How to Laugh Away the Far-Right: Lessons from Germany

Lambert here: Hopefully. I’m not sure this will work in all cases. But more humor would be welcome, even if only for tactical purposes!

By Michael C. Zeller, an Associate Researcher at the Central European University (CEU) Centre for Policy Studies, working on the ‘Building Resilience against Violent Extremism and Polarisation’ (BRaVE) project. He is also a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at CEU. Originally published at Open Democracy.

Counter-mobilisation against far-right activism takes many forms, adopts many practices—but humour is one of the most persistent tactics. Time and again far-right movement organisations carry out actions laden with pretensions of gravity and solemnity: Nazis mourning Rudolf Hess on the anniversary of his suicide; Ku Klux Klan members protesting against the removal of Confederate flags from U.S. state houses; Hindu extremists ‘protecting people from immorality’ by assaulting men and women gathered together in a pub; black-clad ‘soldiers of Odin’ patrolling streets in Finland, are just a few examples.

To undermine these activities, anti-fascist activists have repeatedly turned to ‘tactical frivolity’ or calculated silliness to disrupt the attempts of far-right groups to perform dignified actions. Some examples include converting a Nazi march route into an involuntary walkathon to raise money for anti-extremism social work; ‘mooning’ KKK members and playing comical tuba music during their march; mailing pink panties to violent Hindu conservatives; and a posse of clowns ‘protecting’ right-wing vigilante patrollers exemplify the use of japes and mockery to counter the far right.

Humour can serve several purposes. In order to illustrate these, this article examines the emergence of humour as a tactic in activism in Germany and the example of the Front Deutscher Äpfel, a case which demonstrates the utility of satire among counter-mobilising activists and, specifically, against far-right groups.

Spaßguerillas or ‘Fun fighters’

In the broadest terms, the use of humour by social movements serves two types of purposes: internal and external. Within movements, humour often comprises the brick and mortar of collective identity; jokes about the movement’s activism and the place of opponents helps cement cognitive, moral, and emotional connections between members. Humour also offers enhanced mobilising potential: the prospect of fun activism typically has greater appeal to potential members than more stolid activity.

Alone, these advantages—attracting new members and promoting in-group solidarity—make humour a worthwhile attribute for social movements. But it can also serve external purposes. For example, framing opponents’ claims or stances in a humorous way subverts them, denying their legitimacy. Such ridiculing can effect a sort of ‘soft repression’ on opposing activists. It may offer greater prospects of persuading bystanders, too. Social movement activists can use humour to break out of entrenched positions and frame opponents from a more advantageous perspective. Thus, as Rachel Kutz-Flamenbaum writes:

Humour is a core communicative strategy used to build affiliative ties, expand groups, strengthen communities, and attempt to educate, entertain, and persuade. In its ability to disarm and entertain, humour holds profound potential for changing people’s minds and promoting social change.

In Germany, humour became established in the panoply of social movement tactics as a response to rigid social mores and, at times, authoritarian conduct by state authorities. These same characteristics later suggested humour as a useful means to counteract far-right activism, which typically prizes traditional social norms and authoritarian leadership.

West Germany in the 1960s was in many ways characterised by enduring authoritarian attitudes and practices. On the one hand, the end of de-nazification drives allowed former members of Hitler’s regime to return to important positions in business and state administration in the late 1940s and early 1950s. On the other hand, anti-communism was a hegemonic precept in the West German state and society, so authorities tended to respond to leftist student activists with repression, even if the activists had no truck with the ideology represented by East Germany or the Soviet Union.

In this context, as Simon Teune writes, a group of activists sought ‘new forms of protest designed to overcome the limits of classic street demonstrations, characterised by distance between the public and demonstrators and by confrontation with the police.’ These were the Spaßguerillas, the ‘fun-fighters.’

Fun-fighter activists emerged from the Sozialistischen Deutschen Studentenbund (SDS, ‘German Socialist Student Union’), where some members already recognised the need for some levity to help mobilise participants and strengthen morale. Wolfgang Lefèvre, a leading figure of the SDS, wrote in 1966:

Fun-fighters like Fritz Teufel and Rainer Langhans adopted this approach. Playful tactics—such as planning to throw pie and pudding at U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, ironically supporting the partisan sensationalism of the right-wing Springer press, and making a mockery of court proceedings—could ‘mobilise young people, who could not get started with Marxist analyses and joyless demonstrations, but who still wanted to criticise the current state of affairs.’

