The Last Laugh?

One of the striking differences between Right-wing folks and those further left on the political spectrum is the humorlessness of the former. (Admittedly, go too far left, and you’ll find folks who are equally humorless.)

Some of you may recall efforts to find a Rightwing counterpart to Jon Stewart, back when he and the Daily Show were huge cultural influences.  It failed miserably–the short-lived conservative effort just wasn’t funny. Currently, late night humor/satire is predictably anti-Trump. I would be hard-pressed to name a popular conservative comedian.

What made me think about the uneven distribution of witty entertainment was reading #Secondcivilwarletters.

For readers of this blog who may inexplicably have missed them, the “letters”–patterned after the letters read as part of Ken Burns’ civil war documentary–absolutely owned Twitter and the Internet. The hashtag was a response to crazy Alex Jones’ (Infowars) assertion that “the liberals” were going to start a second civil war on the 4th of July. (News flash to Alex–it’s the 10th. No war yet.)

The only war that did begin was with humor on Twitter–and it was brilliant. And very funny.

In a large number of them, liberals poked fun at themselves and what we might term “liberal culture.” For example:

Dear Mother: the WiFi is weak and my last tweet went unliked. iPhone battery at 3%. Soles of my Toms are worn thin. Tonight we decamp to the Prospect Park bandshell with only goat cheese, a flat sheet, and a dry Zinfandel to watch Antibalas perform.

The ability to laugh at yourself is–in my humble opinion–the most essential element of a genuine sense of humor. (My mother used to say that anyone can laugh when someone else slips on a banana peel, but people with a real sense of humor can laugh when they slip on a banana peel.)

So what, you say. Why does humor matter?

It matters because a number of research studies have found an association between humour and intelligence.

Researchers in Austria recently discovered that funny people, particularly those who enjoy dark humour, have higher IQs than their less funny peers. They argue that it takes both cognitive and emotional ability to process and produce humour. Their analysis shows that funny people have higher verbal and non-verbal intelligence, and they score lower in mood disturbance and aggressiveness.

Not only are funny people smart, they’re nice to be around. Evidence suggests that having a good sense of humour is linked to high emotional intelligence and is a highly desirable quality in a partner. Evolutionary psychologists describe humour as a “heritable trait” that signals mental fitness and intellectual agility to prospective mates. In studies of attractiveness, both men and women rate funny people as more attractive, and cite having a good sense of humour as being one of the most important traits in a long-term partner.

The connection between intelligence and education is much more attenuated–plenty of people who haven’t gone to college are smart (and as a college professor I can attest to the fact that plenty of people who have managed to get through college are significantly less than brilliant.) But to the extent that ones’ level of education does signify knowledge or intellect, it’s telling that white support for Trump divides sharply between people without college degrees–who voted for and/or support him– and people with college degrees, who didn’t and don’t.

In this age of tribalism, there are so many ways Americans have “sliced and diced” ourselves–religion, race, gender, urban versus rural, etc. I’m really reluctant to add to those divisions, especially with a snippy and facile generalization. But there are some conclusions we can draw from the characteristics of the pro- and con-Trump camps, and one of them is that smart people don’t support this unstable, ignorant and dangerous President.

Who will get the last laugh is, unfortunately, still an open question.


  1. “Dear Ones, I remain at base camp where I continue to contribute to the cause by tending my roses and keeping the laundry up. I do hope to make the next skirmish at the State House… I’ll be the one wearing the Arlo Guthrie t shirt and sipping a Latte #Grannygoestowar”

  2. I was told sarcasm is a character defect–not an asset. This hurt me deeply. 😉

    Ripping apart your opponent is kind of a grandiose behavior but the “dark humor” is definitely a trait passed down from Eurocentric folks. I still crack up at Benny Hill and Monty Python.

    Quite frankly, Trump makes for an easy target. London is flying the “King Baby” blimp for Trump this week even though his SCOTUS pick isn’t anything to laugh about. Making light of the situation makes it tolerable.

