Last year the state of California, in the grips of a West Coast strain of Bloombergism, passed an ordinance banning certain balls from state beaches. Adam Carolla, the comedian and host of an eponymous podcast show, got behind his mike and let loose:
The beach is a great little microcosm of what is going on with this country. We’re going to save everybody because God forbid some kid could get hit with a Frisbee, or someone could take in third-hand smoke, or some dog could run across someone’s beach towel. Yes! It is true we’ve eliminated every possibility of somebody being concussed by a Nerf football, but we’ve also eliminated all possibility of fun. … This is what you call progress. This is f*cking progress to you?!
That rant, heated and cogent, was nothing new for Carolla. These days the former host of Loveline and The Man Show often turns conservative heads with his diatribes against big government and the breakdown of the family. His angry skewering of Occupy Wall Street went viral. He’s raged against the Huffington Post (“You’re pussy cowards!”), Obama’s drive for more preschool (“Nothing replaces decent parents”), and Hollywood liberals (“They’re guys who smoked a lot of weed in high school and look good in their underpants”). His recent grilling of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom over the breakdown of black and Hispanic families made national headlines.
Back in 2005, before Carolla found his political voice, conservative scholar Brian Anderson wrote a book called South Park Conservatives. Anderson observed that, forty years after the earthy kids of the 1960s declared themselves the new rebels, “A new post-liberal counterculture has emerged.” This included comedians and television shows that routinely mocked liberal causes. South Park, with its savage takedowns of everything from anti-bullying campaigns to Rob Reiner, was emblematic of the new anti-liberal comedy.
These South Park right-wingers weren’t traditionally conservative, in the sense that it’s difficult to imagine a show replete with F-bombs and featuring a drugged-out anthropomorphic towel garnering Edmund Burke’s approval. They’d probably fit most neatly into today’s young Ron Paul movement. Anderson quoted one college student: “We might have long hair, smoke cigarettes, get drunk on weekends, have sex before marriage, watch R-rated movies, cuss like sailors – and also happen to be conservative, or at least libertarian.”
Today those young Turks are all grown-up and South Park has grown notably apolitical. But if anything, profane anti-liberal comedy has expanded, mostly among ex-shock jocks like Carolla who have traded their lewd laughs for something more topical.
The Opie and Anthony Show has become a clearinghouse for this brand of comedy. Comprised of the Long Island-born Gregg “Opie” Hughes and Anthony Cumia, Opie and Anthony were once two of the most ribald shock jocks in the country. Today the duo, along with comedian Jim Norton, hosts a roundtable of comedians weighing in on political and cultural issues. And while the discussion flies in all directions, it usually mediates to the right thanks to the anti-liberal views of Cumia and Norton.
“Logistically it’s unbelievable what it takes to bring down that building,” goes a typical Anthony Cumia rant against 9/11 Truthers. “For ten years, you could have them drilling holes in stanches and beams, and putting dynamite in like Wile E. Coyote.” “What union,” Jim Norton then wondered, “was sending members in to [install explosives]? And if they weren’t union, where was the giant rat? You can’t put a f*cking sink in without them protesting with a giant rat.”
The conversations on Opie and Anthony are generally funny, but they often have real depth. The debates over racial stereotypes between Boston comedians Nick DiPaolo and the late Patrice O’Neal mowed down every possible sensitivity, but they were also some of the most insightful dialogue on race you’ll hear in the media today. With the conversation over many issues paralyzed by political correctness, shock jocks and comedians are forming a type of underground media network where honest discussion can occur. This network even has a beachhead on cable news: Red Eye, Fox’s late-night, freewheeling debate show, which has featured Cumia, Hughes, DiPaolo, O’Neal, and many others as guests.
The genesis of all this can be found in a long-forgotten show called Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. The show was similar to Bill Maher’s canceled ABC show Politically Incorrect, but more open and raw. Quinn, a fairly unabashed conservative, hosted a panel of four comics who would argue and abuse each other over political and cultural issues.
The show quickly gained a reputation for honest comedy and received disapproving clucks from the New York Times. Comedy Central ultimately agreed with the Times and, after numerous attempts to control Tough Crowd’s content, canceled it in 2004 after a two-year run. Many of the comedians featured, like DiPaolo, are now regulars on Opie and Anthony and Red Eye.
DiPaolo, Tough Crowd’s most scathing conservative voice, is perhaps the most talented comedian working today. His politics extend to his comedy albums, which, in addition to profane commentaries on sex and married life, also feature broadsides against liberals and the nanny state, delivered in his machine-gun Boston accent.
“Who am I endangering, other than myself, when I don’t wear my seat belt?” DiPaolo wondered in one riff. “It’s not like I’m going to go through the windshield and continue on like a heat-seeking missile and hit a daycare center.” He was also a big fan of Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law SB 1070: “People go…it’s just like Nazi Germany. No it’s not! I don’t remember the Jews sneaking into Germany.”
The more you listen to conservative comedians, the more you become convinced that conservatism and comedy are natural bedfellows. Yet for decades now, comedy has been the province of the left, especially as defined by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Flip over to some lefty blog and you’ll probably find some clip of Stewart, tagged with a breathless declaration that he’s “speaking truth to power.” Then you play the video and he courageously mocks…Fox News. Or Michele Bachmann.
This is a problem of contemporary liberalism: it believes itself to be the counterculture, but it’s become the established culture. Whether in television, movies, or music, liberal messages and themes permeate the media. Comedians, in order to be successful, must be countercultural iconoclasts, attacking the big targets. But at the moment, liberalism has almost all the cultural power. So left-wing comics end up flogging the same dead horses while imagining they’re slaying dragons.
When Bill Maher attacked the pope as a “virgin bachelor” last month, cheered on by his audience of shrieking imbeciles, he probably congratulated himself for being terribly brave. Instead, it was hard not to suppress a yawn. Oh really? The Catholic Church again? That sounds like every routine Maher’s ever done.
Meanwhile the new generation of comedians and shock jocks is having honest discussions about everything from the Trayvon Martin killing to freedom of speech, and they’re entertaining opinions that would send Maher’s audience into fits of apoplexy. These funnymen aren’t all conservative. But they do take conservative views seriously and provide a forum for genuine debate. If that sounds appealing, and if you don’t mind a few (hundred) F-bombs, they might just get you thinking.
Image courtesy Adam Carolla.