They also realised it could serve instrumental purposes. While on trial for flimsy charges of incitement to violence, Teufel and Langhans took every opportunity to undermine the petty authoritarianism of the judiciary. Teufel embodied this mockery with his reluctance to stand for the judge, eventually rising only with the dismissive comment, ‘if it serves the search for truth.’

Front Deutscher Äpfel

Later anti-fascist activism in Germany bears the stamp of the Spaßguerillas, most notably in the imperative to make counter-action engaging to participants and observers alike. The Front Deutscher Äpfel (‘Front of German Apples’), also known as the Apfelfront, represents one type of heir to the fun-fighter legacy, embracing performative mimicry as a means of satirising the far right.

The Front Deutscher Äpfel was formed in 2004, after the September election to Saxony’s regional parliament (Landtag). The right-wing extremist Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD, ‘National Democratic Party of Germany’) was conspicuously successful in that election, increasing its vote share by 7.2 per cent (the biggest gain of any party) and winning 9.2 percent of the overall vote.

Inspired by the name of the regional NPD party leader, Holger Apfel, a group of artists in Leipzig organised the first Apfelfront demonstration as a response to the election as well as to the announcement of a far-right demonstration in the leftist neighbourhood of south Lepizig. Like the fun-fighters, the Apfelfront eschewed the conventional response to public far-right activism: disruptive counter-demonstrations met by varyingly suppressive police deployments. Instead, when a well-known far-right leader with connections to the NPD organised a demonstration, the Apfelfront came in traditional fascist style: black button-downs with red armbands, but with the silhouette of an apple rather than a swastika.

German far-right activists typically adhere to two dictates: do not explicitly glorify the Nazi regime or display any proscribed symbols, both of which are prohibited under German law, and make a powerful show of the far-right’s mobilisation capacity. The Apfelfront undermined both these aims, comically heightening the identification with the Nazis and making a farce of the forceful far-right mobilisation with patently silly behaviour.

During nearly ten years of activism the Apfelfront echoed several elements characteristic of the Nazi regime: the Apfelfront’s founder, Alf Thum, was referred to as the ‘Führer’; the Nationales Frischobst Deutschland (‘National Fresh Fruit of Germany’) was their Hitler Youth; and the Bund weicher Birnen (‘League of Soft Pears’) was their League of German Girls. (Having a ‘soft pear’ is a German idiom meaning ‘very stupid.’)

The Apfelfront repeatedly asserted the tenets of their fruit-based nationalism: (1) no more foreign domination of German fruit stock, (2) expel tropical fruits, (3) get rid of the false representation of history propagated by the world conspiracy of grapefruits. By parodying the Nazi regime and its far-right sympathizers, Apfelfront activists aimed to subvert legitimacy, to deny the menacing posture of the far right and instead make it an object of fun.

Flyer of the Apfelfront listing their three satirical demands

Aside from undermining the far right’s legitimacy, adopting the ‘fun-fighter approach’ serves two distinct objectives, as the case of Apfelfront clearly illustrates. First, Apfelfront antics—essentially, various forms of over-identification with xenophobic attitudes and the National Socialist regime, albeit in the realm of groceries—ease tensions in a setting fraught with the heavy antagonisms of opposed demonstrations and taut police peacekeeping deployments.

Police officers acknowledge this effect; many could not help but laugh when the (male) Apfelfront Führer shouted that he ‘wants to have the far-right leader’s baby.’ Apfelfront humour intentionally de-escalates the situation on the street and likely goes some way toward charming police, which might otherwise view the counter-demonstrators as aggressive troublemakers.

Yet more important is escaping the hackneyed, frequently ineffectual or even detrimental, pattern of hostile duelling demonstrations. Movements-countermovement pairs like the far right and anti-fascists often fall into modes of engagement characterised by ‘polarisation, dependency, Manichaeism, and imitation.’ Playfully imitating the far right and superficially ignoring the ‘us-them’ division disrupts these fixed patterns of antagonism. The tactics employed by the Apfelfront activists, like the fun-fighters before them, attempt to undermine their targets with ridicule.

