Opinion » Bill Cope


How conservatives try so hard be funny, but aren't


Last week, my editor forwarded an email he had received from a Fort Worth fellow—an obvious conservative—who was making the case that his writing would be a stellar addition to this paper. His pitch: "My online opinion column has a six-year proven track record of edgy, irreverent and often brazen online-style content, ready and eager to be published in your alternative newspaper as a weekly syndicated opinion column."

And doesn't the flow of just that one sentence make you want to read more?

He (let us call him "Tex") sent an example of his work—a little piece he calls the "The Global Warming Medicine Show." We must assume the title is meant to imply the threat of human-caused climate change is no more real than the tricks of traveling Old West bamboozlers, but we can't be 100 percent certain that's what Tex intended. The article is indeed about how the global warming scare is a hoax perpetrated by "lefty hollowhead Marxist anti-capitalists," but never beyond the title does he make another use of the "medicine show" metaphor. To this writer, that's like naming a book ... say ... Harry Potter and the Soup Ladle of Doom , then never once in the ensuing text mention any sort of soup ladle—either the doom kind or the normal, non-doom kind.

But I didn't call you here today to discuss conventions of sensible writing. Nor am I going to argue with a global-warming denier; I trust them to sound sufficiently ridiculous without any assistance from me.

As I lingered over Tex's opus, though, I couldn't help but notice those places where I'm convinced he thought he was being funny. Don't ask me how I know he thought he was being funny. There was certainly nothing in the results that might lead to such a conclusion. Still, after years of watching conservatives trying to be funny, I believe I have developed an ear for what they hope will get a laugh.

For instance, in one central paragraph, Tex lays out his theory as to why particular people—politicians, climatologists and actors—are tooting the global-warming horn with such urgency. He goes on about how politicians do it for money and power, yada yada, how scientists are doing it for an "academic version" of money and power, yada yada, and finally, how " ... airhead Hollywoodpeckerheads (sic) who emote for a living just don't know any better."

In fairness, Tex didn't advertise himself as funny—only "edgy," "irreverent" and "brazen"—but don't tell me he didn't come up with "airhead Hollywoodpeckerheads" to show his lighter side. I can imagine him trying it out on a couple of buds: "Hey Shorty ... hey Red ... guess what I thought up today. 'Hollywoodpeckerheads!' Like one word. Get it?"

I can even imagine his friends blowing a rich mixture of Coors and snot out their noses in a fit of uncontrollable mirth.

But this brand of humor isn't merely a Texas phenomenon. I would think "Hollywoodpeckerheads" is precisely the sort of thing Bruce Tinsley—creator of Mallard Fillmore and seemingly the Right's favorite cartoonist—might use, if only his cartoons weren't found in venues where "peckerhead" might raise an objection or two. To a guy who considers "It's either a Disney movie or an Obama rally" a punch-line (The Idaho Statesman , March 26, 2008), "Hollywoodpeckerheads" is gold. And just think of the variations: "Ivorytowerpeckerheads" ... "Kennedypeckerheads" ... "Womenslibberpeckerheads!"

Would I be surprised to hear John McCain joke about "(somethingsomething)peckerheads" to loosen up a sympathetic audience?No. Nor would I be surprised if his audience laughed their heads off. After all, this is the man whose idea of funny was singing "Bomb bomb bomb ... bomb bomb Iran" to an old Beach Boys' tune. And wasn't that laughter I heard in the background?

All of this has gotten me to wondering: How can it be that conservative humor seems so funny to conservatives, but sounds like the playground bellowing of little boys to everyone else?

For instance, conservatives still gush over Ronald Reagan as though he were the wittiest leader since Lincoln. Recall how greatly they enjoyed, "Honey, I forgot to duck?" Now, does that seem funny to you? I mean, coming from the mouth of Curly Howard ... maybe. But any Hollywoodpeckerhead can tell you Curly could deliver a line, while Ronnie ... uh, not so much.

I grew determined to learn if this arrested development in the humor glands was as general among our right-wing neighbors as I feared, and Googling "conservative humor" confirmed my suspicions. The first site up was ConservativeHumor.net, and had I gone no further than that site, I would've had ample proof of what an oxymoron the phrase "conservative humor" is. The site begins with a picture of Michael Moore at some sort of ceremony receiving some sort of award, only the picture was reproduced upside down. The caption read, "His best end is upward."

I shall pause here for a moment while my conservative readers catch their breath and wipe the tears from their eyes.

Next to the upside-down Michael was a snapshot of Hillary Clinton with an unflattering expression on her face. No caption. Evidently, the image alone was enough. We may assume the "humorists" behind these postings have not yet risen to that level of sophistication where scrawling goofy mustaches and freaky glasses on portraits is the height of comic art.

Interestingly enough, ConservativeHumor.net included a "credo of site" in which it was declared, " ... liberal domination of political humor must end." I commend them for having the sense to realize that liberal humorists are in command of the field of topical satire, but as Web site after Web site confirmed, conservatives have once again missed the point. Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart ... they aren't getting all the attention simply because they may be liberals. Uh-uh, if their idea of hilarity was saying things like "Bushvotingpeckerheads" or "gunnutpeckerheads," they'd be sitting in a basement, posting on infantile blogs no one reads, just like their conservative counterparts.

The truth is, no comedian, no humorist, no wag or class cut-up ... nobody who is authentically funny is any funnier than the material he or she work with. So cheer up, conservatives. In that sense, you are damn near the funniest thing going. Only, of course, we aren't laughing with you, but ...

Ah, hold on. Let's see if you can get the joke without me having to explain it.