An interesting (and well worth reading) article in The Atlantic dives into some important questions: Why is there no conservative entertainer as funny as Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, or many others? And why is there no liberal talk radio host as successful as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, or many others?

Theorists have been trying to explain humor as far back as Plato. The ancient Greek philosopher said humor got its power from the pleasure people get when they feel superior over others, laughing at their foibles and flaws. Freud saw it as a cathartic release from society’s repressions, thus explaining all our sex and fart jokes. And Hegel saw it as reconciling two normally incongruous spheres of meaning—i.e., showing a football player in a cheerleading outfit or putting a cat in human clothes.

Peter McGraw, an associate professor at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, has argued for what he calls the “benign-violation theory” of humor. McGraw believes that humor results from violating social norms or by violating a particular person or group. But it only becomes funny when it’s placed in a second context that clearly signals the violation is harmless or benign. In other words, if someone falls down the stairs, it will only be really funny if that person doesn’t get hurt.

There may be alternative theories. For example, maybe there aren’t as many conservative satirists because you have to be a bit of an uncaring asshole in order to be an outspoken conservative. And maybe liberals can’t make it on AM talk radio because liberals don’t make very good ditto-heads.

Maybe that is too harsh. But it does make you wonder. And it would explain why an academic study found that a majority of conservatives believe Colbert is really a conservative.

Share