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Applause for Agreement

May 15th, 2005 · 5 Comments

I saw Margaret Cho doing stand-up at the Warner Theater last night before making my way to an aptly-named “Scantily Clad” party. She was generally pretty funny, but there was one aspect of the act I found sort of befuddling. At numerous points, she’d just throw out some policy position—”The death penalty is wrong”; “Why shouldn’t gay people be allowed to get married?”—which invariably set off a round of applause and loud cheers. Well, I agree with those sentiments, and with the others she expressed that I can remember. But, like, so what? I’m sure there’s some pseudo-sociological take on how this is about affirming group solidarity, but gosh it gets a bit tiresome. It bled into some of the actual jokes as well: Lots of pretty easy, cliched slams at Bush got laughter and applause that can’t possibly still be funny, even if they were when first uttered. As with the serially unfunny right-slanted Day by Day comic, it seems as though the appeal is just that it’s ideologically congenial. But why does that make it funny?

On a related note: Why do people think there’s some kind of irony or paradox in the observation that pro-lifers when it comes to abortion are often pro–death penalty? (FWIW, I’m both pro-choice and anti–death penalty.) Cho did manage to make this old saw sort of amusing, concluding that “what this tells us is: They like to procrastinate.” But it’s scarcely a weird combination of views to think that a small innocent person (if that’s what you think a fetus is) ought not be killed, while maybe a multiple murderer should be. Again, I’m with Cho on the policy question, but if we’re going to deal in shallow charges of inconsistency, the “paradox” claim running the other way seems at least superficially more plausible.

Tags: Art & Culture



5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Luke // May 15, 2005 at 8:03 pm

    Your question about “cogenial” ideologies facilitating laughter is a good one.

    As a stand-up comic, I can say you’re mostly right. It is far easier to get laughs from people who are sympathetic to your viewpoint (or outright agree). Lots of comics will do shows for organizations they agree with, e.g. female comics performing at Planned Parenthood fundraiser. They’ll tell abortion jokes and get larger than usual applause since a) they identify completely with the joke and b) it creates some kind of intimacy between the audience and the comic.

    But also keep in mind some realities about Margaret Cho. She’s EASILY got one of the most loyal, devoted (albeit strange and hyper-sexually gay) followings in all of comedy. That means a) they’ll be more inclined to forgive her for weak material and laugh at good material and b) the venue she played was a theatre which will preclude the average comedy club goer and entice the Margaret Cho fan base to attend. The deck was very much stacked in her favor.

    Given those considerations (there are others), she almost has carte blanche with her material, delivery, etc.

  • 2 MDtoMN // May 16, 2005 at 8:55 am

    I think the by-far more important question is – Why can’t Right-wingers write decent comics? I know I’m biased by my own ideology, but there’s no right-wing Doonesbury, and the right-wing comics who manage to get significant positions (the Lang guy at CNN and McCoy at NY Times) are really, really, really bad. I mean, the art needs serious work, and the jokes are generally not funny at all. Don’t even get me started on Mallard Fillmore, which doesn’t seem to understand that comedy takes more than simply negative commentary about the opponent and generally benefits from some type of ironic twist or unexpected absurdity. I have often read his comics and thought to myself, where’s the third panel? You know, the one with the joke?

  • 3 Luke // May 16, 2005 at 11:17 am

    Why aren’t right wingers good at comedy (I’m Libertarian so that theory isn’t quite true)? Well, consider what I said in the New York Daily News gossip section, Llyod Grove’s Lowdown:

    “The 24-year-old Thomas, a buzz-cut and multitattooed libertarian writer who has two months left in the Marine Reserves, acknowledged: ‘Liberals dominate the comedy scene. That’s because left-wingers are more willing to experiment. In my experience, conservatives aren’t creative people. Most people on the right don’t have that fringe mentality. And some people on the right are just losers.’

    Whole link here:

    So aside from calling conservatives losers, the above could be some insight. I was interviewed for a show called “Republican Riot” (a show I will never again and was coincidentally never invited back) and these were my awful remarks.

    But there are funny right-wingers (not religious however): Nick DiPaolo, Jim Norton and Vinnie Brand are all A-list comics who openly support Bush.

    Religion will naturally prohibit members of the right from ever fully embracing art in my view, but that’s a debate for another time.

  • 4 Kat // May 16, 2005 at 5:53 pm

    From a comic’s perspective, Cho could have been doing that to test her audience to see what kind of material to focus on. For instance, you saw that the gay marriage rally cries got a roaring applause while some of the reproductive rights rally cries got only a smattering in comparison. The show was then loaded with jokes related to gay marriage (and, well, penises). My guess is that wasn’t coincidence; it was tactical.

  • 5 Luke // May 17, 2005 at 10:09 am

    It is highly unlikely Cho was testing the audience.

    Material sharpening or audience testing is almost exclusively done in clubs. By the time comics are successful enough to tour theatres, the set they perform changes in only the slightest ways. They know precisely what they are going to say and almost never deviate. Consider that they are performing at a very nice venue to very expecting crowds who are paying good money; this is not the time to do crowd work or improvisation.

    I also encourage people to consider the fact that Cho was essentially getting away with murder with her material. That is, DC (for a city that votes overwhelmingly Democrat) is one of the most conservative towns in the country. Personally, as a comic that cut his teeth in New York City, I find this fucking annoying given a) my history and b) DC is the murder capital of the goddamn Milky Way, so you’d think people wouldn’t be have a little more to worry about than whether I use a naughty word or two, but I digress.

    So, the fact that Cho was performing risque material implies she didn’t have to pander to the general tenor of Washington. I assure you that the material she was performing would NOT have received the same adulation at the DC Improv or Wiseacres.