Liberals Should Be Worried About the Conservative Comedy Scene

For the past three years, Matt Sienkiewicz, an associate professor of communication and international studies at Boston College, and Nick Marx, an associate professor of film and media studies at Colorado State University, have immersed themselves in the world of conservative comedy. The findings of their inquiry, which they detail in their new book, That’s Not Funny: How the Right Makes Comedy Work for Them, might come as a surprise to devotees of the Daily Show: Conservative humorists aren’t merely catching up to their liberal counterparts in terms of reach and popularity. They’ve already caught them — and, in some cases, surpassed them, even as the liberal mainstream has continued to write conservative comedy off as a contradiction in terms.

“[Liberals] are ceding ideological territory in the culture wars to the right via comedy,” Marx told me, noting that once-beloved liberal comedians like Stewart are struggling to find their footing in the treacherous landscape of post-Trump humor. “This thing that we thought we have owned for the last 20 years has been leaking, and the borders are slowly getting shifted.”

The growth of the conservative comedy industry isn’t just important in the context of the culture war. According to Sienkiewicz and Marx, conservatives are also using comedy to bring new voters into the conservative coalition and build ideological cohesion among existing right-leaning constituencies. In other words, the left’s unwavering belief in its comedic monopoly isn’t just wrong — it’s also bad political strategy.

“Our project was to kind of shake fellow liberals and academics by the shirt collar and say, ‘You’re missing this, you’re misdefining [comedy] on purpose, or you’re burying your head in the sand,’” Marx said. “This is a politically powerful, economically profitable thing that we might [want to] pay attention to.”

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

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