Republican Attacks on Comedy Mirror Their Attacks on Democracy

Republican Attacks on Comedy Mirror Their Attacks on Democracy

Sean Hannity and his Fox News show panel were thrown into a right-wing crisis on Monday night after a comedian joked about a political issue in a way that offended them. Before you laugh at this as another example of the good outrage machine, keep in mind that we’re in a new place in America, a place where the GOP does more than just complain about words they don’t. do not endorse and are enacting laws to “cancel” those who dare to speak or write them.

The GOP does more than complain about words it doesn’t approve of, but enacts laws to “cancel” those who dare to speak or write them.

In this case, Hannity and a panel that included former President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, and former Florida attorney general and Trump impeachment lawyer Pam Bondi, said they were disgusted by comedienne Laurie Kilmartin’s abortion joke on Ayman Mohyeldin’s MSNBC show on Saturday night.

Referring to the person who leaked the Supreme Court’s draft opinion quashing Roe v. Wade, Kilmartin, an Emmy-nominated comedy writer, said, “I wish I knew who the backer was, so I could make sweet love to that person, because that person is a hero to me. OK? And if the backer – a lot of people say that might be a conservative – if the backer is a Republican, and if I get pregnant while we’re having sex, I’ll happily abort our fetus and let them know.

It was too much for Hannity and his panel. The host somehow linked Kilmartin’s joke to pro-choice protesters who allegedly committed acts of violence. Lara Trump shouted, “That comedian wasn’t funny…there’s nothing funny about the abortion issue” and added, “Shame on that woman.”

But the former Florida attorney general went further and said that because Kilmartin had joked about God in her past comedy, she “shouldn’t have been on TV.”

After that sign, Kilmartin had to lock him up Twitter account after a tsunami of vile comments and threats of violence. Given the anti-abortion movement’s long history of violence, including bombings and murders, the threats against Kilmartin are deeply disturbing.

People can criticize a comedian’s jokes. But Hannity’s panel was part of the right’s ongoing effort to silence, aka “cancel,” the comedy they don’t like. They must have known that attacking Kilmartin over such an emotional issue would result in a backlash against her from Fox News viewers.

The right-wing war on comedy is not new. During the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump called for the cancellation of “Saturday Night Live” over jokes and skits that poked fun at him. And as president, Trump not only lambasted late-night comedians, he even called on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate SNL for his jokes at his expense. Think about it: Trump tried to use the government to silence a comedy show.

Richard Nixon also viewed comedy at his expense as a threat, to the point where in 1969 he reportedly pressured CBS TV executives to cancel the weekly television show The Smothers’ Brothers. And even after the show ended, Nixon campaign funds paid a private investigator to investigate the comedy duo, according to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. But what was then seen as Nixonian, that is, purely corrupt and paranoid, is now becoming more and more Republican, insofar as the whole party seems to be moving in that direction. It means what we see from the GOP today is more dangerous to our democracy.

The increasingly undemocratic GOP hates comedy because it scares them. In fact, comedy scares dictators and autocrats around the world. In a recent interview with The Atlantic, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a former comedian, said Russian leader Vladimir Putin fears comedy because it is a “powerful weapon” given its accessibility and a “shortcut to explain complex issues.

As for Trump, he wanted to be feared, not ridiculed. This explains why he broke a presidential tradition that began in 1924 with Calvin Coolidge and never attended the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Compare Trump’s refusal to President Joe Biden to attend the event this year, knowing he would be the butt of many jokes. Unlike Trump who lashed out at those who mocked him, Biden laughed heartily at the barbs at his expense and joined in the standing ovation for “The Daily Show” Trevor Noah after his roast of Biden and others.

Richard Nixon reportedly pressured CBS TV executives to cancel weekly comedy TV show The Smothers’ Brothers.

A free society includes the freedom to mock our leaders and to speak out without fear on political issues. But this GOP puts that freedom at risk. The party doesn’t just threaten to “cancel” what it doesn’t approve of, it enacts laws to do so. We see it with the GOP’s banning of books, the banning of what they mistakenly call “critical race theory”, laws empowering parents to sue school districts for allowing discussions of LGBTQ issues, and a Florida law that punishes Disney for daring to speak out against Florida’s anti-LGBT law. Additionally, this week, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced legislation to further punish Disney by reducing copyright protections for the company.

This is not an exercise. The GOP is waging a war on freedom – from freedom of thought to freedom of choice to freedom to joke. They come for the comedy because it is a unique threat to those who reject democratic values. Today plans to control every part of our lives, and nothing is ruled out, including the jokes we tell.

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