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.

NEXT: Pomona College Students Say There's No Such Thing as Truth, 'Truth' Is a Tool of White Supremacy

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  1. Something, something, about the largest satire case in US courts.

    (Don’t tell me that guy cut and ran?)

  2. Comedy is inherently anti-authoritarian.

    Then why was Comedy Central’s The Daily Show until recently constantly hitting Fox News over the ripe targets to be found in White House? Perez was right.

  3. “Comedians”

    (I am not familiar with either person)

  4. “Well, what the fuck was comedy’s role under Obama?”

    Judging from the past eight years, the role was apparently to act as Fluffer in Chief. I’m glad Trump is here because maybe, just maybe, comedy can be funny again.

    I got so fucking sick of The Daily Show and its imitators sucking Obama dick and calling it comedy.

  5. Along the way, I work hard to alienate as many people as humanly possible in 1,200 or so words.

    I think that I may have understood the gist of your words here.

    1. I think it means he’s going to reprint a Dalmia article, but I’m confounded when trying to figure out what that has to do with comedians and politics.

      1. Hero,

        I thought that Nick was referring to one or more Reason articles wherein he wrote approximately 1,200 words.
        As you may know, several H&R commentators (and perhaps only/mostly commentators of Reason H&R) occasionally deride Nick’s efforts and material.

        … I’m confounded when trying to figure out what that has to do with comedians and politics.

        You confusion is not unwarranted, vis a vis:

        Is Comedy a Form of Political Resistance?” (part of the article’s title) and Don Rickles (pictured in the article) at a significant event for President Reagan.

  6. What would a Lenny Bruce look like today? You’re probably not going to get arrested (thanks to guys like Lenny), but what really would push the tolerance levels of the bourgeoisie? I would say hard core libertarian stances on full drug legalization, real justice/police reform, anti-war, anti-government spending on entitlements AND the military, etc would no doubt ruffle some feather’s.

  7. *hits Gillespie in the face with a cream pie*

  8. Jeremy is funny as shit. Go to YouTube and check out some of his stuff.

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