Forget Hillary vs. Barack. This potential schism in the world of liberal-leaning comedy has true potential to turn neighbor against neighbor. From a Tina Fey interview in Readers Digest (via whatever Huffington Post staffer has the job of reading Readers Digest):
RD: What pleases you more, applause or laughter?
Fey: Laughter. You can prompt applause with a sign. My friend, SNL writer Seth Meyers, coined the term clapter, which is when you do a political joke and people go, “Woo-hoo.” It means they sort of approve but didn’t really like it that much. You hear a lot of that on [whispers] The Daily Show.
I know! Across America, heads are exploding! Sides must be chosen! Families will be rent asunder! Mommy, why are you fighting with Daddy?
Fey has a point, but just a small one.
The irony of Fey’s criticism is that Jon Stewart has talked about this phenomenon often, as exactly the type of laugh he doesn’t want to get, that he and his writers are uncomfortable with partisan woo-hoo-ism and that they’ll write to avoid it. But face it, TDS/Colbert do know which side their political bread is buttered on, as anyone knows who’s gone to a taping, felt the energy in the audience and heard the political jokes the audience gets warmed up with. (Hint: not overwhelmingly pro-Bush.) That Stewart tries to avoid clapter doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
The small problem with Fey’s snipe, however, is that The Daily Show is actually funny. (As is 30 Rock. This is not a zero-sum game here.) I would wager that the clapter-ometer would have registered higher at many of SNL’s recent political sketches than at a typical Daily Show or Colbert. (For an interesting extended comparison of SNL and Colbert, by the way, see Christopher Beam in Slate, who analogizes the differences between SNL and Colbert humor to Boomer vs. post-Boomer culture, and therefore Clinton’s vs. Obama’s demographics.)
But Fey makes the important point that putting righteousness over funny is the death of comedy. Ironically, the best description of the phenomenon she calls clapter came from this hilarious 2006 Scott Brown post at EW–explaining why 30 Rock was a better show than Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip:
[T]hen we saw Tracy Morgan do his Bill Cosby impression — “I’m Bill Cosby, Jello, sweaters!” all delivered flat, with no attempt to mimic Cosby’s voice — and all was forgiven. Ah, comedy: Now I remember you! You’re the one with laughs, the real laughs. Not [Studio 60's] secret-handshake chuckle of self-congratulation: “Why, yes! What you’ve depicted here in this sketch really is a benighted attitude towards women and/or science and/or public education! For consciousness raised and heroic deportment in the agora of television, I award you, sir… a Laugh! Display this laugh at the Pearly Gates, and you will be admitted into Heaven, the nice part of heaven — all long hallways and cocktail-party cultural references.”
We can at least agree that 30 Rock and The Daily Show are better than Studio 60 was, right? Can’t we all get along?