Isaiah Lee, the 24-year-old self-identified bisexual who tackled comedian Dave Chappelle onstage during a packed Hollywood Bowl appearance back on May 3, pleaded no contest recently to assault and entering a restricted area, and was sentenced to 270 days in prison. Lee, who was carrying a replica gun and a knife at the time of the attack, said Chappelle’s controversial material about the LGBT community had “triggered” him to commit the violence. “I wanted him to know that, next time, he should consider first running his material by people it could affect,” he said in a jailhouse interview.
Translation: make jokes at the expense of those who enjoy the protection of leftist victimhood status and we will come after you. Chappelle, who is no conservative, knows full well that the totalitarian Left cannot tolerate being the butt of jokes. He had been excoriated by them for his very politically incorrect 2019 Netflix special Sticks & Stones, in which he declared that Hollywood’s one unspoken rule is “Never upset ‘the alphabet people,’” by whom he meant the bullying LGBT lobby.
Chappelle’s upset alphabet attacker stated that he had also been inspired to rush Chappelle by actor Will Smith’s infamous onstage slap of comedian Chris Rock at the last Academy Awards ceremony. That incident too demonstrates the violent response of leftists to even the most good-natured humor aimed at them. Smith was triggered at the Oscars by a tame throwaway line the host Rock directed at Smith’s wife, actress Jada Pinkett, who also clearly disapproved. “Wow, dude. It was a joke,” the stunned Rock pleaded with Smith in the aftermath of the slap.
“There is no fun in Islam,” once declared the Ayatollah Khomenei, whose stern visage glowered down from posters plastered all over Iran after the 1979 revolution, as if daring anyone to crack a smile. The same could be said for today’s Progressivism which, like Islamic fundamentalism, is a totalitarian ideology. And today’s Democrats, like the Iranian mullahs, simply can’t take a joke.
They can’t afford to, since successful totalitarianism depends on the total control of every aspect of people’s lives, even – perhaps especially – their thoughts. The totalitarian state maintains that control through fear and division, and people who feel comfortable enough to ridicule the regime clearly are not sufficiently afraid or divided. The greatest enemy of authority, wrote the philosopher Hannah Arendt, is contempt, and the surest way to undermine it is laughter. Humor unapproved by the state – particularly humor aimed at the state – is a sure indication that the regime’s death grip on the populace is slipping.
“It is laughter that demasks the nonsense of totalitarianism,” declared Czech novelist Milan Kundera in a 1981 interview in Paris. “It is laughter that shouts ‘the emperor has no clothes’ and enables people to resist the stupidity of the regime and keep their interior distance from it.” As if to prove his point, when his novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting was published in France in 1979, the unamused Czech government revoked his citizenship.
There is a scene from the brilliant 2007 German movie The Lives of Others, set in East Germany prior to the fall of the Berlin wall, which captures not only the existential terror of life in a totalitarian society, but the state’s vulnerability to mockery. In one chilling scene, a Party official overhears an oblivious young soldier beginning to tell friends a joke at the expense of the Party Chairman. When the soldier realizes a Party superior is eavesdropping, he blanches in fear, but the official feigns amusement and encourages him to finish the joke. The punch line ridicules not only the Chairman but the rigid oppression of the system itself. The official then sternly demands to know the soldier’s name and department, warning him, “I don’t have to tell you what this means for your career. You were deriding the Party. That’s incitement, and likely just the tip of the iceberg. I will report this to the Minister.” Under totalitarianism, mockery threatens the Party as surely as armed insurrection does – perhaps even more so, because a revolution can be crushed by military might, but ridicule is a more insidious, elusive, and subversive threat.
“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon,” reads Rule #5 in the infamous Rules for Radicals written by community organizer and Machiavellian strategist Saul Alinsky. “There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating.” The Left has mastered the implementation of Alinsky’s rules for decades, and has used the entertainment industry as a platform from which to spray derision of their political enemies like a flamethrower. The entire late-night talk show scene, to cite just one arena, has been commandeered by so-called comedians devoted to Progressive propaganda and to vicious attacks on conservatives. Saturday Night Live has spent almost 50 years mocking conservative politicians almost exclusively. There is no right-wing equivalent, apart from a few culturally marginalized lone wolves like Greg Gutfeld. So the Left is utterly unprepared when the tables are turned.
Comedian Ricky Gervais, for example, despite being a Progressive himself, unloaded a brutal takedown of his privileged celebrity audience as host of the 2020 Golden Globes Awards program: “You say you’re ‘woke,’ but the companies you work for: Apple, Amazon, Disney… if ISIS started a streaming service you’d call your agent, wouldn’t you?” He told the increasingly uncomfortable stars that they “know nothing about the real world – most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg.” He warned them not to get political in their acceptance speeches, because “no one cares about your views on politics or culture.”
Gervais’ no-holds-barred monologue was cheered by conservatives in the flyover states that Hollywood holds in such open contempt, but showbiz suckups in the media were stung by his bullseyes. The Los Angeles Times criticized “the smirking master of ceremonies” for “taunt[ing] the room for trying to use their influence to change things for the better.” Vanity Fair writer Mark Harris dismissed Gervais’ jokes as “right-wing talking points” – as if the entire entertainment industry isn’t a showcase for left-wing talking points.
The Left has always embraced comedy that desecrates “bourgeois” values, while becoming increasingly intolerant of humor that skewers the Left’s own sacred cows. Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock have been complaining for years that humor has dried up on college campuses thanks to politically correct sensitivity toward approved minority victim categories. Salon called Chappelle’s act part of an era of “nonchalant cruelty” ushered in by former President Trump and his supporters; would Salon equally condemn the nonchalant cruelty directed at Progressive-approved targets like white people or Christians?
One of the principal reasons the Left was so triggered during the Trump presidency is that when it came to being mocked, he gave better than he got. He was uninhibited about publicly taunting his opponents, giving them derisive nicknames which have caught on in the popular culture, at least among conservatives: Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren, Adam “Pencil Neck” Schiff, Pete “Alfred E. Neuman” Buttigieg, and many more. Democrats had never had to deal with Alinsky tactics from a conservative politician before, much less a president. It left them infuriated and defenseless, just as Saul Alinsky promised it would. You could see it in the unhinged, impotent anger of pompous celebrities who continue to rage profanely at Trump and his supporters on social media.
Older generations may wistfully recall that bygone era when comedians managed to unite all Americans with laughter by poking fun at politicians of every stripe, instead of dividing us with mean-spirited partisanship. Those days are long gone. Democrats have held the reins of cultural power now for over fifty years, and have used it to demonize and diminish their political opponents. Beginning with President Trump, however, they began to feel that power slipping from their grasp as they became the ones helplessly exposed by the spotlight of mockery. Totalitarianism, like comedy, is serious business; but unlike comedy, totalitarianism doesn’t work if everyone’s laughing.