Is Comedy a Form of Political Resistance? Nick Gillespie at Cato Unbound

Political scientist Michael Munger and comedians Jeremy McLellan and Lou Perez explain how serious comedy works.


Cato Unbound

My contribution to Cato Unbound's "The Very Serious Comedy Issue" will be posted at the site tomorrow. In the meantime, catch up with standup Jeremy McLellan's opening essay, "Bombing on Stage: Comedy as Political Resistance," in which the talented performer (he emceed the recent International Students for Liberty Conference) argues

Comedy is inherently anti-authoritarian. As Stanley Hauerwas once said, "If you desire to rule the world, the incomprehensibility of the world must be denied or tamed. What cannot be tolerated are forms of humor that might make the attempt to control a dangerous world absurd." In short: You are not God, and it's the job of the comic to remind you of that.

Another standup, Lou Perez (who runs We The Internet and has performed at FreedomFest.com) offers up this:

When an online magazine like Paste poses the question, "What is comedy's role under Trump?" I have to respond, "Well, what the fuck was comedy's role under Obama?"

Gary Dunaier, Flickr, Wikimedia

Is Paste implying that comedians should no longer be cheerleaders for the executive branch and its party—but just for the next four years? Or is Paste saying that we should get back to that whole speaking-truth-to-power thing from now on—no matter who's in power?

And Duke University political scientist and 2008 Libertarian candidate for governor of North Carolina Michael Munger writes

[Political] humor then arises out of a logically consistent but unexpected and possibly unsettling reframing. There is twist that forces us into a change in point of view, but the twist is hidden in the setup of the joke and we could have seen it coming if we had been aware of the trick.

For political humor, the "misdirection" is the unquestioned and perhaps even unrecognized assumptions the listener or reader makes about the political world. The "incongruity theory" of humor argues that the human mind, for whatever reason, is attracted to situations where we expect one thing to happen, but what actually happens is something else. That seems a pretty apt description of the political process recently.

My rejoinder to McLellan, Perez, and Munger is infused with the spirit of the recently departed insult comic Don Rickles. Which is to say that I take a bunch of swings at each of them. Along the way, I work hard to alienate as many people as humanly possible in 1,200 or so words.

Tune in tomorrow to see how I did.