Send in the Klimate Klowns

Tom Finnerty26 Sep, 2021 3 Min Read
Please clap.

Comedy is dead, and if you want proof, well look no further than this:

That's right, the hosts of America's late night comedy shows recently got together and decided that the best way for them to drive away their last remaining viewers would be to dedicate all of their shows to talking about "climate change."

The originator of this bright idea was Steve Bodow, formerly executive producer of The Daily Show, who said that he hopes to "normalize talking and thinking and even joking" about climate change, which I must say is not a problem for us here at The Pipeline. Said Bodow, "Laughing at a problem can help make the problem seem less intimidating — maybe even more solvable."

For a taste of the humor, check out some of the comments from the hosts themselves:

"I'm thrilled to participate in Climate Night," said [Full Frontal's Samantha] Bee. "But maybe we should move it up a few days? Just because, you know, it's urgent?" "I'm proud to dedicate one entire night of my show to the climate, so I can say I wasn't part of the problem, I was 1/365th of the solution," said [Stephen] Colbert.

Those are supposed to be laugh lines.

What an embarrassment! Real comedy is at least mildly subversive, pointing out the absurdities of human life and the political regime with an eye towards making both more bearable, more humane. Read some Aristophanes if you don't believe me.

The original king of comedy.

What these people are doing is the opposite of comedy. They're fishing for affirmative applause when they should be seeking to elicit cathartic laughter. They want to signal to their audience that they have safe, acceptable views. There is a neologism for what they're after: "Clapter."

The recently departed Norm Macdonald described "clapter," and his aversion to it, in an interview several years ago:

When I first began in comedy, I would get people to clap rather than actually laugh. You just say something that has no comedy in it at all, but people agree with it.... So I was getting people to clap, but I reached a point where I never wanted to get people to clap, because it was... pandering. But there's a difference between a clap and a laugh. A laugh is involuntary, but the crowd is in complete control when they're clapping, they're saying, "we agree with what you're saying -- proceed!" But when they're laughing, they're genuinely surprised. And when they're not laughing, they're really surprised. And sometimes I think, in my little head, that that's the best comedy of all.

Macdonald was allergic to clapter, which is what made him such a great comedian. It also cost him a few jobs -- he was supposedly fired from Saturday Night Live because he refused to stop joking about O. J. Simpson's obvious guilt, and you can imagine him getting his own late night show if he hadn't continued to skewer Bill and (especially) Hillary Clinton, who remain so beloved by the glitterati. More recently, he embraced maybe the most verboten perspectives in show business when he described Donald Trump as "enormously funny and entertaining."

But it was notable that when Macdonald died earlier this month, his fellow comedians, including a few who took part in "Climate Night," insisted on describing him using words like "brave," "fearless," "uncompromising," and on and on.  Those comments sound to me like acknowledgements of their own cowardice. Macdonald was brave enough to say things that no one else would say. These clowns are small enough to be bullied by network executives to give air time to (heaven help us) Greta Thunberg.

No one's laughing at that.

Tom Finnerty writes from New England and Ontario.


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