Comedy to Comfort the Powerful

March 11, 2014

After the death of Harold Ramis, the New York Post's Kyle Smith noted that comedians these days are more interested in gross out gags and navel gazing than they are in bringing the powerful down a notch. This is in stark contrast to the slob vs. snob efforts of Ramis and his peers. Wrote Smith:

For Ramis’ generation, politics was chiefly defined as hating Lyndon Johnson (Vietnam’s father) and, later, Richard Nixon. In those terms, liberals have a lot of company on the right, which adores Ramis and the other ’70s comics as much as lefties do. ...

Critically, generation Ramis wasn’t making an affirmative case for the left. Ramis-ites didn’t say our guys would run things better than their guys. They disdained the concept of leadership. They thought no one should be running things. The Ramis vision is of a bottom-up, leaderless society with central power structures crushed and humiliated. It’s a hippie vision, sure. And it’s pure Tea Party.

I was reminded of that today when I saw that President Obama had taken part in an episode of Between Two Ferns, the series in which G-Force thesp Zach Galifianakis awkwardly interviews celebrities. It is, generally, an extremely funny show because it's one of the few places where the idea of the obsequious celebrity interview is turned on its head: The interactions are awkward, almost painfully so. The Ben Stiller segment, for instance, is five minutes of awkward brilliance that opens with Galifianakis intentionally botching his name and suggesting he do scenes from his movies. It's all in good fun, but it's good fun at the expense of the actor in question.

The Obama interview, however, was just dreadful. After a few semi-unbearable moments during which the president shows he doesn't at all understand the point of the show—the guest is not supposed to get in good zingers; he's supposed to be taken down a peg—there's an utterly unbearable moment during which he hawks the failed social experiment that is It's just gross.

Nothing screams "brave, edgy comedy!" like "I'm here to let The Man sell you on health insurance!"

None of this, of course, is surprising. Funny Or Die's cocreators, Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, are committed liberals who think that their second job is to make you laugh. Their first, naturally, is to sell you on the wonders of the Democratic Party. In this, they are the exact opposite of Ramis and his cohort of merry mischief makers. They're big government liberals, the sort of people who think the feds need to tell you what to do for your own good because you're too stupid to do the right thing otherwise.

Anyway, as I said, none of this comes as a shock. But it's somewhat annoying to hear the chattering classes fall all over themselves to praise the comedy site for its edgy fare, for its "hilarious" humor.* And it's incredibly annoying to watch dupes like Dylan Byers suggest Zach G. would be inclined to ask tough questions of the president—was there really any chance that the Hangover star and Obama-booster wasn't going to conduct an "uncharacteristically tame interview" for the president?

Of course not! Because modern comedy is all about telling the little people how to live their lives and comforting the powerful—so long as they're the right kind of powerful, naturally.

*On a similar, but unrelated, note: The idea that it's "pretty baller" for a hugely wealthy musician to passively aggressively snipe at a hugely wealthy corporation after he decided not to sing a theme song for them is gross. Ooh, he signed something naughty in the memo line! SO BALLER. Give me a break. Take two seconds off of making rich people feel like they're edgy heroes for refusing to fulfill their contractual obligations, would you?

Published under: Obamacare