How To Be Right: The Art of Being Persuasively Correct (2015)
THE JOKE’S ON YOU
“Most conservatives aren’t funny. But most liberals aren’t funny, either. Because most people aren’t funny. But more liberals go into comedy, so you end up with more funny liberal comedians.”
—Andy Levy, Valentine’s Day, Olive Garden, 2015. (He got me a nice Godiva assortment; I got him pajamas.)
Humor is like porn—you know it when you see it—and you never see it in the Huffington Post.
Humor is important. When someone makes you laugh, it’s because he surprised you with truth about life—a strategy of persuasion that beats an angry screech, hands down.
But Andy has a point—it’s hard work being funny, whether you’re a righty or a lefty—but more libs apply for that job, perhaps because they’re so godawful at everything else.
Me? I’m no comedian. I’ve never stood in front of a group of strangers and told jokes.
I hate comedy clubs almost as much as I hate doctors’ offices. The clubs are cold and cramped and, unlike the doctor’s office, the drugs suck. Worse, they’re full of drunks who can’t decide what they’re supposed to laugh at. I admire comics for having the balls do to what they do. I refuse the job description because, frankly, I haven’t earned it.
As a conservative on a talk show, I find being funny is more important than being conservative. I let the rest of the folks do that. I’d like to make you laugh and think—but making you laugh makes me happier. How do I do it, when I happen to do it? I haven’t thought about it, really, until now.
My simple, perhaps sole tactic has always been to extend liberal beliefs to absurd levels. I push the obvious until the argument can only tip in my favor.
Recently on O’Reilly we did a segment on a group of Hillary supporters who were trying to label any criticism of Ms. Clinton as sexist. If you called her “secretive,” that would be labeled sexist. If you called her “out of touch” or “manipulative,” the same thing: it’s sexist. Rather than disagree, I stated that I believed the supporters had a point, and we should stop calling her by her first name, which is Hillary—because, after all, it’s a girl’s name. Logically, it made sense (if you followed their logic). Lo and behold, the absurdity became real, and when a McClatchy writer made the same case to stop calling her Hillary because it reinforced gender stereotypes, parody became possibility in a matter of days. I’m an effing psychic.
HOW TO LOSE AN ARGUMENT BY EMULATING TALKING HEADS ON CABLE NEWS SHOWS
•Shout your opinion as if everyone listening is your grandmother.
•Repeat a cliché as though you have Tourette’s.
•Adopt a conspiratorial tone (the Council on Foreign Relations told me to insert that point in here).
•Don’t do your homework. (It’s not enough to listen to Charles Krauthammer and then reiterate. But it’s a start.)
•Flare your nostrils. That’s for breathing, not for creating space to park two cars and a Jet Ski.
•Embrace ideological certainty as though everyone else but you sees the light.
•Take yourself seriously. It generally ensures that no one else will.
EXTENSION = FUNNY
It’s a pretty simple and effective ploy: sit down and make a list of liberal conclusions, and locate the button that says “push me.”
★Redistribution. Why stop with money? Why not with belongings—which were purchased with ill-gotten gains? People with money know how to buy things—why should that knowledge be kept from others? We’ll be by tomorrow to look at your wardrobe. I could use some new chaps and a shorty robe to go with those chaps. (This scares any leftist working in fashion, which is pretty much anyone working in fashion.)
★Global warming. It’s our biggest threat, so much bigger than terrorism, according to our very own administration. If that’s the case, consider the amount of emissions caused by fighting terrorism, a less important threat, according to Obama. Every time we bomb a group of rapist hordes, a baby seal weeps on a shrinking iceberg. We need to shift our defenses to battle Celsius, not ISIS. Why worry about beheading, when the temperature “be heading” up?
★White privilege. Not only am I racist for being white—being born is technically an act of racism perpetrated by my parents. Not only am I for reparations; I am for super retroactive reparations, which means you get custody of my belongings, my mortgage, my Six Million Dollar Man action figurines, and my creditors. And before I kill myself as my own personal reparations, I will dig up both parents and read them the entire script of 12 Years a Slave.
★I’m not just pro-choice, I am super-pro-choice. Seeing the “achievement” of China’s one-child policy, which achieved its goals by eliminating millions of girls, I realize I want that same kind of choice. If and when me and the missus produce a junior, he or she had better not be redheaded, left-handed, potentially obese, or a fan of Coldplay. If the tests are as specific as I wish them to be (and they will be, in time, trust me), I will make sure to abort the ginger-haired, clumsy, porky brat with horrid taste in music. Oh the choices we’ll have that will allow us to eliminate everyone we find objectionable! All we will have left are boys who look like Ryan Seacrest. And girls who look like Ryan Seacrest! If Hitler were alive today (and who says he isn’t?), he would jump for joy (or Eva). He’d be so pleased to see the progress his Eugenics program has made.
★E-cigarettes. I’ve read that lawmakers favor banning e-cigs because they appear to look like real cigarettes, which can “potentially” cause confusing conflicts in bars, restaurants, and parks. I agree wholeheartedly and am pushing for a ban on bottled water (it looks exactly like rum!) and Baby Ruths (every time I see someone eating one, I think, Coprophiliac!).
