‘It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it,” wrote G. K. Chesterton. Those who hold their beliefs strongly can laugh at the world, their predicaments, and themselves. Those without confidence in their beliefs cannot laugh at all, for fear the whole thing will come crumbling down. Of course the same applies to political beliefs, too, which are often now a mere stand-in for religious ideas.
Comedian Samantha Bee recently remarked that she can’t make fun of Joe Biden in the same way she made fun of Donald Trump, admitting that she pulls her punches when it comes to the 46th president:
You’re like, okay, well we could be making jokes about, we could be making jokes about the infrastructure plan, but in general, I’m like, “Wow, this is great. Why would I purposefully undermine something that is, seems to be a great idea, pretty much across the board?” Like, I don’t need to make jokes just to make jokes. I like to make really targeted jokes. There are more worthy targets right now, I think.
Bee’s comments offer perhaps the best example of what has gone wrong with leftist comedians as of late: They think the point of comedy is to make “really targeted jokes,” to “undermine” things, or to “target” things they — and presumably their audience — disagree with. Over the last decade, late-night hosts across the board began to lay aside their relatable, everyman’s brand of comedy and pivot toward lecturing the crowd on their moral values. They went from chasing laughter — no matter who the butt of the joke may have been — to chasing applause. The result has been anything but funny.
Satire can surely make a point and even effect change, but comedy at its purest simply asks a question. It does not have an agenda and does not care if it offends anyone — not even its audience or the person writing the joke.
If you find yourself unable to laugh at something, unable to find anything worthy of satire — especially in a politician like Joe Biden — you may be blinded by your own worldview. A president who has been in politics for five decades promising hope and change. A politician who campaigned against the abuses of the Trump administration and then, once elected, did the very things his party once decried. A president heralded as a return to normalcy who is now proposing ideas that threaten our norms and institutions at a far more fundamental level than Trump ever did.
Good comedians set their point of view aside and write the best joke, the “point” be damned.
Let’s admit something here: Conservatives can be pretty bad at comedy. Briefly scroll through the Twitter account of Mike Huckabee (God bless him) and you’ll find some jokes that only your weird uncle would think are funny. Hey, I’ve gotta admit, I’ve written some stinkers in my day too. But we’ve got to be honest with ourselves. Conservatives have tried and failed to put out good comedy shows and films to rival the late-night propaganda emanating from the left every weeknight. The problem with many of these attempts is that they were trying to make a point first and be funny second. No one wants the conservative Saturday Night Live or the Republican Jon Stewart (or the Christian Onion for that matter) — they want good comedy.
But now the tables have turned, and the Left is increasingly the party of self-righteous zealots, disciples of a leftist religion that they cannot laugh about. The great pronoun debate is a goldmine of contradictions and absurdities, but they will not touch it. They spent all their goodwill making self-serious lectures about Trump to an audience that already agreed that he was bad. From The Simpsons’s painfully bad parody of the Squad getting under Trump’s skin — watch at your own risk — to cringey tweets from late-night hosts and TikTok “comedians” who just lip-sync everything Trump says and call it comedy, the left tells its share of bad jokes, too. And it’s only getting worse as they internalize leftist ideas and find themselves unable to make fun of liberals without risking alienation or cancellation.
They made their bed, though, so I feel little sympathy now that they have to lie in it.
The Left often argues that comedy should “punch up” and “speak truth to power.” Who’s more powerful than the president of the United States? Or a Democrat-controlled Congress pitching increasingly unhinged ideas that threaten to undermine our democracy? Or a leftist movement that has taken over corporations, sports leagues, corporate America, and schools from kindergarten to college? If the point of comedy is to make some kind of moral point with every joke, well, comedians like Samantha Bee are quickly going to find that they have simply become defenders of the establishment after all.
Bee’s comment that Biden isn’t really a worthy target just reeks of desperately needing your audience to agree with you. It’s also just obviously false; hypocrisy is ripe ground for satire, so politicians are always worthy targets — on the left and the right.
I want to be fair, of course. At the Babylon Bee, we make fun of the Left more than we make fun of the Right. I can understand Bee’s comments, along with the desire to poke fun at the opposition more than anyone or anything else. Yet at the same time, my favorite pieces to write are the ones that punch our audience square in the face, that call out the hypocrisy of the Right, that make fun of inconsistent living among Christians and our failure to live up to what we preach. I love satire that loves its target most of all.
Ultimately, it’s up to us, the audience. We have a choice when we hear jokes that criticize what we believe. We can chuckle and think, “I never thought about it that way,” and maybe change for the better, or at least have a healthy and humble sense of humor about who we are. Or, we can choose to be offended, to cancel the comedians that would dare criticize our dogma and demand they be replaced with self-righteous moral lecturers who are preaching to the choir.