COMMENTARY: By Nick Rockel
You’re watching mainstream media and you hear someone articulate a clearly thought through leftwing position with the pros and cons sensibly explained, are you?
A) Watching the news
B ) Watching current affairs
C) Watching a comedian
D) Tripping balls
The answer is of course “C”, we would also accept “D” as an answer, but A & B are clearly nonsense.
There are no leftwing voices in mainstream media, but that’s OK we’ve got comedy, and there is certainly no such thing as a right wing comedian. Rightwingers get the newsroom and we get satire.
So why are there no rightwing comedians? Certainly a lot of comedy is about punching up, mocking those with power and/or wealth. You don’t get a lot of comedians rocking up and saying “LOL let’s have some tax cuts and cut public services” — that is what Tories are for.
The jester is there to mock the king and the nobility, not the peasants.
Maybe it’s why people on the right seem to like politicians such as Boris Johnson or John Key who can have a bit of a laugh at themselves, even if to many they appear to be quite absurd caricatures of themselves.
It would explain the appetite for David Seymour’s gurning and twerking like a court jester for popularity, unbeknown to the audience that his first policy would be starvation rations for the peasants and extra helpings for the well to do — hurrah!
Chris Bishop looks to be the next off that production line, in the mould of rightwing politicians who because they can crack a joke think they are the next John Key. The “if he can do it anyone can, hold my beer” school of politics.
On the other hand can you imagine Nicola Willis attempting humour? No, when she is the “mother of the nation” it will be more austerity, less gruel, and absolutely no laughter. If you ever see her smiling don’t smile back, don’t wave, just run!
So we on the left get comedians and on the right they get people like bank economists, or what might be better referred to as bank lobbyists. When you listen to the ANZ economist on the news you can be sure he has the interests of the bank at heart. Boy Wonder Brad Olsen isn’t there just to amuse us with his uncannily inaccurate crystal ball readings of doom and despair.
Like the health spokesperson for a tobacco company, these lobbyists may be aware of the impacts of their products on peoples lives but rest assured they are there to represent the interests of shareholders, not customers.
You do get comedians that are not overtly leftwing nor “politically correct”, the likes of Bill Burr, Doug Stanhope, or Jim Jefferies. Very funny comedians who while not advocating the move to the socialist utopia we all yearn for aren’t exactly riffing Ayn Rand either. Politics isn’t a big part of their spiel but they are certainly not conservatives.
To be clear in terms of comedians I’m not only talking “left” in terms of political parties they might support but also being liberal, you really aren’t going to see a lot of comedians mocking pro-choice people for example. Which is a shame as the anti-abortion crowd must be pretty much the most humourless bunch on the planet — and they could really do with a laugh.
As with any poorly thought through proposition there are some exceptions. I have been known to watch Top Gear without wanting to hit Jeremy Clarkson — I even read some of his books and laughed. It has been a long time since my last confession.
Speaking of which, I also read both of Paul Henry’s books. The biography was a good read; quite adorable with the way he talked about his mother. Then he wrote another book with his political views on things and I wanted to punch him in the throat — not figuratively.
Occasionally you might think you hear a leftwing voice but it turns out it’s just someone reporting the news without bias, their opinion, or including a vox pop with the one disgruntled person they could find.
For example some on the right might describe a journalist like John Campbell as leftwing but really it’s simply that he listens and speaks without an agenda, and that seems unusual by comparison.
In a similar way there are few rightwing musicians, I’m guessing the fact Donald Trump was closely aligned with Kid Rock wasn’t due to a long love of hillbilly trailer rap, more to do with what was available to him, but that is probably a different post.
Through the Bush and Trump years many people relied on comedians, people like Jon Stewart, to satirise the absurdity of the leader of the free world being a bozo and also discuss positive alternatives. They get us through rough times by mocking those motivated by greed, personal advancement, and appealing to stupid people.
My favourite comedian is Frankie Boyle, following the tradition of the previous generation of people like Bill Hicks or George Carlin with his observations, but darker, much much darker.
Caring about humans
Russell Howard captures things so humanly, which fundamentally (hat tip to you know who) is what a leftwing view on the world is to me — caring about other human beings. Save me your “but rightwing people care about other human beings too”, look who you vote for, it doesn’t add up.
I can’t find a decent version on YouTube any more but Stewart Lee’s piece “coming over here” pointing out the absurdity of those who supported Brexit may well be one of the greatest comedy routines ever recorded.
Certainly here in Aotearoa when a National or ACT MP appear on 7 Days they are going into the lion’s den whereas Labour or Green politicians are greeted every much with a “you’re one of us” vibe. So pretty much the reverse of everything in the media that isn’t comedy.
Our comedians make rightwing nutters look ridiculous, just ask Leo Molloy. In fact if you’re talking to Leo some sound advice might be “don’t be yourself, especially when taking to comedians”. There is a limit to all publicity being good publicity, be a lot less “Leo”.
We have our own traditions, McPhail and Gadsby — who could forget the former impersonating Muldoon? The genius of people like Tom Scott and Steve Braunias.
In my opinion the finest local comedic work at present is David Slack’s regular column on Kia Kaha Primary. The way it captures the essence of New Zealand through its characters, observations and humour is in the tradition of John Clarke — and I can’t think of higher praise than that!
If you want to understand a complex issue based on the facts and some thoughtful analysis forget the news — I recommend White Man Behind a Desk.
Playing on prejudices
Right wing comedians, such as they are, seem to want to point fun at those on the bottom or resort to playing on prejudices, for example the ghastly local cartoonist Al Nisbet.
Maybe a cartoon of text that says “FREE SCHOOL FOOD IS GREAT! EASES OUR POVERTY, AND PUTS SOMETHING IN YOU KIDS’ BELLIES! T 3 NN Mung 1959 ه”
A cartoonist or a satirist should through their humour explore a deeper truth; the best of it should make us laugh at ourselves. What truth is being explored by the cartoonist here? That racism is alive and well within him and his audience?
So there is the odd rightwing comedian, but I’m sure if you’ve read this far you would agree that finding one that is actually funny is another matter. Perhaps the proposition should be that “there are no FUNNY rightwing comedians”?
The sad reality, or perhaps the silver lining, is the worse the rightwing politicians the better the comedy. With the likes of the weaselly Simeon Brown or she “casts no shadow” Brooke van Velden coming through comedy should be in good stead for years to come.
As for Christopher Luxon sometimes it is hard to know where the reality ends and the comedy begins. He falls short of the greats of comedic material like Judith Collins and Simon Bridges but there should be much for comedians to work with if they can find anything of substance. It is difficult to poke holes in jelly.
We need comedians, you’re not going to get someone on the news say:
“Under National more people would have died of covid”, or
“They will set race relations in this country back decades”, or
“The poor will suffer greatly in return for a little middle class tax relief.”
Why does that last one always sound like a much happier ending than it is?
So it’s all up to the comedians the satirists and the cartoonists — I’m sure they’ve got this!
Or maybe Tim Minchin was right after all.
Nick Rockel is a “Westie Leftie with five children, two dogs, and a wonderful wife”. He is the publisher of The Daily Read where this article was first published. It is republished here with the author’s permission.