As for the accusation that e-cig companies are marketing to kids—who doesn’t market to kids? I just read that a publishing company reissued Heather Has Two Mommies this year. I love that book! I’m not saying lesbianism is as harmful as e-cigs—I’m saying lesbianism is just as awesome! Conclusion: no good things can be marketed, period—because children can get their grubby, disgusting little hands on them. Personally, I don’t think we should be marketing kids to adults. That leads to adults producing more kids. And those kids severely limit our freedoms to smoke e-cigs with lesbians.
★Drugs. I love the drug laws! Otherwise called regulatory laws, they’re based on banning a behavior that hypothetically leads to criminal acts. Ironically it’s these drug laws that are the real behavior that leads to criminal acts! Which reminds me of a joke I just wrote: What do you call a drug pusher before 1914? Answer: a pharmacist. (The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 effectively banned the selling of certain drugs legally; the very next day we saw the birth of a new vocation, the drug dealer.) I hate explaining bad jokes.
Taken to the extreme, regulatory laws can lead to the banning of all behaviors that might lead to mischief. And why shouldn’t we support that? I’m for drug laws, food laws, speech laws, and law laws. “Law laws” are laws against too many laws, which lead to the creation of law dealers and law pushers who sell legislation on the black market to people addicted to nonsense moralism linked to hypothetical consequences (for example, California).
★The Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Whatever this bill turns out to be might in fact allow pious pie makers to choose to not make cupcakes for a gay couple. And yes, despite the fact that we are a country of 314 million people—a country unencumbered by religious fanatics who behead you—it still stinks. Which is why I demand that everyone do everything that I want. That’s it. And that’s a belief untethered to religion—thank you very much. Tomorrow I’m going to a mosque and demand they host my wet T-shirt contest.
Or we could just let bigots be jerks and leave it at that. Let the market pay back their idiocy—which basically means you and me shopping somewhere else.
This strategy of extension has been a boon for me—but is unworkable and unavailable to angry or stupid people. The way it works is pretty clear, and you emerge victorious by making your opponent say, “Oh, right, of course.” And, trust me, I haven’t met a soul who wants to say that to a furious, red-faced jerk.
So if you’re one of those overbearing, brawny righties who jump into a fracas brandishing fury like a machete, you’ll be the one who’s cut to ribbons by tiny, quick wiry chaps jabbing at you with épées made from the labor of warehoused children chained to radiators.
LEARN FROM JON
If you stop detesting his lefty politics for ten minutes, you can learn from this master of manipulation, Jon Stewart. His strategy: he leads a conservative guest happily down a plank of friendly banter, then pushes him off said plank before the poor sap knows he’s in midair.
That’s the sad thing about righties—we often mistakenly think that friendly people happen to share our views.
So Stewart will have you on to promote a book or a movie—and then start slicing and dicing. It’s fine. It’s cool. And as my buddy Denis Boyles brilliantly points out, he never changes pitch—and most important, he never signals the change-up. Instead, in that gentle, reaching tone that suggests earnestness, Stewart says, “So you really believe that The Delta Smelt should perish.” This effectively, swiftly turns a conservative into a sputtering punch line.
When you leave most talk shows, they’ll give you a T-shirt or a coffee mug. With The Daily Show, you get a lifetime supply of rope to hang yourself with.
QUESTIONS NO ONE ASKS
When Jon Stewart said he was walking away from his show, the media convulsed like a gerbil choking on a gummy bear. Then they raised that familiar question that’s launched a thousand meandering articles: where are the right-wing Stewarts? (The Atlantic did two of these stories in the same year. Yes, The Atlantic. It still publishes.)
It’s a great question, because it openly concedes that the establishment media’s cult head is an unabashed progressive, and therefore the bottomless love for him in the media illustrates its own bias. But it also brings up questions that are never, ever asked. Instead of “why are there no conservative Jon Stewarts,” why not:
•Where are the liberal four-star generals?
•Where are the left-wing brain surgeons?
•How come there are no progressive NFL quarterbacks?
•Why does the left have no Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, or Bruce Willis? Will there ever be a left-wing action figure? (And no, Ed Begley Jr. doesn’t count.)
•Where are the left-wing CEOs? More to the point: why are there no left-wingers in charge of anything that requires results? Other than entertaining other liberals?
•Also—where are the right-wing serial killers?
•Where are the conservative Beat poets? (Wherever they are, leave them there.)
•Where is my free market feminist performance artist?
•Where are my pants? (I’m freezing!)
Humor requires good—no, great—manners! Talk softly but carry a big crème pie (a polite one), which is really just an obvious truth wrapped in frothy civility and used to smite your opponent in the face. Jon Stewart has bought multiple houses on that. Rush Limbaugh got his explosive start by doing the same thing: having great fun while dismembering your adversaries.
