Samuel L. Jackson, Donald Trump, and the Death of Comedy
On Saturday I wrote a piece for the conservative media watchdog site, NewsBusters, about Samuel L. Jackson guest hosting Jimmy Kimmel Live! in which Jackson aired a satirical Trump campaign ad. The purpose of that article was how cultural elites in Hollywood look down on Trump voters, with Jackson urging them to see a doctor to cure them of their Trumpism.
Here, however, I want to talk about something else and that is what was perhaps the most offensive bit of the ad and that is that as a piece of a comedy, it was very, very boring.
The ad in question began by listing 18 negative things that Jackson associated with Trump, 19 if you count mullets at his rallies (that mullets bit was the only slightly humorous bit of the entire thing).
This is not funny, partly because one can nitpick the list of 18 things. For example “paranoia” and “fear” are redundant, also many people who are voting for Biden fear what might happen in Trump’s America should he get a second term. That could also be called “hypocrisy,” which is another of the 18 bad Trumpian qualities listed.
Then there’s nuance. One thing Jackson listed was nepotism, which on one hand is a fair criticism of Trump, but on the other hand his son-in-law’s brand of Middle East diplomacy has now brokered two peace deals between Israel and Arab countries, while those who favored doing Middle East diplomacy “the correct way” have spent the last four years calling him an idiot who just doesn’t get it.
But none of that has to do with the joke as a joke and I can already hear the critics saying Alex, you’re just a conservative who is upset someone is making jokes at your expense.
Not exactly, there is plenty of comedic potential in President Trump. Off the top of my head, covfefe, going from TV host to president, and his love of adjectives are gold mines for comedy and I’ll just add that this is the most beautiful, glorious article you’ll ready today.
So are Trump’s most loyal supporters are also prime targets, because anyone who ties themselves to a politician, thinking they can solve all the world’s problems needs a dose of reality.
Liberal comedians have been making fun of Republicans forever and in doing so they use what people who study the science of humor refer to as the Superiority Theory. This theory of humor goes back to the ancient Greeks. More recently Thomas Hobbes, wrote:
The passion of laughter proceedeth from a sudden conception of some ability in himself that laugheth. Also men laugh at the infirmities of others, by comparison of which their own abilities are set off an illustrated.
Jackson’s satirical ad didn’t just say Trump was a bad man, but that his supporters need medical help, “Before voting for Donald Trump, ask your doctor if you’re insane, because you probably are.”
You’re stupid, I’m not. Ha, ha, ha
That was the essence of the joke. There was no punchline, just a list of list of bad things that Trump supporters approve of and that was presumed to be self-evident.
Using the Superiority Theory in your comic routine is always a gamble. People don’t like being made fun of, especially when it is obvious it is not good-natured teasing, but it can still be done.
Previously when late night liberals made fun of Republicans, there was a punchline. Let’s compare:
Dan Quayle is sooooo stupid
How stupid is he?
He put an ‘E’ at the end of potato
Republicans are sooooo stupid
How stupid are they?
They are going to vote for the Republican nominee for president
The difference is obvious. Liberals may think Dan Quayle was stupid, but even a Republican who thinks Quayle just had a bad day, but who also doesn’t take themselves too seriously can laugh because of the incongruity (another theory of comedy) of misspelling a simple word such as potato. But, Republicans voting for Republicans is congruous. Put another way, Republicans voting for Republicans is boring and therefore mocking them for doing so is also boring.
All of this leads to the question: what is the point of comedy shows nowadays. I wrote the conservative reaction to Jackson’s appearance on a comedy show, Lee Moran summarizes the liberal view at HuffPost:
The actor, who was standing in for comedian Jimmy Kimmel as guest host, listed just some of the scandals that Trump has caused in only the last week.
He then asked: ‘Who can still be voting for this guy after all the stuff that has gone down on his watch?’
So, is late night comedy’s job to be funny or is it be a sort of MSNBC pundit who presents Trump supporters with a “damning question”?