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Feb 23, 2016

Bolt uptight: when did the right lose its sense of humour?

It seems the right have not only lost the knack of being funny but, it seems, the desire as well.


The stereotype of the humourless leftist is very well established and, if we’re not humourlessly dishonest, it is not entirely undeserved. Having attended amateur all-woman interpretations of Brecht in the Division of Wills, I know of what I speak, and if you won’t agree that, at times, the left is incapable of addressing its own ridiculousness, then you have never seen the very straight face of Tits McVixen as she pops on a burlesque outfit and tells you she’s going to kill a good man with a good gun.

Of course, there is little room for levity when you’re railing bravely against the systematised cruelty of human society, etc, so 20th-century progressives might be excused for not giving us more than a handful of jokes from George Bernard Shaw. They were busy with justice, the right was free with laughter.

Wodehouse, Waugh and Grossmith were all imperial tools. Unhappily, they have also written some of the funniest words in English at about the time Winston Churchill was uttering some of its best ripostes. Last century, the division of cultural labour in the West had the left doing much of the intellectual grunt work, much to the annoyance of the right’s lonely intellectual F.A. Hayek, with the right laughing exquisitely about Empire and Jeeves.

Evelyn Waugh’s son Auberon continued the smartarse work of his conservative father and in the US, P.J. O’Rourke was sufficiently funny in the ’80s to even make leftists laugh, a supply-side climate notwithstanding. But the right’s habit for good cheer has withered as surely, comrade, as the coercive powers of the state shall under glorious communism.

I mean. When was the last time you saw Andrew Bolt even try to crack a funny? He has a very rich history of conservative humour on which to draw but chooses instead to have Trotskyist tantrums. Yesterday, his take on the work of a Herald Sun colleague as “vicious and shameful” seemed, for mine, to be far more in the worst traditions of the self-cannibalising Fifth International than that of chaps in bally spats.

The whole thing, which was hinged on Bolt’s defence of Cardinal George Pell, seemed, like much of the man’s dire oeuvre, very humourless.

Bolt’s is like the current work of the cultural right, whose customary hauteur and jest are now eclipsed by tanties. Jeremy Clarkson tried to restore the Waugh engine, but he always seemed a little too angry to be a truly witty cove. Likewise, presenters of the Fox News conservative satire The 1/2 Hour News Hour, whose 2007 answer to The Daily Show did not last a season. I believe it is Gerard Henderson’s occasional intention to be funny and we can only suppose that Nick Cater believes his modern-as-tomorrow chardonnay and cafe latte references to be worthy of Bertie Wooster. But even these gags, such as they are, come far less frequently. The once creditable humourist Tim Blair is making with the ha-ha so infrequently, and not one of this Tory mob is amusing enough to be admitted by the posh to a club.

They’ve not only lost the knack of being funny but, it seems, the desire as well. Even if one holds that conservatism is inherently unfunny — I don’t, personally; my funny bone is nonpartisan despite all efforts to paint it red — one cannot fail to notice that they’ve begun to take themselves very seriously.

It’s not as though progressive communicators couldn’t do with a little lightening. Every weekday, some progressive writer is accusing some other progressive of killing babies, etc. News Corp’s act yesterday of internal war is already bog standard at Fairfax and the Graun. I guess it’s just that most everyone could do with a little lightening. Which is not to say that things aren’t in a very shady state and do not, at times, demand serious prose. But when you have a whole load of persons flailing about like Cassandra, you not only have few opportunities to laugh, but few motivations to heed their warnings from the dark.

Whether it is a tactic or a belief, the right now writes as though we are all engaged in a battle with the devil. Our souls are on the line, our morality is corrupt, a story about Pell is not a piece of investigation but a “witch hunt”, etc.  This mythic, humourless work was once the sole province of the left. Now, it’s Bolt and friends who really need to lighten up.


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10 thoughts on “Bolt uptight: when did the right lose its sense of humour?

  1. Saugoof

    I always thought that the right wing never had much of a sense of humour, at least the type of humour I find funny. Much of right-wing humour has a viciousness in laughing at other people and a sense of “kicking downwards” that I find hard to see humour in.

    On the other hand, I always thought that, stereotypical ultra-serious lefty warriors aside, the left always had a lot more humour among its ranks. I’ve grown up with the likes of “Spitting Image”, “Daily Show”, “Colbert Report”, “Backberner”, “The Glasshouse” or more recently there’s been the likes of “First Dog On The Moon”, or even the writing of Guy Rundle or Andrew P. Street that has a lot of humour in it. Whether you find any of these funny is a matter of taste, but as long as I can remember, there’s always been a lot of left-leaning comedy around. I struggle to find much equivalent on the right. The only one that I can think of is, as you mentioned, P.J. O’Rourke.

  2. wayne robinson

    Actually Trotsky had a sense of humour. Didn’t he say ‘Spread love and understanding. Use force if necessary’?

  3. Xoanon

    This deliberate lack of humour from the right seems a necessary tactic to fuel their rolling moral panics; since, let’s face it, a lot of the things they get upset over (eg The War on Christmas) are inherently ludicrous if you take even a second to reflect upon them.

    It’s also, I think, a tactic to maintain their (dwindling) followers’ anger over feminisim, homosexuality, change in general. Humorlessless is a requirement for sustained confected outrage.

  4. AR

    Nice piece MzRaz but a little undercooked – I’ll assume that you know that Cassandra’s curse was to accurately predict the future but never to be believed, Apollo’s revenge for her spurning him.

  5. Venise Alstergren

    HELEN RAZER: I have to disagree with you on the Bolt front. Merely to look at him reduces me to laughter. When I read him I become hysterical.

  6. Dog's Breakfast

    I always thought the right was joking, even when putting out their serious policy.

    Was I wrong?

  7. AR

    Brekky – I assumed that all but the most braindead of rightards knew that they were a joke and that they’d trained themselves not to laugh for so long at their idiot believers that they lost the ability.

  8. Norman Hanscombe

    The unintended humour of the Crikey Commissariat and its devotees is strong, especially when they pretend they exceed Bolt’s analytical skills.

  9. klewso

    If they ever did have a sense of humour, maybe they started losing it when they realised they were being openly challenged, losing Con-troll of the conversation they’d been managing – in their majority share of most traditional mediums – through greater public access to express and disseminate opinions per the rise of alternative/social media?

  10. David Irving (no relation)

    Blot doesn’t have analytical skills, Norman.


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