Sunday, May 15, 2011

Joking Matters

Two ingredients essential to every successful leader and every successful comedian are the ability to laugh in the face of adversity (to not drown in self-importance) and (most important) timing. 

The reason Obama won the last election and will undoubtedly win the next one is that he is a master of timing, a factor more of intuition than intellect. Although Obama often displays an impressive intellect I believe his strength as a politician (a strength largely lacking in his opponents) is an almost uncanny sense of how and when to address the public mood in both words and actions to achieve maximum impact. His talent in this regard rivals even Bill Clinton, and he carries less of the personal baggage. This is what has rendered his political rivals almost laughable in comparison (just look at the Republican field).   

He has the mojo of a standup comedian. His recent performance at the Washington Correspondent's Dinner demonstrates that he could take on standup as an alternative career.
Since the days of Ronald Reagan (a professional entertainer) Republicans have relied on a single tactic of drumming up fear to win elections. Unfortunately, since Reagan they haven't been able to balance that fear with even a positive outlook. The result is that the Republican party looks more and more like a collection of paranoid schizophrenics, conspiracy theorists and religious fanatics who inhabit a corner where only humorlessness prevails (Mike Huckabee seems like the only one with any real sense of humor - perhaps because he has faith that the Rapture will put an end to all of our problems.) The quality of whatever humor conservatives do display relies almost entirely on some form of infantile ridicule and sarcasm (see Palin, Bachman, Beck or Fox 'News'). Have you ever seen a really funny conservative comedian? (Dennis Miller is evidence that proves my point.) Whereas fear of the future may appeal to the over 50 audience that makes up most of the Fox viewership, it doesn't have much of an attraction for the young. The conservative demographic is aging as the young and the hopeful (immigrants) begin to fill the voting rolls. As the revolts in the Middle East are proving, history doesn't necessarily favor the fascists.  

It was Steven Colbert, a comedian who was the first public figure to stand up to George Bush and say things that many were thinking, thus breaking the cloud of fear and silence that prevailed in the years following 9/11. I one of the most significant comedy performances in history, Colbert elevated to its proper place the vital role of court jester - to speak truth to power. 

The tradition continued with this year's performance by Seth Meyer. The difference is that the president this time actually seemed to think the jokes, even when directed at him, were funny. Of course many will say that comedians are part of the nefarious network of liberal conspirators emanating out of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Again, let me as if you've ever seen a genuinely funny conservative?  

Fox News is the current headquarters for those who consider themselves to be professionally humorless (accept in the case of venomous sarcasm). Their job is to maintain a 24 hour news cycle dominated by total fear, all of the time in order to advance a political agenda that is bought and paid for by billionaire fascists. When I stumble upon or allow myself to be conned into watching any of these people I can get easily thrown off balance by sheer astonishment at the degree of contempt and viciousness on display. into anger mode. I've discovered that the best antidote is to go on the Net and take in a little comedy via Bill Maher, John Stewart or Louis Black.

Not to make light of things, but in my opinion the greatest obstacle to human survival these days is the fear that distorts our perceptions of ourselves and others, and the most effective antidote is humor.  

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