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 anightmare for liberals, that's the point.

It's the opening skit in the series premiere of "The Half-Hour News Hour," the conservativeversion of Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show." The show is set to debut on FoxNews 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 andproducer Manny Coto.

A year-and-a-half ago, the two self-professedconservatives -- both men have contributed to the campaigns of conservative U.S. senators, and Coto is active in the anti-Castro Cubancommunity -- were fantasizing about starting aconservative TV network. Out of that, the twodeveloped "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'sTime for Conservatives to Take Comedy Seriously," excoriated right-wingthinkers for not competing with liberals in the comedic arts.

"Look, as far as comedy goes, Mr. and Mrs. Conservative, you must bowand kiss the Left's ring. They slay us," wrote Giles on Townhall.com."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 drivingout 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 areseveral conservative-minded comedians, from Dennis Miller and LarryMiller (no relation) to satirist P.J. O'Rourke, butthey tend to be few and far between.

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

After working the stand-up circuit for over 15 years and making theusual jokes about relationships and society, Brad Stine decided tocome out as a conservative comic. "I was on stage with a lot of theseguys for years but I was raised with a different value system, thatHollywood and New York don't grasp other than as a caricature," saidStine. "It was partly in protest at the idea that you can't be cooland cutting edge and be conservative." Stine, who's been profilednumerous times in magazines, claims that he's lost gigs and TVopportunities 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 copiesdue 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 ABCNEWS.com. "There was nothing funnyabout it -- seeing Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter in the beginning wascertainly a grabber but that was it. It doesn't matter what politicalstripe it is, as long as it's funny. It's not about conservatives notbeing funny, just that this particular show is not that funny."

One of the skits derided by Boedeker involved jokes about the hypesurrounding Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. The skit poked funat his admitted drug use by saying that he was endorsed by Marion Barry, convicted drug user andformer mayor of Washington, D.C. The show's anchors alsomake 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 ofChe 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 theAmerican Civil Liberties Union on behalf of violent militant groups.

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

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

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

The show has already lost one of its performers. April Winchell, a comedienne andradio talk show host, recently told her fans that she won't be appearing onthe program after a dispute with the show's creators. "After all themeetings, after all the waiting, after shooting the pilot and Fox Newsactually picking up the damn thing... I'm not doing the 'Half-Hour NewsHour' after all," she wrote on her blog recently. "Let's just say thatI 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 radioshows, on which she made fun of the network's coverage of missingteenager Natalee Holloway and skewered Fox News personality GeraldoRivera. "Who refers to themselves or their mustache as iconic?" said Winchell. "Talkabout retarded."

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