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How Conservative Humor Works

[Guest post by Isaac Chotiner]

In his item below, Jon speculates on why liberals dominate political satire. It's a good question, but it should not obscure the fact that conservatives have their own brand of humor. Take Dennis Miller, who regularly appears on Fox News, and who last night made an appearance on Fox's biggest show, The O'Reilly Factor, to reflect on the death of Osama Bin Laden.

O'REILLY: And I did recommend you as a new ambassador for Pakistan. I think that we need to send you there. And you need to be in charge and wise these people up. Are you ready for that?

MILLER: Billy, I understand the Pakistani people. It's like they're crazy. It's like dating Glenn Close. The sex in the elevator is great. Occasionally, they're going to boil your pet rabbit in a stew pot. I get it.

O'REILLY: So can you convince them not to be Glenn Close in the elevator? Is that possible?

MILLER: Yes. I can. Because I've got some hard things we can use on them. I say we call for a New York City cabbie embargo. None of them get sent over here any more until they tighten up their ship over there.

The appeal of this sort of humor--to right-wingers--lies in the fact that it is only meant to be half-funny. This is actually how Dennis Miller and Bill O'Reilly think foreign policy should be conducted--e.g. we teach the "crazy" Pakistanis a lesson by cutting off immigration. But it's wrapped up in jokes about Glenn Close and cabdrivers. It manages to signal to a conservative audience that Miller is a tough guy, that he is ethnically insensitive and un-PC (this is the crucial ingredient), and that he can still make light of serious topics. These must be the explanations for his strange appeal, because his humor by itself is getting progressively worse.