are Conservatives Not Funny?

  1. Thank you, I think so too. Of course, this is merely a hypothesis. Let’s remember, one should never generalise.

  2. That’s interesting, but I tend to disagree. Conservatives often have a great sense of humor. It’s interesting to me that you would speak of conservatives as not subversive, when in fact they have been speaking against the status quo and big government for decades. When it comes to challenging power structures, that is what conservatives are all about, questioning the growth of government and the way the state is encroaching on natural family bonds and individual rights.

  3. I hope you know a lot of people with a great sense of humour.
    Now, let’s look at what you have argued.

    Firstly, “[…] in fact they [conservatives] have been speaking against the status quo and big government for decades.”
    What is this ‘status quo’ exactly? – is it as you say ‘big government’? If so, how exactly does this relate to the point you are making?
    Also, when you are talking about “conservatism is all about bucking the trends” as it were, surely you are not really arguing that conservatism is more ‘anti-tradition’ and ‘anti-establishment’ than progressivism? Now, if it isn’t, this whole line of argument is fatuous.
    Of course I would not dare argue that conservatives do not oppose anything, but that is not the argument here. The argument is about subversiveness, and how conservatives tend to come out in favour of the social and economic establishment in society. Comedy tends to favour anti-elitism, and this in turn does not tend to favour conservatism.

    Secondly, “When it comes to challenging power structures, that is what conservatives are all about […].”
    Well, they are not. Excuse my bluntness. (However, you are right about one thing, left-wing governments tend to be bigger, in the sense that they mainly favour government-regulated healthcare and education and so take on more staff: teachers, nurses, et cetera. Now, whether this is necessarily a problem, is a different discussion.) When you argue that “challenging power structures” is basically a conservative mantra, I would argue you are only talking about challenging government regulations which relate to businesses and the religious freedom of the socio-economic elite. If I am wrong about this, and challenging power structures is indeed what conservatism is all about, how come conservatives do not actually oppose power structures besides a few measly government institutions that tend to ‘interfere’ (whatever that means) with their businesses and churches?
    E.g. How come conservatives do not challenge any (socio-economic elite controlled) financial power structures? How come conservatives do not challenge the religious institutions and dogma of the nation’s elite? How come conservatives do not oppose the restrictions with regards to gay-marriage? How come conservatives do not oppose the legal structures with regards to equal pay for women? How come conservatives tend to come out in favour of more police authority and heavier punishments? How come conservatives tend to come out in favour of implementing more authority on children?
    Let me kindly disabuse you of this notion, conservatism tends not to be about “challenging power structures”; it tends to be about using the government in order to preserve power for the socio-economic elite.
    One can minimise government. One can maximise the powers of big business and the church (to name a for instance). One could even call that freedom. Nevertheless, surely, there can be no doubt that this is rather twisted.
    Of course left-wing governments are going to implement restrictions on a number of things, just like conservative governments; however, to argue that a progressive government is more likely to restrict the everyday lives of people more than a conservative government is an uninformed argument. Having said that, feel free to contradict me.

    Thirdly, how do your arguments – even if they were true at some hypothetical level – undermine what I have argued, i.e. disprove the 7 points I made previously?

  4. “surely you are not really arguing that conservatism is more ‘anti-tradition’ and ‘anti-establishment’ than progressivism?”

    Who is “the establishment” at the moment? It is not tradition, it is actually progressivism. Conservatives are indeed, currently anti-establishment. Hence all the subversive humor.

    “..however, to argue that a progressive government is more likely to restrict the everyday lives of people more than a conservative government is an uninformed argument..”

    Seriously, and with all due respect, it fascinates me that progressive supporters can never see their own authoritarianism. The entire nature of progressivism is restructure society in ways they believe will be more beneficial to people and to use the power of the state to back it up. That is why we have mandated education, mandated vaccines, mandated healthcare. By contrast, conservatives often talk about drowning government in the bathtub. They want less regulations, less government, and more individual freedom.