The use of humour is no panacea. Tactical frivolity is neither necessary nor sufficient to cause the demobilisation of far-right groups or campaigns. But it can serve many useful purposes, which is why the approach modelled by the fun-fighters and exemplified by the Apfelfront continues to influence counter-mobilisation against the far right. In the many instances where far-right activity attempts to exhibit solemnity, gravity, or strength, a well-aimed joke is a powerful act of resistance.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Ignacio

    Yep Neofascism is indeed quite ridiculous by itself though dangerous and prone to abuse and mob. Fascist tactics have to be avoided. Laughing about their pretensions is something the fascists cannot stand. Yet one has to be alert and serious when fascists cross red lines.

    1. Dallas C. Galvin

      These videos & notions are charming. They’ve liberated my depressive soul from the ‘all-is-lost’ thoughts I had reading “Vanity Fair’s” piece on Kushner & the Admin’s Covid testing fiasco. However, in our desire to take on the Right and the Woke, we should keep the repercussions in mind. I covered Latin America, especially during the Condor years & their aftermath, esp. in Uruguay and Argentina: The “owners” of the Right — in our case, the million/billionaire classes — egg on the righteous anger of the lower classes on the subject of their being seen as unworthy. In Latin America, their co-religionists in the military & police went after the artists and intellectuals, especially the Tupacs, who had the most devastating and funny art, with special vileness and cruelty b/c of their mockery. I am not saying, Don’t. Heaven forfend. What I am saying is that yes, humor is a brilliant tactic. It brings in the fence sitters who dislike confrontation. However, the consequences of making the chuckleheads — who already loathe citified Supercilious Others — can be particularly vicious. Pols like Trump and McConnell dine on that energy. So yes, humor, but compassion, too — even through gritted teeth. The marchers with their stupid costumes are our lame-brain brothers and sisters who want to belong. Want to feel important, as every analysis of fascism (don’t need to tell you, I know!) notes. But our ur-Capitalism has ramped that sense of powerlessness and unimportance to the nth degree. Rather than Seinfeld’s irony, we need those 1950s Red Skelton gentle mockers. I don’t recall their names, but they helped audiences laugh at themselves. Our ur-Capitalism creates divisions in order to sell better. We need to create unity to push it back into Pandora’s Box. And then box the ears of whoever’s left behind!

  2. Wukchumni

    So what happens when a joke is taken the wrong way and the intended butt of brandishes a Beretta at you?

    That said, i’m a big fan of sneaky humor in this regard, the more ambiguous the better, and a scintilla of simple satire inserted really satisfies. Clever is right next to cleaver in the dictionary for a reason.

    How do we go about going forward, online?

    My canvas is a 2 x 5 box, like all who peck away on NC.

  3. PlutoniumKun

    As Matt Taibbi has argued recently, this has unfortunately flipped – the remarkable lack of a sense of humour among the ‘woke’ crowd has allowed the far right the upper hand when it comes to mockery. Glen Greenwald says that one reason Bolsonaro has quite a following among young Brazilians is that his open mockery (sometimes quite funny apparently) of the left gave him an undeserved aura of being kind of cool.

    1. Tom67

      I am German and generally agree with the authour. Alas – he is behind the times. I can only agree with PlutoniumKun: “the remarkable lack of a sense of humour among the ‘woke’ crowd has allowed the far right the upper hand when it comes to mockery” Exactly that is happening here in Germany.

      1. nycTerrierist

        agreed — the woke lack of humor is a red flag, a sign of resentment

        Nietzsche wrote volumes about this

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          Perhaps we should ask all “woke” people for their thoughts on Star Trek. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it would identify many of the Karens who just kind of like Beyoncé as Star Trek is the wokest show that has ever woked. Brie Joy and AOC had a twitter spat over the quality of Voyager. Eventually AOC’s argument amounted to nostalgia of watching it with her father because DS9 is clearly the best Trek and Voyager is trash. How many Kens and Karens would appreciate the regular morality plays of Star Trek that don’t shy from being heavy handed because those same morality plays don’t reinforce the superiority of the bourgeois?

          Though as far as comedians, I would argue some are just upset the kids are dunking on them as they are no longer edgy or hip. Or like the need to redo the same story, story telling isn’t about the story but how we feel about the story. Besides it’s probably better to be canceled than to be Dane Cook who can’t be canceled because…you know…he was never funny. Is anyone really canceling Larry David? Michael Richards was on his show for years. David even put him on Curb and had him have a run in with a character who can be described as black Kramer.

          John Cleese has never done anything as good as Fawlty Towers. He can’t let go, so he complains about cancel culture. Mel Brooks whines about how he couldn’t make Blazing Saddles, but even then he only agreed to make the movie (there is a whole story) if he had Richard Pryor on board so he could let go. He couldn’t make it then without the right amount of virtue signaling.

