Last week, Comedy Central aired the latest in its annual series of celebrity roasts, as a group of comedians went after actor Rob Lowe. But the biggest story coming out of the #Roast was the presence of the conservative author and provocateur #Ann Coulter. Coulter was the recipient of both more plentiful and more vicious barbs than even Lowe himself, sat stone-faced through all of them, and then delivered her own set, to alternating boos and stunned silence.
There’s something about the roast that hasn’t sat right with me since it happened- and I think it has to do with a key difference between the way liberals and conservatives process humor.
A break with tradition
My first problem with the roast is the obstacle I’ve had with most Comedy Central roasts since they split off from the Friar’s Club over a decade ago: Rather than the tradition of veteran comedians roasting longtime friends and colleagues with vicious humor that nonetheless comes from a place of love, a lot of the recent roasts have featured performers who barely know the roastee. I feel like half the people on the stage had never met Rob Lowe until two weeks ago.
The other, of course, was Coulter. I’m as anti-Ann as any other liberal, and she did once, in 2013, quote a column of mine and twist it wildly out of context.
But I didn’t get much joy out of watching her humiliation- in fact; I found it sort of painful to watch. When it comes to recent instances of Coulter getting knocked down a peg, I much preferred the time Donald Trump dramatically changed his position on immigration on the very day of the launch of Ann’s pro-Trump book.
A different kind of comedy
Most of the coverage has pointed out that there was a disconnect between Coulter — a non-comedian — and the comics on stage. But I don’t think that’s it at all. Probably the two funniest people on stage, ex-NFL star Peyton Manning and singer Jewel, were also non-comics. And for years, conservative friends have been telling me that they find Coulter hilarious.
I think the difference is that conservative comedy is a niche that doesn’t really cross over in any way with mainstream comedy. The sort of people who laugh at Coulter are laughing at different things than a general audience are. It’s a style that just doesn’t cross over. And sure, a lot of the loudest voices railing against “PC” are comedians- but the style of an Adan Carolla or Dennis Miller is considerably different than whatever Coulter was doing last week. For one thing, it's a comedy first and conservatism second.
It reminded me of all the attempts to create a “right-wing Daily Show” (one of which featured Coulter.) Or even more so, of all the times Bill O’Reilly would go on The Colbert Report. These appearances would always be hyped as the satirist going up against the very guy he’s satirizing- but it was a flop, every time, largely because of O’Reilly, who doesn’t have much of a sense of humor about himself or really much of anything else, never played along with the bit.
Meanwhile, Lowe, judging by some of his past tweets, appears to be something of a conservative himself, which may explain Coulter’s presence. None of the media coverage mentioned this, though, nor did the roast itself.
What's the future of conservative comedy? That I don't know. But it probably doesn't involve any more roast appearances by Ann Coulter. #RobLoweRoast