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Stop trying to be funny

March 8, 2012
By Andy Heller , Daily Press

FLINT - As someone who makes the occasional stab at humor, I would like to offer conservatives across the nation a little advice: Stop trying to be funny.

Just stop. It isn't working. When you try to joke about poverty, gays, sexuality and so forth it always falls flat. People get mad and you look silly. So why do it? Just accept that conservatives in general have a tin ear when it comes to humor and move on.

I'll enter two recent examples into evidence.

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Andy Heller

First, Rush Limbaugh, who grudgingly apologized this week for calling a Georgetown student a "slut" then followed that with "If we're going to have to pay for (birth control), then we want something in return and that would be the videos of all this sex posted online so we can see what we're getting for our money."

In his unapologetic apology, Limbaugh claimed he was just illustrating the absurd by being absurd. People scoffed, but I think there might have been the faintest glimmer of truth there. He was trying to be funny, in his own narrow, bigoted, hateful Rushy way.

Sure, he believes all the ridiculous stuff he says. He's frightened of modern women, hates gays, disdains poor people and so on, but those long-held views never bothered anyone before.

His error here is that he tried to be outrageous about a subject (reproductive rights) and a target (a smart young woman testifying before Congress) not easy to joke about. And, of course, he went way too far with it - like around the block five times too far.

Understand, I'm not defending him. I'm, in fact, the type he loathes - a liberal, college-educated media type who thinks we ought to help our fellow man.

That said, I also believe that you can joke about just about anything - in the right setting, in the right way, at the right time, to the right people, with the right intent. Most people, however, including me, don't have that touch. They don't know where the line is. They're not good at reading audiences.

That's why being a good standup comic is so hard.

Conservatives, for whatever reason, are particularly lousy at it. I'll give you another example.

Last week in Minnesota, state Rep. Mary Franson repeated an anonymous conservative attempt at humor that's been making the rounds on the Interwebs.

Franson said, "Last week, we worked on some welfare reform bills. And here, it's kind of ironic, I'll read you this little funny clip that we got from a friend. It says, 'Isn't it ironic that the food stamp program, part of the Department of Agriculture, is pleased to be distributing the greatest amount of food stamps ever. Meanwhile, the Park Service, also part of the Department of Agriculture, asks us to please not feed the animals, because the animals may grow dependent and not learn to take care of themselves.'"

Yeah, she said that. Now, it's not exactly news that conservatives despise poor people. But comparing them to animals? That ain't funny, Mary.

Why am I not surprised that you thought it was?


EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at You can e-mail him at



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