Why Woke Comedy’s ‘Punching Down’ Rule Is an Absolute Farce
This new rule gets ignored when the comedy targets fall on the Right
What’s the most predictable comedy tic of late?
It’s either late night hosts ignoring news that hurts the Democrats, or “Saturday Night Live” mocking President Donald Trump in its cold open.
The latter happened right on schedule Saturday, but with a twist that should have left today’s woke overlords in a lather.
The sketch featured Alec Baldwin’s President Trump speaking to his ardent fans during a New Mexico rally appearance.
Cecily Strong plays a passionate Trump fan who believes misspelled words are correct … if President Trump’s Tweets say so. In short, she’s a village idiot, down to her stereotypical flannel shirt.
Fellow “SNL” player Aidy Bryant follows Strong, playing a racist MAGA fanatic. That comic theme dates back to earlier in the real estate mogul’s campaign.
It’s the personification of “punching down.”
Trump fans aren’t rich. They often hail from cobalt blue collar backgrounds and have little political clout. In short, they’re low on the cultural ladder and, therefore, shouldn’t be targets of ridicule.
Yet they are, both in this sketch and across the comedy landscape. Remember when far-left comedian Jimmy Kimmel uncorked this screed.
“Like many Americans who have been repeatedly punched in the head, Colby Covington is a big Donald Trump supporter. And there’s nothing Donald Trump loves more than people who love Donald Trump.”
So where’s the outrage? Is anyone more marginalized than Trump supporters these days?
They’re repeatedly beaten up, mocked on national TV and some higher profile supporters are chased out of restaurants.
Meanwhile, today’s woke comedy police cite “punching down” as the biggest thought crime on the books.
if you can’t punch up, punch sideways, or punch yourself in the face over and over. Both tried and true comedy approaches.
— marc maron (@marcmaron) October 8, 2019
BuzzFeed News declared way back in 2016 that punching down will “never be funny.”
“The Good Place” star Jameela Jamil recently reinforced the trope.
“I think it’s quite lazy humor to punch down,” said Jamil, who used the question as an opportunity to distinguish between the type of humor her new show will explore, which focuses on players ranking hilarious real-life situations.
“We’re not punching down on marginalized people. There’s no bigotry, there’s no laziness,” she told BuzzFeed News. “It’s just sort of like old-fashioned slapstick,” she said, adding that the show “makes fun of typical human error rather than true misfortune.”
The director and star of the new indie film “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” Paul Downs Colaizzo and Jillian Bell, are dead set against “punching down” humor.
Colaizzo … said that funny movies simply need to be “a lot more empathetic and filled with compassion” in an era of increased scrutiny via social media.
Bell added that she is “done with” the brand of comedy which punches down on those deemed to be different from the norm.
The producers behind a new Harley Quinn animated series couldn’t agree more. Here’s show producer Patrick Schumaker’s take on the matter:
But I also think like the show doesn’t punch down. [I’ve] seen a lot of people lately been like, ‘Whoa, what can you make fun of?’ Everything’s PC.’ I think that’s false, and you can tell when you’re punching down versus punching up, which I think is much better. And also just makes for smarter comedy. And so I think the show never punches down. Well maybe not never, but most, almost never.”
Of course, the “SNL” skit is far from the only time comedians “punched down” sans repercussion.
Several years ago Bill Maher mocked not just Sarah Palin but her entire family, including her special needs child.
And when I point out that Sarah Palin is a vainglorious braggart, a liar, a whiner, a professional victim, a scold, a know-it-all, a chiseler, a bully who sells patriotism like a pimp, and the leader of a strange family of inbred weirdos straight out of “The Hills Have Eyes,” that’s not sexist. I’m saying it because it’s true, not because it’s true of a woman.
The media ignored that attack.
More recently, First Lady Melania Trump has become a favorite target for comedians … after they all collectively stood down when Michelle Obama held that post.
Melania Trump wields no official power and didn’t choose to live in the White House. Still, she’s relentlessly mocked for her appearance, her accent and her intelligence. Comedy Central star Jim Jefferies once sexualized her in a way that would draw howls had Michelle Obama been the target.
Tom Arnold just mocked black Trump supporters Diamond & Silk on Twitter, using racially charged words in the process.
.@TomArnold was criticized for his demeaning, objectifying, and inappropriate comment directed at @DiamondandSilk, who suggested he should be investigated by the Secret Service for a thinly veiled threat against President Trump. https://t.co/hXquxnate4
— MediaResearchCenter (@theMRC) October 28, 2019
He’s not only immune to “cancellation” he’s part of a new celebrity impeachment task force.
Of course, some will argue that Trump’s white supporters have plenty of cultural cache due to their skin color. Tell that to the MAGA voter living paycheck to paycheck, or the heartland grandma working two jobs thanks to the digital revolution.
Conversely, while LGBTQ folks have historically suffered, often mightily, their current status looks different. It’s what Dave Chappelle riffed on this theme via his Netflix “Sticks & Stones” special.
Remember “The Alphabet People?”
… what I didn’t realize at the time was that I was breaking an unwritten and unspoken rule of show business … no matter what you do in your artistic expression, you are never, ever, allowed to upset the alphabet people. You know who I mean. Those people who took 20 percent of the alphabet for themselves. I’m talking about them L’s and B’s and G’s and the T’s.
Is he right? Can he joke about it? The same folks who cry, “no!” see little wrong with mocking those who hope President Trump can lift the economy up for all Americans.
And it’s why the whole “punching down” canard is, to be blunt, a joke.
UPDATE: Now, it’s worse than a joke. Facebook announced a new policy for separating Fake News from satire. What sounded hopeful at first has a devious caveat – “punching down” satirical humor will not be tolerated, nor protected.