Whenever I meet a fellow conservative—at the Opera, or at the Latin Mass, or at the hush hush child-sacrificing soirées we all attend—and they ask what it is that I ‘do’, I am always hesitant to answer ‘stand-up comedy’. Primarily, this is because if you have to tell somebody you’re a performer then you’re probably unsuccessful, and nobody wants to share a box, or a pew, or an infant, with a failure. Secondly, conservatives are, without fail, unprepared for the news that a right-of-centre-stand-up comedian exists. Their follow-up question is often something along the lines of ‘how is that allowed to happen?’
It is an incitement on both the right and the media that entertainment has been ceded to the Left. Practically every American late-night talk show host—Meyers, Colbert, Oliver, Noah, Bee, Maher, Kimmel—is an avowed progressive. The rest—Fallon, O’Brien, Corden—avoid politics whenever possible; to get by, one must either espouse leftism or have nothing political to say at all. The Australian television landscape is much the same. Nobody is at risk of confusing Charlie Pickering or Tom Ballard with an Abbott supporter. Shaun Micallef’s ideological biases are inscrutable but, then again, Mad as Hell is not so much a satirical current affairs programme as a high-falutin’ excuse for people to run around in octopus costumes.
Apolitical absurdism is not a balance for progressive propaganda. Why aren’t there Tory comedians on television? Largely, it’s because there aren’t very many Tory comedians full stop. I could count the number of conservatives in Australian comedy on one hand and count the number of comedians happy to be publicly identified as ‘conservative’ on the stump of a convicted Saudi thief.
Conversely, the most superfluously-armed Hindu God wouldn’t have enough fingers to count the number of comics who’d bristle at the above, cavalier references to sharia (Islamophobia), amputation (ableism), and subcontinental iconography (culturally-appropriative-sub-atomic-aggression).
The conservative comedians who are savvy—i.e. not me—tend to keep their political beliefs to themselves, in the hope of securing advancement in an overwhelmingly left-wing environment. One doesn’t blame them. Telling the chaps at the ABC that, in your opinion, the public broadcaster should be privatised is a sub-optimal way to get your own show, much in the same way that turning up at a nightclub wearing an ‘I HAVE GENITAL HERPES’ T-shirt is a sub-optimal way to get laid. I told a comedian/clandestine Trump supporter about my plan to write this article. ‘Well,’ he responded, ‘let me know if you need any help writing your resignation letter from show business.’ Admittedly I lack the virtue of prudence, but I’ve never seen the point in having a private and a public self. One doesn’t take up comedy for the money and respect. One gets into comedy because one wants to say whatever one damn well pleases.
That said, left-wing comedians very seldom hold my right-wing proclivities against me. Unless they’re on Twitter, or on stage, or on methamphetamines, comedians tend to be welcoming and open-minded. They are, nevertheless, just as bamboozled by my existence as the conservatives. After a gig, while imbibing with a fellow performer, I will occasionally, accidentally, proffer a less-than-progressive opinion. My interlocutor will laugh, stare off into the distance for a moment, and then seek to ensure that I’m being sarcastic, or have misspoken, or am speaking in riddles. ‘When you say you “quite like” Cory Bernardi, what exactly does that mean?’
It is the same tone that atheists use when they discover somebody they thought was reasonable believes in God; the tone a snob uses when they’re unable to divine the hidden meaning behind the sentence ‘Nicholas Cage is a great actor’. There are some things decent people are not supposed to believe. A few buddies in the comedy scene insist that, despite quite obviously having nailed my colours to the mast, I must be having them on.
There is only one especial impediment for the conservative comedian. It isn’t other performers, and it’s not audiences either. Comedy audiences couldn’t give a fig where you sit on the political spectrum—they just want you to be funny. The only real road block for a Bible-bashing, Thatcher-fancying, man-splaining performer trying to make it in the business they call show, is the massive class of producers and middle-managers who work behind the scenes in television, cinema, and radio. They’re the day-to-day gatekeepers of what gets on air, and are instinctively politically correct. They don’t identify as Marxists, or post-modernists, because they do not know the meaning of either term. They call themselves feminists, but if you asked which wave they’d think you were talking about the beach. If you told them there was a culture war going on, they’d ask where culture was on the map. I mock them with impunity here, because no such person would ever get this far into an essay.
These people cannot conceivably work at Triple M or Sky News, but they seem to run the show everywhere else. Last year, while working in commercial radio, I attempted to spruce up an otherwise pedestrian story about gay marriage in Germany by announcing that there was ‘good news for people who engage in homosexual acts. Now you can now get engaged’. This admittedly lame wordplay was deemed to be appallingly offensive by the producers. Not by the listeners, mind. Not a single complaint was made. Despite hours of meetings, and despite the fact that nobody on the staff could articulate why it was offensive, I was informed that the phraseology had a ‘problematic vibe’ and that, what I had done, whatever it was, was not to be done again. On another occasion I used the word ‘ranga’ on air when I should have said ‘person with red hair’. The station was concerned that my outburst might constitute racial discrimination. My protestation that I am a ranga, and that we are not a race, fell on hearing-impaired ears. Again, no public complaints were brought to my attention. You don’t have to offend anybody to be found guilty of offensiveness.
The Left has worked tirelessly in the last half-century to win the hearts and minds of powerful mediocrities such as these. So how is a conservative comedian ‘allowed to happen’? By circumnavigating the mainstream media and putting on live shows. Tickets to mine, McCann-dle in the Wind, are on sale now, by the way.
James Donald Forbes McCann tweets @jdfmccann, and is touring nationally in the coming months