    I’d experiment by posting memes on Facebook which mocked Trump or Trump/Pence. The humorless bigots would demand that I remove the post because it was “disrespectful” of our POTUS. The same folks would post memes about Obama and his wife often.

    I suppose that is part of the appeal of Fascism…it’s outwardly looking. “We’re not racists–you’re racist for pointing out the racism in my column.”

    I think self-aware people can make light of themselves and find humor in their errs. Those who have a blind spot to their own weakness and try to cover it up versus looking at their defects head-on are more sensitive or humorless.

    Do you command respect or do you earn it?

    I’ve known many people who salivate over the power that goes with a title. They had no ability to lead or organize. The only people who would serve tolerate them were sycophants who wanted the same powerful seat so they played along.

    One of the first people to abandon Trump early on said the strategy was, “Let Donald be Donald.”

    You could either toss aside any morality or conscience you possessed and joined him for the ride or you were repulsed by him. Sociopaths rise to places of power for a reason. 😉

  3. I’m on Twitter but I don’t go there often and I don’t give our my handle because I’m anonymous like I am here. If I open it, it gives me “what you may have missed” since I last opened it and most of those I’ve read about in the “news.” I can’t set the feed to current (like facebook) because it doesn’t work that way. I have 30 followers, ha. I’ve never gotten the hang of Twitter and have found it to be mean spirited and I have enough stress in my life to deal with without reading mean tweets.

    Those #Secondcivilwarletters tweets were hilarious! I laughed out loud reading them and definitely needed those belly laughs. I wished Twitter would ban IQ45 once and for all. His tweets are some of the most stupid and mean spirited I’ve ever read. F* him and his lies.

  4. The Right does outrage. e.g. Rush Limbaugh
    The Left does humor. e.g. Garry Trudeau

  5. Since the Trump election and, especially his inauguration, I feel like I am losing my sense of humor a little each day. Is 45 making everyone stupid?

  6. Alex Jones, Neanderthal that he is (apologies to all Neaderthals) was just catching up to history when he wrote that. The fact that he is now only 242 years behind the times should be a good sign. It may only take him 60 or 70 years to be living in the present.

  7. Well, so much for my theory that Alex Jones is just a misunderstood performance artist.

  8. Sarcasm is an intelligent person’s alternative to kicking the shit out of somebody.

    There are no “conservative” comics around, because they lack certain necessities that define and reflect joy.

  9. This current administration calls for comedians of the level of Richard Pryor and George Carlin; the wisdom of George Carlin’s admonishment, “Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.” comes to mind.

    I need to reboot by sense of humor; possibly the level of a boot in the butt to give it a boost. Their stupidity and meanness is beyond laughter and has become a physical danger to all of us. The “Baby Trump” balloon was worth a chuckle but we need that life-size Trump statue for a full belly laugh.

  10. I liked this tweet from your link:

    While this war has been tiresome, I don’t expect it to last. Red Hat casualties are mounting. They choose not to treat their wounded brethren, instead they just scream “I’M NOT PAYING FOR YOUR HEALTHCARE” & leave them for dead.
    Another goodie:
    Dear Dads,

    General DeGrasse Tyson had our battalion dress as climate change, and we easily slipped past the MAGA fortifications. They refused to believe we had arrived until it was too late.

  11. I always said that it is humor that will flush out the dump…..when you look ridiculous, petty, humorless, et al……..people of good sense will laugh…..

  12. I am humorless so much so that I am irritated by mindless patter or cute repartee. The commercial “comedies” are inane.
    I am anxious about November 6, 2018. I despair that we are powerless to confront the humorless bullroar from the Disgrace in the White House exacerbated by the dumbing down of Red States in America.
    My good news is I am nearing my stop and will be getting off soon. The downside is I will not be reading from you folks.
    Would that we’re in for a pleasant surprise when Mueller dumps “it” on the airways in early October so voters and non-voters will get a patriotic wake-up kick in the pants and make this Mid-Term flip like no other.