But as my colleague Denis Boyles reminds me, it’s all a fine line. “Conservatives can often confuse emotions with ideas, because they’re driven by an accurately perceived lack of respect for their beliefs.” The end result: they get mad—which is a state of temporary insanity that really is no different from “madness.” Which, you’ll note, has the word mad within it. It’s the opposite of amusing—like Ed Schultz. You don’t want to be Ed Schultz. Even Ed Schultz doesn’t want to be Ed Schultz.
But anger is not an idea, and outrage ends up being a terrible rhetorical device. Only a few people can pull it off. Unless you’re a professional entertainer, like Dennis Miller, it’s almost never funny. At least intentionally. Really angry people can be funny, but it’s at their expense—they just never notice it. But outrage is especially painful in the hands of the humorless, clumsy person trying to wield the rapier of sarcasm (which, by the way, was the name of my favorite Star Trek episode. In “Rapier of Sarcasm,” Scotty doesn’t get one of Kirk’s jokes and turns into a scone).
Finally, and really most important: effort is the only thing that really works. Arguments are won by doing the homework that bolsters the joke. Confronting an opposing argument with mockery carries no weight if you don’t have a few nuggets of prepared, researched ammo in your pocket, too.
HOW TO INTERPRET “THAT’S NOT FUNNY”
Saying “that’s not funny” to a joke that’s perceived as sexist really means that the offended believes the targeted group is too weak to handle something “hurtful.” Apparently, you lose a layer of thick skin for every protected class you inhabit.
Recently, Ariel Pink, a genius pop singer, made a joke about how Madonna’s last couple of albums sucked, and a female pop singer called him out on Twitter (a majestic act of bravery) as misogynistic. That’s where we are these days. Apparently Madonna is too weak to handle this sort of thing. She’s such a shrinking violet, you see. But the only thing “shrinking” about her is the one thing she can’t bear—the column inches devoted to her rock-hard tuchus.
Of course, now you are seeing more jokes about President Obama, but he already won two elections, so the jokes carry no weight. Suddenly observing that Obama is a joke is like putting your seat belt on after the car accident.
That’s the real issue: comfort. It used to be that comedians had as their true role to make their audience at least a little uncomfortable. Not simply to match assumptions but to surprise you. Neil Hamburger is great at this. Even Bill Maher at times will veer off his coastal reservation and slam the left over their cowardice regarding radical Islam. Of course, he veers straight back to the left as soon as the HBO suits raise a contiguous eyebrow. He’s like a ventriloquist dummy who every now and then magically says something on his own. When he forgets about the hand up his ass.
It’s not a big deal. Righties shouldn’t lose sleep over it. Just be aware that when someone says, “Oh, Dennis Miller—he used to be funny,” what they’re really saying is, “I don’t like Dennis Miller making fun of stuff I believe in. It scares me.” Which really means: why can’t he be more like Bill Maher?
SOME THINGS JUST AREN’T FUNNY, SAYS THE ANGRY PERSON WHO DECIDES WHAT’S FUNNY
Let’s remind ourselves what’s deemed funny these days, by people who work in media:
•jokes about Republicans, religious types, old farts, white men (which essentially are all the same thing, if you live in certain zip codes).
What’s not funny:
•jokes about liberals, Obama, women, gays, trans.
The message seems to be: they can’t take it.
THE COMEDY OF THE SEXES
In October 2014, Sarah Silverman posted a video titled “I got a sex change to avoid the wage gap.” The video shows her getting a dick, so she could make the same amount of money as a man. She did this video to support the Equal Payback Project. (If she only knew that the statistics she was using to justify the joke were incorrect. She needed a fact checker, not a dick. All she did was perpetuate the myth that women suck at math.)
But many accused her of being transphobic, because transgender people are more likely to be paid less or live in poverty. And so she posted an online whimper that went, “If I literally got a sex change I would indeed find the work force far less friendly. The video wasn’t transphobic it was transignorant—never crossed my mind. But to my *unintentional* credit—people are talking about it & so begins awareness.”
Ah, yes, her ignorance has opened the doorways to awareness. If only she granted the same leeway to conservatives who make similar mistakes. Those doors are closed.
A later accusation of hers, that a club owner underpaid her because she was a woman, crumbled when the truth revealed she wasn’t a paid performer scheduled for that night. Her desire for relevance clouded reality.
The fact is, Sarah forgot that she, a privileged, wealthy white woman, is now a target. Welcome to the club. And I will defend you against the humorless hordes, even though I know you won’t defend me.
But has anyone considered the tragic inevitabilities that come with being a male? According to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, life expectancy for Sarah is 81.2 years. For males, it’s 76.4. What an amazing statistic. Time itself is sexist! It’s anti-male! That’s a difference of about five years. Or one episode of The Taste.
And it’s gotten worse. According to USA Today (like a newspaper), “The difference in life expectancy at 65 years between males and females increased 0.1 year from 2.5 years in 2011 to 2.6 years in 2012.”
So, let me ask you this: if women lived five years less than men, and it seemed to be getting worse…could you imagine the outcry? There would be demands that men die sooner, just for the sake of equality.