An anti-liberal bent in comedy is growing, BRIAN C. ANDERSON writes, with an edgy toon and a small army of new-media comics leading the charge
A liberal attitude long characterized American humor. Lenny Bruce, Norman Lear's All in the Family and Maude, Whoopi Goldberg: Their barbs targeted traditional values and cranky conservatives. But during the last several years, a new kind of cutting-edge humor has emerged that takes aim primarily at the left.
A key example is South Park, Comedy Central's wildly popular adult cartoon following the misadventures of four crudely animated and incredibly foulmouthed fourth-graders named Cartman, Kenny, Kyle and Stan. Now in its ninth season, South Park, with nearly 3 million viewers per episode, is one of Comedy Central's top-rated programs and among the most successful cartoons in television history.Some conservatives have excoriated South Park for its incredible vulgarity - the show opens with a mock warning saying it is so offensive it "should not be viewed by anyone." But those critics should pay closer attention to what South Park gleefully skewers. As the show's co-creator Matt Stone sums it up, "I hate conservatives, but I really [expletive] hate liberals."
South Park has a sharp anti-political-correctness edge, for starters. Consider season nine's hilarious - and disturbing - opening episode. The boys' gay teacher, Mr. Garrison, decides to get a sex change. The procedure is shown, graphically, to be a horrific self-mutilation, which is already a brave bit of truth-telling in an era of "transgender rights." But you've never seen anything on television like what follows.
Mr. Garrison, now a "woman," mistakenly thinks he's pregnant - and that makes him very happy because he can rush off to get an abortion, and so prove that he's a real woman. Here's the key exchange, at a Planned Parenthood center:
Garrison: Hello, doctor. Looks like I need an abortion.
Doctor: An abortion?
Garrison: Yeah, I've got one growing inside of me. Now are you gonna scramble its brains or just vacuum it out?
The doctor then tells Mr. Garrison that he can't have an abortion because he can't get pregnant: His sex change is ultimately cosmetic. Mr. Garrison is crestfallen: "You mean I'll never know what it feels like to have a baby growing inside me and then scramble its brains and vacuum it out?" The doctor responds: "Nnn ... that's right."
Mr. Stone and his fellow thirtysomething colleague, Trey Parker, portray both abortion and sex-change operations in ways Robert Bork would endorse wholeheartedly - but do so in one of the most offensively vulgar half-hours in television history. Now that's subversive.
South Park regularly mocks left-wing celebrities who feel entitled to tell everyone how the world should run. In one notorious parody, made during the 2000 Florida recount, blowhard Rosie O'Donnell comes to the town of South Park to intervene in a kindergarten election dispute involving her nephew.
Mr. Garrison, now showing some good sense, tees off on her: "People like you preach tolerance and open-mindedness all the time, but when it comes to middle America, you think we're all evil and stupid country yokels who need your political enlightenment. Just because you're on TV doesn't mean you know [expletive] about the government."
In a recent interview, Mr. Parker expanded on just how much he and Mr. Stone loathed meddling celebrities. "People in the entertainment industry are by and large whore-chasing, drug-addicted [expletive]," he said. "But they still believe they're better than the guy in Wyoming who really loves his wife and takes care of his kids and is a good, outstanding, wholesome person. Hollywood views regular people as children, and they think they're the smart ones who need to tell the idiots out there how to be."
Liberal elites scorn the business world - just think of how Hollywood depicts a typical corporate executive. On occasion, "South Park" gleefully bucks the anti-business trend. In an episode from season eight, the bugaboo of the left, "Wall*Mart," opens in town, drawing huge crowds of consumers and driving the local drug store out of business, since it can't compete. What is the strange hold it has over South Park's residents?
The boys set out to find and destroy Wall*Mart's heart, which they hope will free the town. Making their way to the television department, where they've learned the heart can be found, they meet a man dressed in white - a shape-changing manifestation of the chain.
"We don't want your store in our town," Stan informs him. "We've come to destroy you."
Kyle demands: "Where's the heart?"
"Very well," the figure says. "You want to see the heart of Wall*Mart? It lies beyond that plasma-screen television." The boys look - and see only themselves, reflected in a mirror.
"Yes, don't you see?" the figure says. "That is the heart of Wall*Mart. You, the consumer. I take many forms: Wall*Mart, Kay*Mart, Target, but I am one single entity: Desire!"
The lesson? Wall*Mart is successful simply because it offers consumers good deals - and beats the competition.
