When you tell a joke, you take a risk, according to storyteller Bill Harley. “The joke teller is making an estimation of what the group is, and then telling a joke that helps to define that group,” he explains. “A joke says, ‘You’re like me — you’ll think this is funny.’”
That’s why women tells jokes to each other they’d never tell in front of men, why Republicans tell jokes to each other they wouldn’t tell to Democrats, and why atheists avoid certain topics they find funny when socializing with their evangelical neighbors.
I’m guessing most NRO readers probably don’t double as Margaret Cho fans. However, though 30 Rock’s audience skews Democratic, many Republicans follow the of the Emmy Award–winning series religiously, tweeting the best lines in real time. Those spoken by Jack Donaghy — Alec Baldwin’s wealthy, conservative NBC executive — are some of the best on television.
For example, in one episode, Kenneth “the Page” Parcell — an office assistant from a rural, religious background — talks to Jack about voting: “Oh, uh, no, sir. I don’t vote Republican or Democrat. Choosing is a sin, so I always just write in the Lord’s name!”
“That’s Republican.” Jack replies. “We count those.”
Or, when Jack meets a man with head trauma: “Oh, in his mind Reagan is still president? [Then, to the brain damaged man:] You lucky bastard.”
30 Rock’s executive producer, head writer, and star, Tina Fey, causes conservatives to tune in every week. In Season One, a subplot had Donaghy dating Condoleezza Rice — who recently reappeared, in person this time, as Donaghy’s ex.
But wait — isn’t this the same Tina Fey whose Sarah Palin impersonation was perceived by many conservatives as a long-running cheap shot at the former Alaska governor?
In Fey’s new memoir, Bossypants, she talks about her reluctant embrace of playing the GOP’s vice-presidential candidate. The two do resemble each other — Palin revealed in her best-selling book Going Rogue that she dressed up like Fey one Halloween. Fey, however, was busy with 30 Rock and had reservations about being political in her comedy. She explains of one controversial “Weekend Update” sketch she performed, “I would have chosen to stop short of being overtly political if I’d had more time to smooth it out, because one: I think it’s more powerful for comedians and news anchors to be impartial, and two: I am a coward.”
For those interested in the skits that garnered SNL their highest ratings ever, Fey includes the actual sketches and even discusses how they determined whether jokes were off limits (yes, there were some even they thought were over the line). She also says that Governor Palin offered her daughter Bristol to babysit Fey’s baby, Alice, when the candidate made her memorable cameo on the show. (Fey thought it was a very motherly offer, but Alice was too young to stay up for the show.)
And it’s true that Fey is not “one of us,” despite growing up in a Republican household. But she does manage to make Jack Donaghy one of the most endearing conservatives on television. Plus, she so deftly skewers her own (liberal) character week after week that 30 Rock might be the best place on television for Republicans to get a few laughs at a Democrat’s expense.
If humor in some way mysteriously defines our “group,” Fey blurs the lines. I’m a conservative Republican who drives a pickup truck with an NRA sticker on the back window. Yet, Bossypants caused me to snort and giggle so much on a recent flight that I had to wait to finish it until after my seatmate fell asleep.
The book chronologically describes Fey’s childhood in Upper Darby, Pa., and her time at the University of Virginia. (She describes herself as a “a wide-hipped sarcastic Greek girl” and “an achievement-oriented, drug-free adult virgin.”) She moved to Chicago in 1992 to study improv at the famous sketch-comedy theater Second City. She got a job as a writer at Saturday Night Live, which eventually led to her becoming the show’s first female head writer.