There is only one antidote to this fear-and-loathing-filled Republican National Convention— huge and healthy doses of humor. So I gathered with friends, guffawing as Stephen Colbert resurrected his original Colbert Report character. And he welcomed back John Stewart, who looks like a cross between the Unabomber, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and your beloved rabbi. Seeing those two do their old shtick—calling Trump an “angry Creamsicle”—was like the calm clarity that comes after heaving up the last of that food poisoning that has made you so nauseous.
Binge-watching late night comedy clips, my friends and I sat a little too near the TV screen—the way our primitive ancestors warmed themselves around fire. It made me realize how little real warmth or humor is offered in this Republican convention or its menacing presidential campaign. Where are the conservatives’ stand-up comics, their late-night comedians? Where are the right-leaning pundits who have the sharp, slapstick, or even sanguine wit to actually make fun of themselves and their opponents?
The only real hope and change seems to be on late night comedy. When the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah begins his RNC coverage with the banner, “Submission Accomplished;” when Samantha Bee explains that Sarah Palin isn’t at the RNC—she’s “mad because Trump stole her word salad spinner;” when Larry Whitmore in his continuing must-watch series, “Blacklash 2016: The Unblackening,” skewers Trump’s anti-abortion stand as “late-term stupidity,” or warns that “Donald Trump is making America hate again”—it’s not always funny ha-ha, it’s funny like the bracing truth-telling fools in Shakespeare’s tragedies.
Black humor matters. That’s why we really need a good, long belly laugh after a seemingly endless election cycle that runs on blame, shame, and scapegoating—those tools of any nation’s dysfunctional political family. When Stephen Colbert takes back his desk in his familiar Bill O’Reilly imitation, and intones, “Nation!” this swiftly tilting Republican presidential campaign is set right again. It’s like waking up very late at night from a daytime nightmare.
As my friends and I continued our comedic antidote to the RNC on You Tube, we howled and knee-slapped over Colbert’s riff on The Word: Trumpiness. We replayed the brilliant Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal” coverage of the RNC, as she explained the unholy alliance between the Religious Right and a non-repentant Trump, who makes America safe again—especially for sinners and adulterers. We fell off our easy chairs laughing as John Oliver explained that “every time Donald Trump hears his name out loud, he has a shattering orgasm.”
Why are the Far Right Republicans so completely humorless? Their Tea Party feels more like a lynching than a party. The Far Right Republican emotional spectrum is stuck on the one-note-samba of fear and fury. A good sense of humor requires some generous detachment to observe one’s own and other’s foibles. Have you ever watched a Tea Party or Religious Right fundamentalist stand-up comic? Do they exist? New York writer, Frank Rich’s “Can Conservatives Be Funny?” cites a few, like Dennis Miller and Greg Gutfeld. Rich notes, “a lot of conservative comedy both expresses and panders to today’s Republican base, older white men who see America changing and feel impotent about thwarting it.” He concludes that “conservative comics rarely make fun of their own camp as liberals so profitably do.”
Has any speaker at this RNC said anything remotely self-mocking or sardonic in their tedious litany of Benghazi, Hillary’s emails, and illegal immigrants “coming to kill us,” as Trevor Noah says? Perhaps Far Right Republicans are born without much humor DNA. It’s a congenital weakness. Eve got the rib, and Adam lost his funny bone.
Or just maybe Donald Trump is the closest outraged Republicans can come to humor. Trump’s surprise attacks, off-script rants, and off-color jabs all have the timing of a stand-up, audience-baiting extreme wanna-be comedian. Trump’s Twitter punch lines fall flat. His bullying blame-fests and name-calling have the panache of one-line riffs, not of a stiff, scripted politician, but an edgy off-the-rails reality star. People tune in to see how mind-bogglingly incoherent or just how low will he go. Trump is perhaps the Republican’s only lurch toward humor; and like most immature and badly crafted comedy, it just dies on stage. To be fair, Trump is not a comic headliner. He is better suited as the bouncer or like the Far Right carnival barker. He is their idea of a Big Tent.
Trump doesn’t have the chops for wryly intelligent observations like John Oliver’s outraged riffs on national debt or Olympic doping. Not once in Trump’s campaign have we witnessed true grief or compassion or kindness. So why should we hope for any comic relief? Trump’s wince-worthy version of a snarky put-down is downright mean at best, and jaw-droppingly insensitive or racist, at worst. Only the most talented comics, who are often the kindest people in their off-stage lives, get away with insult humor. Think Don Rickles.
We must laugh at Trump because that will make us sane and strong again. And it just might be the only thing that stops him. Because if we make this dangerous clown president, we’ll be laughing so hard—it hurts.
Bio: Brenda Peterson is the author of 19 books, including Your Life is a Book, featured on Oprah.com., and I Want to Be Left Behind, selected as “Great Read” by independent booksellers. www.BrendaPetersonBooks.com