Punching Down, Punching Up and the GOP: A Matter of Perspective

Is a GOP punchdown something to worry about? Can conservative humor ever be truly funny? Nope and nope, says Chris Yeh. Here he takes a closer look.

Chris Yeh mathematical formula for successaNewDomain — One of the comments on a recent piece I wrote about my problems with conservative comedy made an argument you see around a lot:

“Someone (can’t remember who) said that comedy is about kicking up, not kicking down.  Republicans kick down. It’s not funny.”

I generally see it referred to as punching up, rather than punching down.

(I think my reader was either mixing up this metaphor with “kissing up and kicking down,” or, like Lloyd Dobler, just means he’s into kickboxing.

The general argument remains the same, though. Liberals are funny because they are sticking it to the man, Conservatives are unfunny because they are beating up on the little guy.

There’s an argument to be made that this statement about comedy is, in itself, untrue, but since Ben Schwartz did so quite well in this Baffler piece, I’ll focus instead on the fact that punching down is a matter of perspective.

I don’t think that the majority of conservative comedy punches down.

Who’s punching down?

conservative comedyThe primary targets are the media and cultural tastemakers in the media, who are “above,” not below, because they are the ones rendering judgment on what is and isn’t of value.

I may not be a fan of NASCAR or the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, but their actual fans have every right to enjoy them without being mocked for their taste.

Red Staters as Joke Butts

It’s not that surprising that “Red State” residents resent how they are portrayed in the news, on television, and at the movies, since they are often the subject of criticism, or worse, the butt of jokes.

(Side note: I’m not arguing for total relativism.  It’s just important to unbundle and criticize specific actions, as opposed to dumping on an entire demographic.  If you want to criticize a racist, criticize his or her words and actions, not his or her ZIP code.)

In this sense, things like mocking Donald Trump for ordering steaks well-done and topping them with ketchup plays right into his (unusually small) hands.

Medium-rare steaks with a red wine reduction are for effete coastal liberals who look down on honest, hardworking Americans who get their steak at the Sizzler well-done.

(I exaggerate, but only slightly!)

Who’s the godless pervert here?

Liberals think they’re better than conservatives, who are reactionary troglodytes.

Conservatives think they’re better than liberals, who are godless perverts.

Very seldom does either side praise the other’s virtues, such as a respect for tradition or compassion for others.

Rather than worrying about punching up or punching down, let’s focus on punching people who truly deserve it, like that Martin Shkreli guy.*

* By the way, did you know that Martin Shkreli grew up the son of working-class immigrants who came to this country and worked as janitors to give their children a better life?  Or that he opposed Donald Trump’s presidential bid?  

As you can see, even the most punchable guy in the world has some sympathetic elements.

For aNewDomain, I’m Chris Yeh.

Cover image of Donald Trump with Henny Penny: Tom Ewing, original to aNewDomain, All Rights Reserved. Inside image: NYMag.com, All Rights Reserved. 

Ed: An earlier version of this article ran on Chris Yeh’s excellent Adventures in Capitalism blog. Read it here.

About the author

Chris Yeh

Based in Silicon Valley, Chris Yeh is dean of the startup education program at Wasabi Ventures.

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