Click Here North Star Writers Group
Syndicated Content.
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jessica Vozel
Feature Page
David J. Pollay - The Happiness Answer
Cindy Droog - The Working Mom
The Laughing Chef
Mike Ball - What I've Learned So Far
Bob Batz - Senior Moments
D.F. Krause - Business Ridiculous
Stephen Silver
  Stephen's Column Archive

November 22, 2006

The Right Comedy?


On Monday, the same day that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. announced that it was pulling both the HarperCollins book by and Fox Network interview with O.J. Simpson, the same company made public another, much less dubious programming decision: Fox News Channel plans to collaborate with Joel Surnow, the co-creator of “24,” on a new program meant to be a conservative counterpart to “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”


Surnow (who created “24” along with the more liberal Robert Caldwell), is a self-described “right-wing nutjob” who has talked about how happy he is that Rush Limbaugh is a “24” fan. He told the Hollywood Reporter that he wants the new show to slaughter “the sacred cows of the left,” the type of things that are often left alone by Stewart.


Cutting-edge conservative humor is like liberal talk radio: no one can explain why, but it just seems to fail every time it’s tried. Witness such past attempts as Dennis Miller’s quickly-canceled CNBC talk show and Colin Quinn’s stint anchoring “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live”.  


True, shows like Comedy Central’s own “South Park” and movies like “Thank You For Smoking” have gone after many of the excesses of the political and cultural left - but they can hardly be called purely “conservative,” especially since they go after the right as well. And that’s the rub: in this age of such fearless, anti-PC comedy anarchy as “South Park,” “Chappelle’s Show” and “Borat,” what liberal sacred cows could possibly be left un-slaughtered?


It’s not hard to imagine why programmers would want to imitate “The Daily Show.” In an age when a “Saturday Night Live” episode with two funny sketches is considered a good night, Stewart and Co. often go dud-free for weeks at a time. Its spinoff, “The Colbert Report,” looked at first like a one-joke enterprise, but it has expanded its horizons over the course of its year on the air and has actually gotten funnier over time.


Liberals, of course, will argue that mass conservative audiences aren’t smart or sophisticated enough to appreciate Stewart-style humor. I disagree with this notion, partially because, while clearly liberal, “The Daily Show” does have some conservative fans. Sean Hannity once admitted on the radio that he enjoys the show, especially that segment when they have children read “Hannity and Colmes” transcripts. Meanwhile, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, who a few years ago was even more of an O’Reilly clone than Colbert pretends to be, now runs a nightly, YouTube-inspired segment of clips from other shows, which nearly always features at least one Stewart bit.


Another reason to expect that the idea won’t work is that all of the functions that would be performed by a conservative “Daily Show” are already being filled by other arms of conservative media, notably talk radio and blogs. While most people don’t come to them for the laughs, Limbaugh, Hannity and the bloggers often use humor to their advantage. But most of it is of the “look how stupid the liberals are” and “look at the unflattering picture of Nancy Pelosi” variety. The true believers love that sort of thing, but it’s hard to imagine it catching on with a mass audience.


The other big issue is that any level of humor not of a G rating would likely offend a large segment of the potential conservative audience. When Ben Stein, the conservative writer/economist/actor, was hosting “Win Ben Stein’s Money” on Comedy Central, he wrote a weekly Q&A column on the American Spectator’s web site, and had at least one question a week from readers objecting to the ribaldry of the show’s jokes. I could imagine the Daily-Show-of-the-Right running into this same problem quite often. 


If they go forward with the show, Fox would be wise to contact Larry Miller, the veteran actor/comic who has written some very funny, right-leaning essays for the Weekly Standard, and held his own in several Bill Maher appearances.


The idea of a right-wing “Daily Show” is certainly a challenge, and if done right, may very well work. But from the start, it already has much stacked against it.


To offer feedback on this column, click here.

© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column # SS18. Request permission to publish here.