Sunday, August 12, 2007

Right Wing Comedy

Laughing Matters
The vast right-wing comedy conspiracy.
By Adam Bulger
New York Press, Oct. 14, 2003

Julia Gorin is onstage cataloguing the gory side effects of RU-486, the morning-after abortion pill. She waves her arms emphatically as she describes the blood and doctor’s visits the pill would entail.

"What are the NOW ladies going to be happy about next?" She pauses, then continues: "Wire coat hangers?"

Two tables from the stage, where in a typical comedy club a boozed-out fratboy might be heckling, sits a man who is the spitting image of Carl Reiner in the Ocean’s Eleven remake. The crowd sweats modest urban affluence, with men dressed in Brooks Brothers’ dress shirts tucked into unwrinkled khakis, and women in wool slacks and high heels. The American flag is the accessory of choice: One male audience member wears a flag pin on the lapel of his Patrick Bateman-style pinstripe suit; opening act Robert George had tiny flags on his tie; and Gorin, the headliner, wore a bead-encrusted choker with an American flag centerpiece.

This is not a typical comedy crowd. And this is not a typical comedy show. This is Republican Riot–comedy for and by political conservatives–held last week at the Don’t Tell Mamma cabaret on 46th St., a sublevel club around the corner from a porno emporium.

In addition to topping the bill, Gorin also organized the night, with an eye toward monthly shows and a run that will hopefully culminate during the 2004 Republican convention. She’s a seasoned stand-up comic whose act evolved from observational humor and jokes about dating into political humor during the late 90s.

"Bill Clinton was in office, so there was always something funny to say… The audience responded pretty well, so that encouraged me to move in a political direction. I happen to be right-wing, so my observations are always coming from that perspective."

That same year, she started writing opinion pieces for conservative outlets, and has since written articles such as "Not at Albright" and "The Hours: I Am Woman, Hear Me Bore" for Jewish World Review, and Opinion Journal. The Republican Riot was her first attempt at producing a show.

"I suffered through nearly a decade of listening to other people’s acts, when they bash Republicans. Conservatives are the butt of all their jokes. And they defend Bill Clinton and talk about how his penis was good for the economy. And the audience cheers."

To counter what she views as a pronounced liberal bias in stand-up comedy, she created a routine demanding that Americans get their heads out of the gutter and instead wrap their arm around President Bush–or her "Georgie," as she refers to him during the act. Democrats ("You gotta love ’em") were frequent targets of jokes, as were immigrants, Iraqis, Europeans (specifically, and obviously, the French) Palestinians and, of course, Bill Clinton.

Sex is an oft-returned-to topic. "Libertarians are Republicans with an unhealthy preoccupation with sex," she jokes, and "the Democrats are against the missile shield because they’re so busy having sex they won’t notice that the bombs are dropping." She defines liberal ideology as "give me liberty or give me tyranny, as long as you give me sex."

This anti-sex slant is a tough sell for a room full of comedy-hungry drunks no matter what the ideological makeup of the audience, but Gorin draws upon years of experience on the comedy circuit. She knows how to brand an identity: onstage she becomes a Chuck Jones sketch of a New York Jew, effecting a high-pitched tremolo voice and kvetch-me-if-you-can nervousness. She airs her insecurities to get the audience on her side, tightly intertwining jokes about her self-image with her right-wing observations.

Her opening act, Robert George, lacks Gorin’s streamlined stand-up mojo; his act is a scattershot volley of one-liners devoid of her smooth transitions. He’s a professional television commentator and a writer for the un-bylined editorial page of the New York Post, which he refers to as the second-least credible paper in New York. The first? The New York Times.
George is a black Catholic Republican, and he opens his set with jokes about the inherent conflicts in his racial, spiritual and political identities. He equates his multilayered personality with the Republican party’s broad diversity, then jokes that the party has some diverse broads, while winking at a lady in the front row.

With the California recall election just one day old, George takes the opportunity to riff: Arnold won by courting the Cali hiphop vote with a band called "Schwarza-niggahs with Attitude" and a song called "Straight out of Austria." After a rendition of that song, he adds, "I might be black, but I’m not crazy." The crowd wants him to succeed, wants him–and Julia–to kill, to be hilarious, to be funnier than Garofalo and Carlin and the other liberal giants of standup. So when Julia’s punchlines flatline or when George’s voice stammers, the crowd is uncomfortable but patient.

The Republican Riot show may just be the New York tip of the Republican comedy iceberg. Brad Stine is a conservative comic who tours with the Promise Keepers, playing to arena crowds numbering in the thousands. A veteran of the secular circuit and the 90s cable-tv comic boom, Stine has found his "very pro-Patriot, very pro-theism, very pro-God" personal philosophy to be in opposition to the stereotypical comedian.

"Comedians are thought of as rock ’n’ roll, spoken-word, edgy, pushing the envelope," he observes, "but to do that from a conservative, Judeo-Christian point of view is unique."
Around the 45-minute mark of his act, Stine will often point out that he hasn’t used a single curse word. No matter which club he’s in, he says, that factoid never fails to garner applause.
He currently brings his brand of pro-American jokery to churches and religious functions, noting he doesn’t "do as many clubs now because [he doesn’t] make as much money."

Stand-up comedy is a format that’s ready-made for conservatives. There’s allowance for the Limbaugh monologue/rant, spots for one-liners and ample space for Fox News-style soundbyte ethos. Comedy club audiences respond to shouting and invective and, really now, how far of a jump is it from Bill O’Reilly to Sam Kinison?

As Stine told me, "There is certainly a huge constituency of conservatives in the United States who have made Fox News the number-one news network… There are millions of Americans saying ‘speak for me, speak for me,’ and they’ve never had a comic do it."