  13. Yes. Nothing enrages a pathetic, pathological narcissist than ridicule and laughter. Why else would Trump be escaping to the outer reaches of London? He wants to avoid protests at all costs, because it makes him even crazier. Again, typical of these demented souls, the orange hairball won’t interview with anyone but his shower buddies at Fox. He won’t go ANYWHERE that doesn’t produce a fawning, mindless crowd of true believers. He hates dissent like all dictators. Then, he knows his rage is a huge turnoff to everyone not in his circle.

    No humor in any of this. Trump is beneath humor. He is not psychologically arranged to appreciate anything not him. Sad.

  14. Just some headlines from various sources:
    From the Smirking Chimp:
    What Udder Boobs Are These Guys

    By definition, they can never hit absolute bottom in this bottomless atrocity of an administration, but by God they came close in opposing … mother’s milk.

    At the World Health Assembly in Geneva this spring, “American officials sought to water down [a resolution that declares mother’s milk the healthiest for children] by removing language that called on governments to ‘protect, promote and support breast-feeding’ and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.”
    Protesters Heckle Mitch McConnell in Kentucky Restaurant Parking Lot
    McConnell faced another crowd of critics in a parking lot of a Louisville, Kentucky, restaurant.
    Democratic Socialists of Louisville confirmed that three people from the crowd are members of the political group, the chapter said the person who called McConnell a “turtle head” and shouted, “We know where you live, Mitch,” is not a member of the organization.

    Asked to respond to the encounter, McConnell spokesman David Popp told the Post, “If the Leader comments on being called a fascist and a supporter of ICE by a small handful of extremist protesters then I will let you know.” Please note the words “The Leader” – Duce perhaps???
    Monsanto ‘bullied scientists’ and hid weedkiller cancer risk, lawyer tells court.
    “Monsanto has specifically gone out of its way to bully … and to fight independent researchers,” said the attorney Brent Wisner, who presented internal Monsanto emails that he said showed how the agrochemical company rejected critical research and expert warnings over the years while pursuing and helping to write favorable analyses of their products. “They fought science.”

    DeWayne Johnson, known also as Lee, a California man whose cancer has spread through his body. The father of three and former school groundskeeper, who doctors say may have just months to live, is the first person to take Monsanto to trial over allegations that the chemical sold under the Roundup brand is linked to cancer.

    Monsanto began marketing as Roundup in 1974, presenting it as a technological breakthrough that could kill almost every weed without harming humans or the environment.
    In the world of Corporate Argo-Business, if we do not have a patent on it – KILL IT.
    Former Putin adviser has secret investment in US energy firm praised by Trump.
    Alexander Voloshin – who served as Boris Yeltsin’s chief of staff before working for Putin between 2000 and 2003 – has an undisclosed stake in American Ethane, a Houston-based firm that recently signed a multibillion dollar export deal with China.

    Voloshin is part of a consortium of Russian investors in American Ethane that at one point included the oligarch and billionaire Roman Abramovich.

    The Russians decided to pivot from shale to ethane, a gas byproduct generated by fracking.
    >> Side Bar another favorite of the fossil fuel industry – Fracking.<<<

    Research by Dossier also reveals Voloshin’s remarkable network of contacts in the west. Kissinger has met regularly with Voloshin, including twice in Moscow in 2013 and 2016, and once in 2014 in New York, typically for lunch.

    Thomas Graham – a former adviser to George W Bush, and a senior Kissinger aide – accompanies Kissinger on these trips. Kissinger has urged Trump to pragmatically reset relations with Putin.

    The Guardian article is long, but it is a good instructive read on how the 1% have at their core an allegiance to money. Vince Lombardi, coach of the Packers once said Winning isn't everything – It's the only Thing. In the case of the 1% and in particular our President Agent Orange – Money in my pocket isn't the only thing – It is everything!!!!

  15. Plato knew that humor was the flip side of tragedy. I am sorry to make jokes at the expense of my enemies. They should not give me so much easy material.

  16. Humor. Jimmy Kimmel is where I get my insight into the countries fall from grace although I think that it’s a little cruel how he demonstrates the seemingly complete absence of education among those who flock to the entertainment center of L.A.

