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Of Comedians and Politics: The Culture War Isn’t Funny, Just Ask Dave Chappelle

Fox News reported that liberal “critics” have panned the latest Dave Chappelle Netflix special. What a shocker.

At the end of the news item it is reported that critics at Rotten Tomatoes also blasted Chappelle’s “Sticks and Stones” special. Only 35 percent of recognized “critics” there rated it positively, while for the regular folks who chimed in that figure rises 99 percent. Hmmm, there seems to be a difference of opinion between the “experts” and the hoi-polloi.

It seems Mr. Chappelle has run afoul the LGBTQRSTUV… community again. It’s what happens when comedy becomes subject to political correctness. Some things just aren’t funny anymore – if you know what’s good for you.

Victor Davis Hanson, in his latest book The Dying Citizen, remarks that there is a socio-economically poor portion of the American citizenry that is dependent on governmental largesse.

There is also a wealthy Progressive technocratic “elite” who more and more seek control and power over U.S. citizens. Their methods are becoming increasingly authoritarian and doctrinaire.

Then there is a large undefined middle class made up of a variety of souls who constitute the generic citizen. An important attribute of this middle class is that it is not beholden to or controlled by the “elite,” at least not yet. Wanting mostly to be simply left alone to pursue their own life goals, they are becoming a threatened class.

The “elite,” in order to maintain its power, offers ever more largesse to the poor in what they expect will reap rewards in voter support at the polls. The current $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” bill is nothing less than a huge bribe to bring about just such an outcome.

But to pay for such a monstrosity, funds will be raised across the board on everything from gas taxes to corporate taxes to death and inheritance taxes, and far more taxes besides. Our Democrat leaders will not tell us that. Instead, they say it’s paid for. What they don’t say is that it is being paid at least in part by those very same anticipated taxes. These taxes, and the rising inflation that results, will inevitably whittle away at the middle class.

And when the middle class loses its place over time, Hanson warns, what will be left is a two-tiered society along the lines of what existed in feudal times. There will be the technocratic “elite” – the professionals, the doctors and lawyers and professors and media types – and then there will be the outright poor and the working poor. Just look at California.

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Which brings us back to Dave Chappelle and comedy in general. The true value of comedy is that it ranges from pure silliness to flashes of lightning that skewer the more ridiculous pretensions of those who are simply full of themselves, thus bursting their sense of superiority. The “elite,” those in control, hate being the butt of jokes.

The basic ingredient of comedy is incongruity. Take the classic joke, Sam asks Jerry “What is black and white and red all over?” “I don’t know,” Jerry responds. “A newspaper,” Sam tells him. The incongruity is that “black” and “white” lead one to think of “red” as a color. Instead, unexpectedly it is the passive form of the verb “to read” that is meant in the context of the joke.

In later iterations of the joke it is the answers themselves that are incongruous. “What’s black and white and red all over? Answer: an embarrassed zebra.” “What’s black and white and red all over? Answer: a pregnant nun.” Much of what passes as wit makes use of such incongruities.

But there is also a social dimension to comedy. Think of the old Three Stooges comedies. As slapstick comedy, it is considered “low” comedy. But there is an essential element of social commentary in their work.

Their heyday was from 1934 to 1946, with the early years being marked by the Depression. That is one reason their stories emphasize getting money and trying to gain social prestige. As for the full-of-themselves social elite, nothing pleased a Three Stooges audience more than seeing some rich dame get a pie in the face. At the time, it was therapeutic.

Comedy as social commentary has a long history, going back as far as the Greek writer Aristophanes. His play Lysistrata is a biting satire on the disastrous consequences of the Peloponnesian War on the people of Athens. The women there, in order to get their men to negotiate peace, engage in a sex strike. “You want this body,” they suggestively told their men, “Go make peace.”

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales satirizes English society at the time and the changes that were taking place with a rising merchant class disrupting the more rigid distinctions between the clergy, the noblemen, and the peasants. In the process, he pillories the pilgrims as failing to fulfill the duties of their class.

Shakespeare is known for his comedies, and is even comic at times in his tragedies. The story of Pyramis and Thisbe, a story within a story in his Midsummer Night’s Dream, is played for burlesque comedic effect in the play. Shakespeare also uses it to lampoon his own Romeo and Juliet.

