Culture

The Comedy Counter-Counterculture

Colin Quinn in Red State Blue State (Edward T. Morris)
Pieties of the Left take a few blows in Colin Quinn’s new show

No one gets into comedy because he has a burning desire to get up in front of an audience and say, “Respect authority.” The conventional wisdom is wise! If something seems off, accept it unthinkingly!

Hence comedy must get pulled to the right. Once, the medium prided itself on being countercultural, but today the former counterculture is the culture. Comedy, to remain oppositional, must become the counter-counterculture. For comics of the left, the sense that they’re being drawn in the wrong direction must be causing a lot of internal anguish. Any sentient observer of the cultural scene cannot help noticing the truth-denial, cant, hysteria, and absurdity that infect progressivism today, but if you’re a progressive, calling attention to any of this feels like lobbing grenades into your own trench.

Which is why so much of comedy depends on the old standby: Hey, America, get a load of what Donald Trump said today. In a few months, comedy will be starting its fifth year of nonstop Trump jokes. Anybody feel that this material is getting a bit hackish? There’s another kind of cop-out, which is to pretend that yesterday’s contrarianism is still daring. Bill Burr has a long bit in his special “I’m Sorry You Feel That Way” in which he blasts Christianity. Given that the bicoastal cities and the comedy industry have been secular for decades, attacking Christianity today is about as bold and defiant as mugging an old lady.

Colin Quinn’s new standup act (it’s presented as a one-man off-Broadway show, at the Minetta Lane Theatre through March 16) is a refreshing reminder of what comedy’s aims should be. “Comedy is becoming woke,” he says. Not just that. Comics are becoming timorous and cringing and bowing to the dictates of the cultural leaders. “That’s why I came into comedy, so I could march in lockstep with society,” Quinn says sarcastically. When people asked him as a young comic what he wanted to do, “I said I don’t care, as long as I can reinforce mainstream behavior.”

The name of Quinn’s show is Red State Blue State, and on the surface Quinn is staking out some neutral territory between enemy camps in the culture war. But he isn’t really, because he understands who the aggressors in that war are. One side is begging to be left to its own ways, and it isn’t the side shouting “tolerance.” And when he defines red states vs. blue states, he says, “Red states, a little bit racist. Blue states, a little bit fascist.” The audience didn’t see that one coming. There was a sharp intake of breath at the Greenwich Village venue when Quinn noted that the Left hates free speech. The collective thought bubble over the audience’s head read, “Who, us? We merely want to destroy teens who wear unapproved hat messages and ban films that are critical of Hillary Clinton.”

Quinn throws in a couple of Trump jokes just to reassure the audience that he’s not going to wander too far off the rails, but he offers sympathetic words for Trump voters: “They’re not all Nazis,” he says, painting a hilarious picture of a down-on-his-luck guy who is baffled to then be ordered to acknowledge his white male privilege.

Making common-sense observations carries a tinge of radicalism these days. “1492 to 1992, I never heard a bad word about Christopher Columbus . . . Now it’s like Manson’s birthday all of a sudden.” A society that starts questioning its own holidays, he notes ruefully, has turned on itself. He need hardly state which political persuasion is driving this unfortunate trend, which side is on the attack, which side is eager to destroy.

Quinn doesn’t just riff on the divided states of America, though; he proposes an actual (semi-serious) solution. He calls the idea “city states,” but it’s better known as federalism. Different parts of the country get to do things their own way. Beverly Hills can leave Tennessee alone and Tennessee in return will continue leaving Beverly Hills alone. Quinn wonders why celebrities on Twitter keep lecturing so many Americans in the middle of the country. “You don’t pull up in a Lamborghini and spray people with mud and say, ‘Do better.’” Not every system fits every temperament, he says, so the remedy is for everyone to stay out of everyone else’s business: “E pluribus, pluribus.” Sounds radical, yet familiar. Remember when “Live and let live” was a thing?

Most Popular

Culture

What We’ve Learned about Jussie Smollett

It’s been a few weeks since March 26, when all charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and the actor declared that his version of events had been proven correct. How’s that going? Smollett’s celebrity defenders have gone quiet. His publicists and lawyers are dodging reporters. The @StandwithJussie ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Lessons of the Mueller Probe

Editor’s Note: The following is the written testimony submitted by Mr. McCarthy in connection with a hearing earlier today before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on the Mueller Report (specifically, the first volume of the report, which addresses Russia’s interference in the 2016 ... Read More
Elections

Kamala Harris Runs for Queen

I’m going to let you in on a secret about the 2020 presidential contest: Unless unforeseen circumstances lead to a true wave election, the legislative stakes will be extremely low. The odds are heavily stacked against Democrats’ retaking the Senate, and that means that even if a Democrat wins the White House, ... Read More
World

Why Are the Western Middle Classes So Angry?

What is going on with the unending Brexit drama, the aftershocks of Donald Trump’s election, and the “yellow vests” protests in France? What drives the growing estrangement of southern and eastern Europe from the European Union establishment? What fuels the anti-EU themes of recent European elections and ... Read More
Energy & Environment

The Climate Trap for Democrats

The more the climate debate changes, the more it stays the same. Polls show that the public is worried about climate change, but that doesn’t mean that it is any more ready to bear any burden or pay any price to combat it. If President Donald Trump claws his way to victory again in Pennsylvania and the ... Read More
White House

Sarah Sanders to Resign at End of June

Sarah Huckabee Sanders will resign from her position as White House press secretary at the end of the month, President Trump announced on Twitter Thursday afternoon. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1139263782142787585 Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, succeeded Sean ... Read More
Politics & Policy

But Why Is Guatemala Hungry?

I really, really don’t want to be on the “Nicolas Kristof Wrote Something Dumb” beat, but, Jiminy Cricket! Kristof has taken a trip to Guatemala, with a young woman from Arizona State University in tow. “My annual win-a-trip journey,” he writes. Reporting from Guatemala, he discovers that many ... Read More