Can Conservatives Do Comedy?

Feb. 16, 2007 — -- In 2009, Rush Limbaugh is the country's president and Ann Coulter is his vice president. The two right-wing pundits sit around the Oval Office, smoking cigars and making fun of Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.

If that scenario sounds like a dream come true for conservatives and a nightmare for liberals, that's the point.

It's the opening skit in the series premiere of "The Half-Hour News Hour," the conservative version of Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show." The show is set to debut on Fox News this Sunday at 10 p.m.

The half-hour, fake news show features "anchors" -- played by actors Kurt Long and Jennifer Robertson -- who introduce skits. The show is the brainchild of "24" creator Joel Surnow and producer Manny Coto.

A year-and-a-half ago, the two self-professed conservatives -- both men have contributed to the campaigns of conservative U.S. senators, and Coto is active in the anti-Castro Cuban community -- were fantasizing about starting a conservative TV network. Out of that, the two developed "The Half-Hour News Hour," with the support of Fox News chairman Roger Ailes.

"Finally, there's a show for the rest of us," intones the announcer at the end of a promotional spot.

The show is the conservative answer to what Surnow and Coto say is the liberal domination of the political TV comedy landscape. Along with Stewart, who nightly skewers the Bush administration on his Comedy Central show, there is Stephen Colbert, who does a parodic imitation of Fox News' Bill O'Reilly on "The Colbert Report," and Bill Maher, who often roasts conservatives on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher."

"The fact that there's no conservative dog in that hunt is a shame," said conservative columnist Doug Giles, whose recent column, "It's Time for Conservatives to Take Comedy Seriously," excoriated right-wing thinkers for not competing with liberals in the comedic arts.

"Look, as far as comedy goes, Mr. and Mrs. Conservative, you must bow and kiss the Left's ring. They slay us," wrote Giles on "Why can't conservatives get their comedic act together? The liberals, on a 24/7 basis, are tossing us soft balls that we should be driving out of the park in a humorous, prime-time way."

So, are conservatives capable of comedy? The "Half-Hour News Hour" intends to answer that question. There are several conservative-minded comedians, from Dennis Miller and Larry Miller (no relation) to satirist P.J. O'Rourke, but they tend to be few and far between.

"Of course conservatives can be funny," said Paul Lewis, a professor of English at Boston College and the author of "Cracking Up: American Humor in a Time of Conflict." "Limbaugh is a pretty funny guy if you're not so progressive that you can't stomach it. Conservatives are funny to other conservatives."

After working the stand-up circuit for over 15 years and making the usual jokes about relationships and society, Brad Stine decided to come out as a conservative comic. "I was on stage with a lot of these guys for years but I was raised with a different value system, that Hollywood and New York don't grasp other than as a caricature," said Stine. "It was partly in protest at the idea that you can't be cool and cutting edge and be conservative." Stine, who's been profiled numerous times in magazines, claims that he's lost gigs and TV opportunities due to his conservative-themed act.

But is "Half-Hour News Hour" funny?

So far, the show has gotten poor reviews, even from conservatives. But very few TV critics have seen a preview of the program's two episodes. Fox News representatives claimed that they didn't have any more DVD copies due to snowstorm-related delays.

One who has seen the show is Hal Boedeker of the Orlando Sentinel, who was not impressed. "I thought it was a laughless show," he tells "There was nothing funny about it -- seeing Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter in the beginning was certainly a grabber but that was it. It doesn't matter what political stripe it is, as long as it's funny. It's not about conservatives not being funny, just that this particular show is not that funny."

One of the skits derided by Boedeker involved jokes about the hype surrounding Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. The skit poked fun at his admitted drug use by saying that he was endorsed by Marion Barry, convicted drug user and former mayor of Washington, D.C. The show's anchors also make jokes about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton saying that if elected she "will surround herself with a diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-generational group of angry lesbians."

Other skits make fun of the prevalence of Che Guevara T-shirts and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (depicted on a T-shirt that says, "Shiite Happens"). The show is interspersed with recurring fake ads for the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of violent militant groups.

On the conservative blog Hot Air, commentators were hoping that a few unfunny clips had been leaked on purpose to lower expectations for the show. "Does anyone believe they put together such a crappy show full of laugh tracks and they think people are going to buy it when any idiot can see (what we've seen) is pathetic at best."

Others hold out more hope. "The two bits that I saw so far, they hold potential," said Giles. "[Fox News] pretty much have the Midas touch with anything they do right now. It's all about writers and performers and they have the right venue but they should have created more buzz behind it."

Dylan P. Gaudino, who edits Punchline magazine, hasn't seen the clips but thinks that it could be a success. "I think it could be funny if they don't take themselves too seriously. The real problem for them is going to be if they're going to be able to step away from themselves far enough to make themselves look foolish when they need to," he said.

The show has already lost one of its performers. April Winchell, a comedienne and radio talk show host, recently told her fans that she won't be appearing on the program after a dispute with the show's creators. "After all the meetings, after all the waiting, after shooting the pilot and Fox News actually picking up the damn thing... I'm not doing the 'Half-Hour News Hour' after all," she wrote on her blog recently. "Let's just say that I didn't want to do what they wanted me to do. So I didn't."

Maybe the execs at Fox News listened to some of Winchell's old radio shows, on which she made fun of the network's coverage of missing teenager Natalee Holloway and skewered Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera. "Who refers to themselves or their mustache as iconic?" said Winchell. "Talk about retarded."