In a 2012 episode of The Simpsons titled “The Daughter Also Rises,” Shakespeare’s story of Pyramis and Thisbe is brought forward again, all while Ernest Hemingway is made subject to the satiric blows of the comedy show.

And that’s the point. Nothing and no one is beyond the reach of comedy. Or at least ought not to be. Adolf Hitler, I am given to understand, did not allow comedy to be directed at him. And that says a lot about his fragility. Führer indeed. Hence the brilliance of Charlie Chaplin’s mocking takedown of Hitler in his film The Great Dictator.

Presidents and other politicians have long been subject to comedic barbs. “America has the best politicians money can buy,” Will Rogers once quipped. He also noted that “I can remember way back when a liberal was generous with his own money.”

Chevy Chase made a living doing pratfalls as President Gerald Ford. And Bill Clinton, too, was occasionally savaged by the Saturday Night Live crew. But not Obama. Which is surprising, considering his constant self-references thus making most every historical event in some way about him. You’d think clever comedians could work with that. The closest anyone came was when Jon Stewart remarked that the reason Obama visited the manger in Bethlehem was to see where he was born.

And then, it became open season on Trump. The late-night “comics” laid into Trump nearly every night to an accepting audience. They still do so even though he’s been out of office for eight months now. But think about it, do they ever go after Biden? Or Kamala? Or Nancy Pelosi? Lord knows there is ample material.

Contrast that with Johnny Carson from an earlier day. His opening monologues pretty much made fun of everyone. And that was part of his appeal. These days, on the late-night network shows, it’s not comedy so much as invective being served against Trump, and Republicans, and the unvaccinated, and the parents who dare to think they should have a say about what happens at their child’s school.

But don’t you dare. Don’t you dare make fun of Biden’s malapropisms, or Kamala’s seemingly always inappropriate laughter, or Pelosi’s attempt to bring back the mummified look of Tutankhuman.

And when one thinks of “woke world,” man, talk about a target-rich environment for comedians. But we don’t hear it. Why? Well, comedians are now reticent to skewer the politically powerful and the advocates for a woke agenda for fear of being cancelled. Comedians now avoid college campuses and other venues. Don’t you dare, is what they hear. Don’t you dare.

A pleasant alternative now exists, though, with a late-night show on Fox News. Gutfeld stars Greg Gutfeld with a changing cast of four other guests, some newsmakers and some comedians. The show features outlandish metaphors – there’s that incongruity thing again – and similes as it takes a look at current events. 

And it pulls no punches in its humor, gutting much of the insanity of the politically correct.

As a result, while late-night comedians practice their tame humor in support of approved government efforts and politically correct opinions to an ideologically accepting audience (e.g. Steve Colbert’s vaccine dance is just pathetic), they are losing their TV audience in droves. Today, Gutfeld is rated higher than all the other late-night shows, though his show flop flops with Colbert’s in recent weeks for No. 1.

Gutfeld seems to be where middle-class just-plain-Joes go to be entertained these days. Much of Gutfeld’s charm, by the way, is that he makes as much fun of himself as he does of others. While he has serious points to make, he doesn’t take himself all that seriously.

So Dave Chapelle got in trouble, in part, because he defended J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. She used humor to criticize transgender orthodoxy, wondering what that word was that in an earlier time used to be used to describe menstruating “people.” The Twitter mob ravaged her.

But as Gutfeld noted on his Thursday night show, both Rowling and Chappelle have “Eff You” money that allows them to “comedy on” without fear of repercussions. So does Gutfeld and Fox News, for that matter. They can’t be canceled. And their humor is what a healthy society desperately needs. A society that can laugh at itself and not take itself so damn seriously is a healthy society. And at the moment, that ain’t us.

If we can get back to the days of the comedy of George Carlin and Richard Pryor – not to mention the recently deceased Norm Macdonald, himself canceled by the politically correct NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer from SNL years ago – as well as Dave Chapelle, we might have a chance to reinvigorate society.

By Ronald Grant Nutter, Ph.D., Blue State Conservative

Ron Nutter is a retired college professor of Philosophy and Religion living in a cabin on a mountain in Western North Carolina with his retired physician wife, and he still reads voraciously.