A group of writers, sitting in the commissary, having lunch. The discussion turns to comedians, at which point a smart and respected writer expresses a highly provocative opinion:
“All comedians are conservative.”
To many at the lunch – especially me – those are fighting words. Comedians, conservative? No way! Comedians are firebrand revolutionaries, irreverent challengers of the status quo. Not to mention my personal heroes.
Lenny Bruce, conservative? He railed against censorship. Richard Pryor? He blew the lid off race, as Chris Rock does today. Bill Hicks? George Carlin? Sam Kinison? Conservative? Are you kiddin’ me?
Unlike the Vegas mainstreamers who wore tuxedos and talked about their wives, cutting edge comedians broke down walls, attacking traditional values with dangerous language and incendiary points of view. Even the tuxedo guys weren’t totally toothless. When the airlines lost their luggage, they spoke up.
“Where’s my luggage!”
No. Comedians are the anti-establishment Voices of Truth, angry, courageous and unquestionably ahead of the curve. The writer claiming they’re conservative was totally out to lunch. So to speak. Because we were, y'know…at the time…out to lunch.
A small point there, but, you know, we mustn’t be sloppy.
For years afterwards – I wasn’t that busy – I thought about that discussion and you know what? I came to agree with the smart and respected writer.
Comedians are conservative.
Even the drug users.
Maybe especially the drug users.
You can tell comedians are conservative by what they choose to talk about in their acts. No, that’s wrong. It’s not what they talk about; it’s the underlying reason they talk about it.
The comedian’s richest terrain is the screaming chasm between the way things are supposed to be and the way things actually are. What comedians champion are the principles we were trained to believe in as kids, taught to us by our parents, our teachers, what we read in history books, or the Bible, all, you will notice, powerful reservoirs of traditional values.
Comedians contrast America’s loftiest principles with life as we hypocritically live it.
Comedy’s primary message?
“This country has incredible values. How come we don’t live up to them?”
Your father says he’ll take you to the circus and then backs out. The kid cries,
“But you promised!”
And that’s the ballgame. Where does comedy come from?
It starts with a broken promise.
Lenny Bruce’s spotlighting censorship cried, “Hey, America. First Amendment. Whadaya say?”
“All men are created equal” – Declaration of Independence. Comedians – particularly non-whites and women – base their entire acts on a one-word rebuttal:
Even the old-timers dealt with broken promises.
“My wife told me she wanted to go someplace she’d never been before. So I took her to the kitchen.”
What was Henny saying? He was saying that in traditional marriages, women were expected to cook, and his doesn’t. Since that joke gets a laugh – mostly from men, I imagine – it appears a lot of other wives don’t cook either.
“But you promised!”
Today’s comedy is both different and the same. Identity Politics has multiplied the points of view; the comedic outcome, however, remains constant. Whatever your perspective, you’re inevitably doomed to disappointment.
Two comedians, one female and one male, telling the same story.
FEMALE COMEDIAN’S VERSION:
“Last night, I fixed my boyfriend dinner. I marinated, I chopped, I diced, and I sautéed. I serve him this magnificent feast. And what does he say?
No ‘Thank you.’ No ‘Great dinner, honey.’ Not. A word. That night, we’re making love, and he’s pulling out all the stops. He’s patient, he’s considerate – I have to look twice to make sure it’s him – he was magnificent. Finally, we finish. You know what I say to him?
End of joke.
MALE COMEDIAN’S VERSION:
“Last night, my girlfriend fixes me dinner. Well, whoop-de-doo. My father got dinner every night. Of course, I can’t say that to her. It would spoil the “treat.”
In fact, whatever I do here, I’m screwed. If I don’t say anything, I’m taking her for granted. If I say, ‘Great dinner, honey’, she won’t hear ‘Great dinner, honey.’ She’ll hear ‘Why don’t you do this more often?’
I can’t win!
I come up with a solution. I’ll show my appreciation in the bedroom. I decide to be the perfect lover. I’m patient, I’m considerate. It’s a top-of-the-line sexual ‘Thank you.’ Finally, we finish. And you know what she says to me?
End of the other version.
What’s going on here?
The Double Let-down.
Unmet expectations. It’s the rich fodder for comedians, both sides crying
“But you promised!”
And where do these thwarted expectations evolve from?
The woman expected appreciation for her cooking; the man expected what his Daddy had.
They both got
The smart and respected writer was right. But also a little wrong. The values comedians champion are conservative. But the insistence they be lived up to, that’s revolutionary. Why?
Because throughout our history,
they never have been.
And they should be.
Whoops? That’s me being conservative.
Two things I’d love to hear from you about:
Thing One: Do you think the smart and respected writer was right? Are comedians essentially conservative?
Thing Two: If self-labeled conservatives believe in traditional values, why don’t they insist they be lived up to?