— Bud Norman
— Bud Norman
The observation is prompted by a story over at the invaluable Bretibart.com’s Big Hollywood site, gloating over the surprisingly paltry ratings for “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” both of which are attracting fewer viewers than such fare as “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” “Bad Girls Club,” and professional wrestling. The paltriness of the shows’ ratings is surprising because both “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” are widely hyped by other media, and their stars are often lauded as the modern days heirs to Jonathan Swift or Mark Twain, but upon reflection it is not difficult to believe that the shows have a limited appeal.
Left-wing humor has been a rather smug and self-righteous genre since at least the late-‘60s heyday of Lenny Bruce, The Smothers Brothers, Dick Gregory, and Mort Sahl, but in recent years it has become especially tedious, predictable, and downright mean. The left-wing comic continues to think himself a brave and intrepid iconoclast, challenging the stale conventions of an uptight and conformist society with devastating wit, but they never challenge the assumptions of their like-minded audiences nor seem to notice that it’s no longer the 1950s and that all of the conventions of that era have already been quite thoroughly demolished. Lenny Bruce did indeed run afoul of the law by dropping a few naughty words into his stunningly un-funny routines back in the pre-cable days, and has been hailed as a champion of free speech ever since, but these days an equally un-funny comic such as the execrable Louis CK can devote an entire set to a stunningly vulgar rant about Sarah Palin’s daughter having Down’s Syndrome and instead of an arrest he gets an invitation to address the Radio and Television Correspondents Association.
The past three years or so have been particularly tough for the left-wing comic, not just because they lost their favorite whipping boy in George W. Bush but because it’s so glaringly absurd for a comic to pose as brave and cutting edge while speaking truth to the out-of-power.
One of the last episodes of “The Daily Show” we bothered to watch was during the early days of the Obama administration, when the euphoria of hope and change was still rampant in the popular culture, and we tuned in merely to see how Jon Stewart would continue his anti-establishment pose now that his hero had become the establishment. The big headline story of that day was Obama’s executive order to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and we were curious to see what humor he might find it that. Predictably enough, the joke was that there were still a few Republicans left in Congress and they were so laughably absurd as to raise questions about the decision. The show aired some footage of a Rep. Pete King wondering if the prisoners would be set free to continue their terrorist activities, transferred to an American prison in a community that would become a natural terrorism target, tried in a court with the defense given access to top-secret anti-terrorism protocols, or some other problematic solution, followed by a cut back to Jon Stewart responding with one of his “can-you-believe-this-guy” stunned expressions. The audience howled at this Swiftian riposte, but we couldn’t help thinking that King had raised some reasonable and not at all funny questions, and we now can’t help noticing that three years later the best and brightest minds of the Obama administration are still trying to come up with better answers than a comically stunned expression.
— Bud Norman