At this very moment in Bizarro World, a selfish Swedish teenager is flying around the world trying to create the world’s largest carbon footprint; WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann is being hailed as the next Bill Gates; and Netflix’s “The I-Land” is a shoo-in for best series at next year’s Emmy Awards. Oh, and Shane Gillis has just inked a lucrative five-year deal with Comedy Central to star in his own TV show.
If you’re unfamiliar with the name Shane Gillis, welcome to the club. His life span at “Saturday Night Live” was so short, even mayflies were wincing. He lasted less than a week at the NBC comedy institution, being fired in mid-September after racist and homophobic material he had previously broadcast showed up on (where else?) Twitter.
Gillis tried to defend himself and even had some backers in the comedy world — although very few were willing to go on the record to defend his words, which definitely belonged to an earlier age: Palaeolithic at the very latest.
What was most interesting about the move to hire the podcast star (yes, that is a thing) was that it was a bid by “SNL” to broaden its audience (and humor, presumably) by hiring a “conservative” comedian — in much the same way as it hired female black comedians a few years ago to address another obvious void on the show. (Amazingly, it is only six years ago that Kenan Thompson was expected to don a dress and play the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou, due to the absence of black women on the show.)
That move to hire a right-wing comedian is one that should be applauded. Next time though, “SNL,” try to find someone who hasn’t got as many skeletons in their closet as an osteology department.
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Seriously, we all need more conservative comedians in our lives — and that is not a reference to jokers on the Fox network like Tucker Carlson, Lou Dobbs or Laura Ingraham. If you want to break Google, just do a search for “funny right-wing comedians”; you’ll get more results typing in “Michelin-star restaurants in North Korea.” They are out there, just not on the shows or channels that I’m watching.
Conservatives, please tell me, what do you watch for laughs while the rest of us are fed a never-ending stream of gags about “your” politicians, commentators and heroes? When John Oliver, Bill Maher, Trevor Noah et al take aim at President Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence and Co., what are you tuning into and laughing at — especially now the National Rifle Association’s NRATV has been shot down?
What does it say about television in the 21st century when the funniest conservative figure on it was a fictional blowhard? Sure, the crazed right-wing musings of Stephen Colbert on “The Colbert Report” were hilarious, but probably only to liberals. The joke was always at the right’s expense, and that really can’t be healthy in a world where we are all looking to unwind, decompress and, for however briefly, laugh our cares away.
There was a time when television wasn’t quite so partisan. Only a decade ago, The Atlantic was being forced to ask “Which way does Leno lean?” as it speculated what side of the political map the “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno was on. Compare that to “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” when the only question is whether the host is more for Bernie or Biden.
Late night U.S. shows in particular have become a smoke-blowing exercise for the woke. Yet we also need comedians who can prick our own pomposity as much as we need some in our bubble — a Bill Hicks-type to go with the Bill Mahers, perhaps.
How does it help us understand those on the other side of the political divide when television becomes the preserve of the deplorables-mocking intelligentsia, and broadcast right-wing comedy remains rarer than a fan of the “Game of Thrones” denouement?
And yet good right-wing comedy does exist, because I have heard it with my own ears — and a very jarring experience it was too.
The BBC has a radio comedy institution called “The News Quiz” (I guess the American equivalent would be NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”), in which comedians answer topical questions about the week’s current events. It’s always a highlight of my week, and a surprise joy now is when one of the panellists is that lesser-spotted creature, the funny right-winger.
One of the comedians on a recent show admitted to voting “leave” in the European Union referendum of 2016, and the middle-class audience reaction — a gasp of astonishment — was funny in itself.
On his official website, the comedian in question, Geoff Norcott, describes himself thus: “Operating outside the usual comedic commentary on politics and social issues, Geoff has carved a real niche for himself.” Yes, a conservative comedian. And despite living on a planet where probably half of the people might share his views, he works in a world where he is almost unique. That’s probably why his humor seemed so fresh and different, even if you don’t agree with his politics.
If I were Rupert Murdoch, I would be gagging at the opportunity to start another comedy channel — one that doesn’t have the likes of Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson this time, but rather, “right-leaning” comedians riffing on the stories of the day.
It’s probably the perfect place for Louis C.K. to continue his comeback, and also for those so-called Red State comedians like Jeff Dunham, Jeff Foxworthy and Jim Gaffigan, who make their fortunes touring the Trump base. Dunham actually just dropped his own comedy special on Netflix, “Jeff Dunham: Beside Himself,” and while I’ll take a hard pass on that, I still applaud the streaming site for widening its comedy net. I don’t find Dunham funny, but the thought of him sitting next to Hannah Gadsby’s brilliant “Nanette” on the Netflix platform does make me smile.
In short: We have got to let everybody in on the joke, whether they are on the left or the right; adorable or deplorable. After all, if I can find five late-night shows in which the punch line is “Don Trump Jr.,” it seems only fair to also have one where the punch line is “Hunter Biden.”