    I’ve written many time of the effects of our addiction to entertainment 24 hours a day on screens that range from Chiclet size to movie theaters where you can feel the sound. Why do we need so much of it? Not that it’s good entertainment. There is about the same laugh potential now between the evening news and supposed situation comedies. We have a hilarious President and boring comedians.

    In some ways I can’t wait for the task of rebuilding government back to Consitutional but the size of the task seems absolutely monumental and global. One almost wishes that we had gone from Bush/Cheney through a term of Thug One then to Obama.

  17. Pete,

    “One almost wishes that we had gone from Bush/Cheney through a term of Thug One then to Obama.”

    That was never going to happen. The Republicans needed the Democrats to come in and cover up the mess that Bush/Cheney had created. That’s why Obama was able to be elected.

    Not this time. No one is going to be able to cover-up the mess created by Thug One.

  18. I’ve always thought that humor was and remains the most powerful weapon one can use against the arrogant and self-important. Thanks to Sheila for further confirming what I already knew–that we on the left are just better at it than the right. They’re too busy trying to make their requisite points to remember that it also has to be funny. Don’t know if any of you are familiar with the comic strip Mallard Fillmore. It’s the one strip in my local paper here in Springfield IL that I avoid, because it just isn’t funny. The best humor always points up.

  19. Sheila and I are on the same wave length. Here’s a letter to the editor I submitted recently to the Charleston Post and Courier:

    Have you heard the Republican joke about… Sorry! My mistake. There aren’t any Republican jokes. In fact, the Republican sense of humor is no laughing matter. Although many of us spend a lot of time chuckling at President Trump, it is never because he said something witty. Rather, it’s the utter absurdity of nearly everything that comes out of his mouth that elicits an embarrassed chortle. That is a universal reaction to those who make glaringly inaccurate statements in the bewildered certainty that they know what they are talking about. If what I’m saying is fake news, please remind me of some uproarious punch lines he has delivered since the Trump Tower escalator ride that enabled him to look down on his countrymen.

    Why have Republicans ceded comedy to the Democrats? Humor is such a powerful uplifting of the human spirit, such an intrinsic part of America’s personality that you’d think they’d find it worth fighting for. But they’ve given up without cracking a smile or hiring a late night host. While I’m not amused by all of the mockery of the man who is currently misleading our country, much of it is insightful and goes a long way to ease the tensions caused by the deep disrespect the president shows immigrants, allies, children, women, and anyone of color. His early morning attempts at being funny are running a 100% failure rate. In fact, it often seems his petulance primarily targets those who neglect to mention, in the most obsequious manner possible, what a paragon of virtue he is. And it often seems that those who demonstrate sufficient affection while bussing his backside have a reasonable shot at becoming a cabinet member.

    If President Trump says something intentionally and genuinely humorous before the November election, I will personally send a $5 check to the RNC. I’ve never had such confidence in a bet.

  20. “In studies of attractiveness, both men and women …cite having a good sense of humour as being one of the most important traits in a long-term partner.”

    In my experience, I find the results of that study to be true but misleading. For instance: My wife rated a sense of humor at the top of her want list. However, her meaning of a sense of humor was the ability of her spouse to not take things seriously, especially to be glib and silly enough to overlook her shortcomings. She slept till noon and then in four hours, by the time I got home from work, she had hustled through making a list of things for me to do…and that was supposed to be funny. She: “Jesus God, I wish you had a sense of humor!” Her favorite memorized jokes had punchlines in which someone lost body parts. She: “It’s a joke, people. No one has a sense of humor any more.”

    Another of my wives could memorize a zillion jokes, tell them in gatherings and expect people to laugh. Those who laughed she judged to have a sense of humor. But those who were witty and made up brilliant witticisms in mid-conversation, she considered dull, primarily because she wasn’t smart enough to keep up with or get the joke of a quick witted humorous person. “These people are crazy,” she would say to me; “They laugh at the most asinine things. Half the time, I think they’re laughing at me.” Me: “Uh-huh; I hear you.”

    Another of my wives…

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