Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam.
Larry Wilmore didn’t bomb at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. He wasn’t trying to be funny.
Comedians bomb when their jokes aren’t funny. But Larry Wilmore, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, John Oliver and the rest of the gang in the post-comedy clown car aren’t comedians. They’re not here to entertain you. They’re here to scold you. If you’re a good progressive you’ll be allowed to laugh with them at an appropriate target like conservatives or your own white cis hetero privilege.
Not quite comedians, they’re a neological tragedy. Combine edutainment, infotainment and comedy and call it comedunfotainment. It’s not funny, educational or informational. But it tries to be all three at the same time. And, like Larry, it fails miserably.
But it’s also the only form of comedy allowed in campus safe spaces. It’s not controversial, except to the people who don’t matter. It’s also not funny, so it can’t be subversive of anything that matters.
It’s the perfect accompaniment to the final nerd prom of a disastrously progressive administration.
The sad trend got its start when the media decided that Jon Stewart’s snarky remarks about Bush represented the future of news. Today media snarkiness is ubiquitous. But Stewart didn’t bring down Bush. Instead he and his fellow media hipsters became the comedy palace guard for Obama.
And they stopped mattering.
Colbert is flailing badly on CBS. Stewart quit. His replacement has failed. There are a dozen contenders to be the Generation X class nerd awkwardly saying sarcastic things about Republicans on a cable show, (John Oliver is currently in the lead) but everyone in the media is already playing that game.
And the game stopped mattering once Obama won. Even Jon Stewart realized that. If there was ever anything “liberating” about a snarky cable pseudo-news show, it has long since become confining. With the last of the Generation X irony replaced by millennial conformity, all that’s left are topical references combined with identity politics pointing the way to politically safe targets to throw weak jokes at.
That’s what Larry Wilmore’s performance was. It wasn’t funny. It was politically safe. And that’s all progressive comedy can be. It’s every bit as liberating as a roast of the Politburo.
Once you’ve gotten through taking potshots at conservative strawmen, as Colbert did for a tedious 9 years, what’s left? CBS discovered that the answer is nothing. There are no jokes. There are no viewers. There’s just Colbert earnestly interviewing some Obama flunky about how smart he is. CBS is paying Colbert $5 million a year to put on his own late night version of NPR. And it’s less funny than NPR.
What do liberals make fun of once they’ve won the culture war? Nothing. Once the revolution happens, there are no more jokes. There’s just Larry Wilmore telling identity politics dad jokes about famous people to a crowd of famous people. Here’s your comedunfotainment. Laugh or, you’re racist.
Then watch this viral clip of John Oliver advocating some liberal policy that he doesn’t understand with puppets or puppies for the infoedutainment of an audience of overgrown children who have their own safe spaces against workplace microggressions and battle stress with adult coloring books.
Progressive comedy is not about the jokes you can tell, it’s about the jokes you can’t tell. It’s Diet Comedy’s attempt to bring some of the energy of daring comedians to politically safe acts.
Liberal comedians operate in a vast arena of untellable jokes addressing narrow audiences that grow easier to offend each year. The liberal comedian must appear to be daring even while being cowardly. He must shock without actually shocking. His task is impossible. All he can do is fail safely at it.
And that’s what Larry Wilmore did.
Liberal comedy is dead and the liberal comedian is disposable. The star of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner was never going to be Larry, but Barack. The job of the liberal comedian isn’t to mock progressive presidents, but to enable them. The punch lines vary, but the message is always the same. Obama was convinced that he was a better speechwriter than his speechwriters. He’s a better comedian than his comedy palace guard because he doesn’t have to worry about his job. They do.
Liberal comedians don’t have to worry about being unfunny. When your politics are rightly on the left, lack of ability at telling jokes or running the country is forgivable. But offending the wrong identity politics group can end your career. It’s safer to bomb than to be accused of being insensitive.
Funny is dangerous. Unfunny is safe.
A brand of comedy that began when liberals were convinced that they were a beleaguered minority in a Bushian America who needed someone to say what they were thinking before the Patriot Act enforcers came to take them away to Gitmo has become about not saying what everyone is thinking.
Funny was a means to an end. Now the end has arrived. Humor was a means of moving a left-wing message. Now that the message enjoys total cultural dominance, the humor can be dispensed with. Why waste time being funny when we can go right to a lecture on the environment or white privilege?
Snark was subversive, but when there’s nothing left to subvert, it becomes counterrevolutionary. The day will come when any joke will offend someone and even laughter itself will be triggering. If it wasn’t for the emotional immaturity of the average lefty, that day would have already come years ago. But so far this revolution only works if all the overgrown children can still pretend that they’re having fun.
That means Obama had to push ObamaCare on Between Two Ferns. Bernie Sanders has to pose for selfies. Hillary Clinton has to pretend that she carries around hot sauce. Fake liberal journalists have to tell jokes to an audience of real liberal journalists. And there must be a hashtag to encompass it all.
Because if the children realize that the revolution isn’t fun anymore, they’ll want to go home.
The journey toward the right side of Obama’s history is a long field trip where the Kool-Aid and the camp counselor’s jokes get staler each year. All the amazing free gifts aren’t coming. Along the way the children will get older, look at the tax bill and demand that the driver turn the bus around.
So the driver goes out on stage and tells jokes. But the real joke is about how much he hates everyone else on the trip to the right side of history. It’s the only kind of joke that a narcissist finds funny.
The White House Correspondents’ Dinner was a celebration of the contempt in which Obama holds his media celebrity supporters, the contempt of his comedunfotainers for the media and his contempt for the comedunfotainment industry which channels his contempt for the media.
That joke is almost funny. But you have to be far enough inside, but outside the media to enjoy it. And the only ones who can really do that are in the White House.