Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Want To Make Political Humor That's Funny? Target Self-Importance And Hypocrisy.

I try (not always successfully) to avoid politics.  As a young Michael Jordan once noted after being asked to endorse a Democratic candidate, "Republicans buy shoes too."  But one thing I have noted is is the liberal (in the US political sense, not the classical "The Economist" sense) tendencies of most comedians and humorists.

Frank Rich tackles the topic of the missing conservative comedians in his recent New York magazine piece:

"Conservative comedy is hard to find on television once you get past the most often cited specimen, Dennis Miller. But is this shortfall the fault of a left-wing conspiracy to banish brilliant dissident talent from pop culture’s center stage? As a conservative Christian stand-up, Brad Stine, has argued, people think “the left is funnier than the right” solely because the right hasn’t been “given the same options.” Or are conservative comedians languishing in obscurity because they just don’t have the comic chops to compete with Colbert, Jon Stewart, and their many brethren? What do conservatives find funny, anyway? Is the very notion of a conservative comedian an oxymoron, given that comedy by definition is often the revenge of underdogs against the privileged? If the powerful pick on the less powerful, or worse, the powerless, are the jokes doomed to come off as bratty, if not just plain mean?"

Rich lays out in gory detail numerous failed (and frankly, embarrassing) attempts at conservative humor.  I didn't even realize that Fox News had tried to produce a "humorous" Daily Show/Colbert competitor, "The 1/2-Hour News Hour," the worst-rated program ever according to Metacritic.

Of course, conservatives have no monopoly on unfunny political humor.  Plenty of formerly funny liberal comedians gave into their preachy sides and become dour party-poopers (this means you, Janeane Garofalo, Senator Al Franken, and Keith Olbermann).  My favorite comment on this phenomenon may be The Onion's 2004 piece on the formerly comedic talk show host Bill Maher, "Bill Maher Spends All Night Arguing With Republican Hooker" (mildly NSFW).

The real secret is well known to bipartisan takedown artists like The Onion and South Park: target self-importance and hypocrisy.

Attacking a person for their beliefs isn't universally funny, because doing so implicitly attacks the beliefs of a significant chunk of your audience.

But slamming a person for being a blow-hard or hypocrite?  That's something everyone can enjoy.

Don't like Alec Baldwin?  Don't attack him for his liberal politics, make fun of the hypocrisy of visiting Occupy Wall Street, then shilling for Capital One.

Tied of hearing Al Gore's voice?  Point out that the global warming crusader made a fortune selling his startup, Current, to oil-funded Al Jazeera.  Excelsior!

It's the equivalent of the gift that keeps on giving for liberal comedians, the seemingly endless stream of conservative homophobes who are revealed to be secretly homosexual.

Comedy has always thrived by poking fun of the powerful; if there really is a vast left-wing conspiracy, conservative comedians should climb down off their high horse and aim for that rich target.

P.S. Since this is a post about comedy, here's the funniest video of all time.

UPDATE: I figured it would be good to provide a list of comedians who are Republicans:
  • Drew Carey
  • Adam Sandler (well, he was funny once upon a time)
  • Vince Vaughn
  • Larry Miller
  • Yakov Smirnoff (I guess he doesn't like Communists)
  • Joan Rivers (residual loyalty to her grade school classmate, Abraham Lincoln)
  • Jim Belushi (insert your own "brother" joke here)

Are Women Penalized For Talking About Family At Work?

As is a bit of a tradition around here, one of my friend Penelope Trunk's blog posts lured me into commenting at such length that I decided to do an actual blog post:

In her recent post, Penelope writes about her struggle to avoid branding herself as a mom:

"I intuitively knew to hide my kids when I started having them, because I had already had a rip-roaring career where I steered clear of women who doted on their kids. (It’s always women, even today.)

I made sure to stay in male-dominated departments so as to not get sucked into the kid thing by proximity.

I made sure to take no maternity leave. (A terrible decision, but one that many women make.)

Even with all my precautions, my editor suggested that instead of writing a workplace column I should write a women’s column."

But after trying to hide her true self, Penelope decided she was tired of the masquerade:

"Parents are scared of devaluing themselves by becoming the person at work who lets their kids take over their life.

We don’t value that. Which sets up childhood and adulthood as competing interests. Parents cannot have fulfilling (career-based) adulthoods if they are affording their kids a charmed (home-based) childhood.

If we can start celebrating parents when we see them at work, we’ll all feel more able to make choices that are true to us at our core, and not just true to our desire to conform to historic icons of power at work. After all, the only alternative to being true to ourselves is to feel like a human version of that museum: boring and outdated on the outside, but vibrant and alive inside, with almost no one seeing or even knowing what’s there."

Sadly, I think that it’s much tougher for women than men to be authentic about family at work. Married men actually get a wage premium, since they’re seen as more reliable, more responsible, and need to support their families.

In contrast, I do think women face discrimination. Part of this is the assumption that parenting is less time-intensive for men than women. I’ve always violated this expectation, since for much of the kids’ childhood, my office was closer to school than my wife’s, and my schedule generally more flexible. Nonetheless, the assumption that the mother does most of the work is typically true; I got used to being the only dad at numerous events.

That being said, consider the fact that few would recommend staying in the closet to advance one's career (Hollywood leading men aside!); at some point, you have to be who you are, and damn the consequences.

There’s a reason why the main photo on my personal web site shows me with my entire family:

If somebody wants to discount my value because I prioritize being a husband and father, I want to scare them off up front, so I don't waste my time dealing with them.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Live Video Is About The Broadcasters

The internet is abuzz with the rumor that Google is about to acquire Twitch, the videogame-focused spinoff of Justin.tv.  The price? $1 billion.

A lot of the coverage has focused on Twitch's monthly audience of 45 million unique viewers, which is certainly impressive.  Just about the only TV program that exceeds that level of audience is the Superbowl, which scored 111 million viewers this year.

Of course, Google's YouTube reaches 1 *billion* viewers per month.

The real value of Twitch, as with other live video services, lies in the broadcasters.

Think about where the switching costs reside.  It's not with the viewers.  When I'm reading blogs, I barely notice if an embedded video is hosted by YouTube or Vimeo.  I might notice if it's on Hulu, just because of the incredibly annoying and unskippable ads.

Anyone who owns a blog knows that incumbency is powerful.  Heck, I'm still using Blogger, and that's after I was offered personal help to switch by the folks at Automattic (I swear, Matt, I will get around to it!).

Besides the switching costs, there's the fact that compelling content draws in viewers.  Think of the role of professional sports in traditional TV.  Each time the various sports leagues renegotiate their contracts, we see new records being set.  Owning the TV rights to a major professional sport is a license to print money.

It's not hard to speculate that videogaming, which may very well be the sport of the 21st century, will one day draw similar bidding wars.  Google's just getting a jump on the negotiations by locking in broadcasters now.

Further, videogames are nearly ideal for online video--you don't even need fancy cameras to capture the most detailed of closeups!

Of course, videogames are just the beginning.  There are plenty of other types of killer content for live video, such as sports, live music, and talk shows.  Think about how much Live Nation pays for the rights to a concert tour, or how Oprah made her billions.

Twitch has about 1 million broadcasters per month.  $1,000 per monthly broadcaster is a pretty hefty price, one which other live video companies will be hard pressed to refuse.

Disclosure: I own stock in Ustream.tv, a live video service that has 77 million monthly viewers...and 2 million broadcasters.