    The seven points about comedy that you made are very biased. Humor is often subjective. Conservatives frequently tell jokes and laugh. When that happens, ironically it is liberals who seem to loose their sense of humor and become the serious ones.

  5. I am sorry if my reply seems biased. Let’s examine it together and try to find out what is true!

    “Who is “the establishment” at the moment? It is not tradition, it is actually progressivism. Conservatives are indeed, currently anti-establishment. Hence all the subversive humor.”
    Would you say that the socio-economic elite tend to be more left-wing than right-wing?

    “They [conservatives] want less regulations, less government, and more individual freedom.”
    Firstly, and feel free to finally address this argument in your reply, I will reiterate: When you argue that “challenging power structures” is basically a conservative mantra, I would argue you are only talking about challenging government regulations which relate to businesses and the religious freedom of the socio-economic elite. If I am wrong about this, and challenging power structures is indeed what conservatism is all about, how come conservatives do not actually oppose power structures besides a few measly government institutions that tend to ‘interfere’ (whatever that means) with their businesses and churches?

    E.g. How come conservatives do not challenge any (socio-economic elite controlled) financial power structures? How come conservatives do not challenge the religious institutions and dogma of the nation’s elite? How come conservatives do not oppose the restrictions with regards to gay-marriage? How come conservatives do not oppose the legal structures with regards to equal pay for women? How come conservatives tend to come out in favour of more police authority and heavier punishments? How come conservatives tend to come out in favour of implementing more authority on children?

    (Of course, I am not talking about the extreme right of the political spectrum, like fascism, nor am I talking about the extreme left, like communism. I am talking about mainstream liberal and conservative politics.) Having established that, would you be prepared to argue that conservative governments tend to legislate less restrictions to personal freedom? If so, how does this square to the examples I have provided?

    “The seven points about comedy that you made are very biased.”
    You are welcome to claim this, but why is it true? i.e. Why are the seven points biased exactly? Better still, why are they untrue?

  6. Why are the 7 points untrue? Well, I never said they were false, just biased. For example, in order to be perceived as subversive and therefore humorous, you have to be willing to understand who holds the power, who we are being subversive towards. Progressives seem unable to perceive that the State, our elected officials, themselves, are authoritarians. When conservatives quite humorously speak truth to power, progressives don’t perceive it as being subversive because progressives do not realize that they have become The Man we are all laughing at.

    When you talk about the socio-economic-conservative-elite, I suppose you are talking about George Soros, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates? It really is a bit humorous to realize how easily people have been led to believe a meme, conservatives are for the rich, progressives are for the poor. I’m really not sure if we should laugh or cry over the fact that it’s a meme that’s been sold to us by some of the wealthiest people in America?

  7. First of all, (we seem to be drifting a little, but nevertheless) are elected officials necessarily authoritarians? What are authoritarians exactly? If elected officials are necessarily authoritarians, in that case all non-elected officials are authoritarians as well. Which seems to be a rather anarchistic point of view.
    Interestingly, you fail to answer the second question in my previous reply again. Feel free to do so.
    Now, let’s look at your reply:

    “Why are the 7 points untrue? Well, I never said they were false, just biased.”
    Correct me if I am wrong, but you appear to state that my argument is not untrue, only biased. However, you then continue trying to prove that I am indeed wrong about subversiveness and the definition of the socio-economic elite. This is not a question, merely a remark.

    “When you talk about the socio-economic-conservative-elite, I suppose you are talking about George Soros, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates?”
    I sense some sarcasm here, however I wonder whether it is justified? I fear you may be under the impression that you have made a valid point by listing three rather wealthy individuals (three, that is, out of the several million US individuals who earn over $250,000 a year) who happen not to be conservative supporters.
    Like the first question I asked in my previous reply – which I think you dodged in your latest reply – are you prepared to state that the socio-economic elite tends to be progressive and liberal?
    Please note that it is not my intention to stereotype. Hence the phrase ‘tends to be’.

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