To Live and Write in LA

Anthem Film Festival: Do Right-Wingers Have a Sense of Humor?

(First published on Blogcritics.org)

Do right-wingers (meaning conservatives, libertarians and anyone who would not be caught dead wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt) have a sense of humor? You might not think so, if your main sources of news have been John Stewart and Lena Dunham piped into your safe space on a politically correct campus. I have, however, seen right-wing humor in the wild, often at previous iterations of the Anthem Film Festival, and I have laughed and survived.

Anthem libertarian comedySo, why is it so hard to find, is it coming for you, and should you be afraid? Several films in the lineup at this year’s Anthem, part of FreedomFest, July 13-16 in Las Vegas, will help you answer that question, but in the meantime, keep reading.

You Can’t Say That!

WARNING – The next section contains trigger words. (At least I think it does. I can’t really tell because I’m not a wimpy beta-male.)

Political correctness, the effort to control free speech through shaming or threatening the speaker, is most often, though not exclusively, aimed rightward. The Anthem feature documentary Can We Take a Joke (watch the trailer), directed by Ted Balaker, explores the irony that the American left, which rallied to the defense of Lenny Bruce who was persecuted for using words, is now persecuting people for using words.

I asked Balaker about his motivation for making the film.

He said, “I never had one earth-shaking moment when I said, ‘I gotta make this movie!’ I follow standup comedy pretty closely so it was more of a ‘drip, drip’ thing, where I’d notice the culture of censorship was asserting itself more and more.

Anthem libertarian comedy

Jim Norton poking fun at PC folks in ‘Can We Take a Joke?’

“Maybe the first time I paid attention to it was in the early 2000s when I was living in NYC. My brother Matt — a stand-up comic — and I were at the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village and an audience member hollered out at the comedian on stage, saying he was offended by a joke. The comedian shot right back with an impression of the guy: ‘Hey honey, let’s go to the comedy club tonight and get offended!’ The audience got a good laugh, and fast-forward to today and you hear stories like that all the time.”

There are many big-name comedians in Balaker’s film. I asked him if he was surprised by any of the people who participated.

He explained, “I wasn’t really. Our production team deliberately targeted comedians who were standing up for comedy and free speech. I guess one thing I’ve been somewhat surprised about is that this position isn’t more widespread among comedians.”

Anthem libertarian comedy

Gilbert Gottfried has been an outspoken advocate of outspokeness.

Reaction to the film has generally been good, but Balaker recalled one surprise. “There was one Trump supporter,” he said, “who got upset that we included a bit in which Gilbert Gottfried makes fun of his guy. I pointed out that the incident took place during a Comedy Central Roast — and if anything, it suggested The Donald can take a joke because he agreed to participate in the roast. Shows how quick people get offended, but there is a happy ending as the guy eventually realized the context and said he was looking forward to seeing the film.”

If you think you can take a joke and would like to see the film, you can preorder on iTunes, or wait for the theatrical release on July 29 and VOD availability on August 2. In parting, Balaker pointed out that August 2 was one day before the 50th anniversary of the untimely death of Lenny Bruce. “He was the godfather of stand-up comedy,” Balaker said, “and the hero of our film.”

It Is Coming for You

You might be thinking, “Well, if I don’t go to the Anthem Film Festival, I can avoid being offended.” No such luck. We the Internet  will not only be showing at Anthem, it will be on the Internet! In fact, it’s too late to hide because this satirical webshow about politics and everyday life is already a YouTube sensation and its vile right-wing snickering can also be found on Facebook. It’s the funniest thing on the Internet.

Anthem libertarian comedy

Lou Perez of ‘We The Internet’ explaining the relationship of comedy and free speech

I spoke with Lou Perez, founder of We The Internet (a play on We The People), at last week’s Politicon in Pasadena, California, where he was promoting his brainchild. I asked him if he was worried that doing politically incorrect humor would hurt his career.

“I’ve been doing sketch comedy for over 13 years,” he said. “Most of those years with my comedy duo, Greg and Lou. I didn’t feel like my independent perspective was represented in current political comedy shows or online channels. So, We the Internet has given me an amazing opportunity to bridge the two: my love of comedy and my love of my own opinions. There’s been no harm to my career: This is my career.”

In speaking to attendees of Politicon, Perez emphasized his desire to open up conversations. He showed two videos to drive home his point. One mocked open carry advocates and the other pro-gun-control media.

“Comedy like all other artistic endeavors explores what it is to be a human being,” Perez explained. “Political correctness gets in the way of the truth.”

Should You Be Afraid?

I’m not sure. Check with Yoda.

In the meantime, a lady who should be afraid is the protagonist of Love Gov: From First Date to Mandate. I saw a five minute preview of this last year at Anthem and it’s making a return in its full 26 minute glory. I felt sorry, well, a little bit, for its protagonist, Alexis, who falls in love with Scott “Gov” Govinski. (OMG! Anti-Polish stereotyping. I’m offended!) Luckily, Alexis’ bestie, Libby (the libertarian), tries to help her see how bad Gov really is. Here’s the trailer.

Anthem libertarian comedyAnother person who should be afraid is Moses. (Queue ethereal music.) No, not that Moses. The Moses in Safety School, part of Anthem’s short narrative series, is a student who must make a speech to his graduating class, while being watched by a representative of the Department of Education.

And if being watched directly isn’t enough, there’s spying through the web. In iSPY, Director Dugan Bridges brings a comedy short to Anthem about Harriet, a young Department of Justice bureaucrat, who spends her days helping spy agencies, then gets the tables turned on her.

The Anthem Film Festival will also have a dozen other non-funny films, but it’s held at Planet Hollywood in Vegas, so if you go, how could you not have a good time?

If all the above has been too much for you, you’ll want to watch the video below for information about Alternate Viewpoint-Cancelling Headphones that keep all opinions you disagree with from entering you safe space.

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