South Park has also satirized the 1960s counterculture; sex-ed in school; hate-crime legislation; the divorce culture; and many other products of liberal policies and values. Conservatives do not escape the show's satirical sword - phony patriots and Mel Gibson have been among those slashed. But the deepest thrust of the program's politics is pretty clear. Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone have made their show the most hostile to liberalism in television history.
But these two aren't the only anti-liberal humorists flourishing. Another Comedy Central fixture is stand-up Nick Di Paolo, a two-time Emmy nominee for comedy writing. The driving force behind Comedy Central's cartoon Shorties Watchin' Shorties and a regular on its now-on-hiatus Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, Mr. Di Paolo practices a hard-nosed kind of topical comedy that places him in the long line of those author Gerald Nachman calls "the rebel comedians": Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks, among others.
But whereas the rebel comedians usually directed their fire at bourgeois conventions, Mr. Di Paolo tackles the orthodoxies of the modern left, as in this signature number:
"I like the state of Texas because they're giving out the electric chair like it's coupons. They've fried like 30 people in the last two months in Texas. And there's a lady in Texas on TV going: 'We're giving too many people the death penalty.' That's [expletive]. More people died from airbags last year in the country than from the death penalty. [To Texas lady:] Would it make you feel better if we put these rapists in a Lexus and drove it into a tree? [In effete voice:] 'It's cruel and unusual.' Well, do it more, and it won't be so unusual."
As Mr. Di Paolo says, he's "insensitive."
Mr. Di Paolo and other politically incorrect comics such as Jim Norton have revived New York City's stand-up scene. There are "more full-time [comedy] clubs than there were even at the peak of the 1980s boom," New York magazine points out - though the fact that the anti-PC humorists are drawing the crowds troubles the liberal mag. Mr. Di Paolo and Co.'s "offensive" and "boorish" humor, it notes, is far less impressive than the traditional New York style comedy of Woody Allen (i.e., liberal and psychoanalysis-drenched).
College students throng their performances. "I do see some shock on their faces - it's as if they've never heard anybody speak their mind so directly in public before," Mr. Di Paolo tells me. "And why would they? You can't get more politically monolithic than college campuses these days."
But despite the shock, the college crowd roars with laughter. The incorrect comedy offers a liberating release for students whose left-wing profs seek to impose on them the "right" thoughts about race and sex, making such topics all but undiscussable except in terms of the prescribed dogma.
Someone else who speaks his mind, left-wing indoctrinators be damned, is Dennis Miller - Saturday Night Live alum, five-time Emmy winner, stand-up comic and host of CNBC's Dennis Miller. After 9-11, Mr. Miller surprisingly came out as a vocal Republican sympathizer - one of precious few in the entertainment industry.
"I'm left on a lot of things," he explained. "If two gay guys want to get married, I could [not] care less. If a nutcase from overseas wants to blow up their wedding, that's when I'm right. [Sept. 11] was a big thing for me."
Liberals, Mr. Miller said, had nothing to offer post-Sept. 11. "They said, 'Well, we're not going to protect you, and we want some more money.' That didn't interest me."
The "right" Mr. Miller debuted professionally in the 2003 HBO stand-up comedy special The Raw Feed, where the comic relentlessly derided liberal shibboleths. In his stream-of-consciousness rants, Mr. Miller blasted the teachers' unions for opposing vouchers and attacked opponents of Alaskan oil drilling for "playing the species card." Mr. Miller's hawkish stance on the war on terror has become central to his humor, as in this riff:
"I wish there was a country called al-Qaeda and we could have started the war there, but there wasn't. And Hussein and his punk sons were just unlucky enough to draw the Wonka ticket in the [expletive] lottery."
On complaints about racially profiling Arabs, he's contemptuous:
"As for what many are calling racial profiling in the aftermath of Sept. 11, well, get ready to be [ticked] off, you ACLU-[expletive]-morons, we're dealing with a massive threat and limited manpower, so you want them to check everybody out equally? Sure, fine, OK, but let's at least compromise and put the Swedish dwarf a little further down the list than the Iraqi explosives expert carrying a Belgian passport with more eraser marks on it than Kid Rock's trig final."
By no means, of course, has the right conquered popular culture. Television entertainment, especially on the networks, remains mostly liberal in sensibility, and everyone knows where Hollywood stands politically. But thanks in part to the emergence of new media (such as cable television) that have given writers and producers who don't fit the elite media mold a chance to offer their wares, the liberal monopoly has shattered. A post-liberal, or anti-liberal, counterculture is beginning to form.