          1. a different chris

            >and Voyager is trash.

            I sometimes wonder if it was an “accident” that The Federation got them lost. :D Probably tired of listening to all the earnest twaddle.

          2. fajensen

            There is one, true, Startrek for every generation. All the others are thrash :)

            From my perspective “Discovery” is the worst. Really dire stuff. Main character just has to go forth and insert her noisy and whiny self into all situations, big, small, unimportant, who she gets killed … doesn’t matter at all -> The Entire Universe shall be about Her Narrative.

            But, then again, it wasn’t exactly written for people like me.

            1. The Rev Kev

              Wasn’t written for any fans but wanted to be a platform for wokeness. That is why the last few series spent a lot of time insulting past fans and the stars were getting into social media fights with them. They figured that they could dump 50 years of cannon, make up any s*** that they liked, and that a whole new generation would flock to their standards to replace the older fans. The result is that series like Discovery have been dying on the vine as the fans are staying away in droves and Picard proved a bigger disaster. The past few Star Trek films have proven to be hot garbage as well. I have few hopes for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds as it is the same people doing it. So I will stick with the real Star Trek – The Orville.

      2. flora

        The woke are starting to seem like narrow minded conformists. Also, they never challenge monopoly power or question the entire political system allowing monopoly corporate structure. They only care about the HR departments and getting a job in corporate monopolies it seems.

        1. periol

          Huh, sure seems to me the people who care about the HR departments and jobs in corporate monopolies are the people being “cancelled”, losing their oh-so-important-JOB. The “intellectuals” and “academics” who sold out to the establishment for their cushy little paycheck are really concerned the kids see through them. They should be.

          I think it’s fair to say the folks using this to get ahead themselves aren’t woke. But whatevs.

        2. Temporarily Sane

          Exactly. The fact that Wall Street, corporate power and the lesser evil party are fully on board the woke train means they aren’t at all worried about the wokesters challenging the neoliberal status quo.

          Contrast to Occupy Wall Street which was left alone for a few months while TPTB assessed its threat potential before sending in the state’s goons to shut it down. There were no tortured OpEds in the NYT about the horrors of legislated economic inequality and no bankers, corporate CEOs or prominent politicians sang its praises.

          The beauty of wokeism, from an establishment POV, is its ability to get the masses to divide themselves into competing, mutually hostile identity tribes all on their own, no state subterfuge required.

          It makes perfect sense for the Dimon’s and Pelosi’s and the Amazon’s to support and encourage a movement that does their job for them and makes them look virtuous and “progressive” to boot.

          1. Yves Smith

            The 17 city coordinated paramilitary crackdown on Occupy Wall Street was all of two months, exact to the day, after the encampment in Zuccotti Park began. That is a big reason why “They had no demands” is a spurious objection. Given Occupy’s uber democratic process, they might still have come up with demands, but their consensus process meant it would take a long time, sort of link an EntMoot.

          2. rob

            I am not qualified to say what “woke” is… or who it is..or isn’t…
            But from here it seems like a fad.
            It is some term, used by some? and accepted by others… It hasn’t been in the world of the living long enough to actually have meaning..IMO.
            But I totally agree with your take on the likelihood of this “grouping” being “at-peace” with the establishment. Proven by the fact that the establishment organs push ,or at least print about “wokeness”.
            And anything dividing people has a use… to those who don’t want to face a more united opposition.

            @100 years ago…
            the JP morgan syndicate ,@200 corporations/@ 1/6 of the USA GDP… kept a foot in ALL camps.As a means to control radicals.
            They had candidates in both democratic and republican parties, they had, socialists,,etc. and someone in every movement deemed big enough to infiltrate. Giving funding and voice to those who would otherwise have none, allows those voices to be “muddled” and brought back to center.,when they were getting too extreme for the overlords liking.. by proximity.

        3. JGW

          Given the looming massive economic depression, are we not about to see a dramatic shift away from wokeness, and a return to economic justice? Obviously the pluts are supportive of woke-culture; anything to keep the conversation focused on divisive social issues instead of any profit impacting movement. I imagine that pronoun policing takes a back seat when people are curbed and hungry.

    2. Dr. John Carpenter

      One could say the same for Trump. Maybe not so much the following among the young, and I wouldn’t go to Ttump’s stand up show, but I certainly think he’s trying to be funny anyway.

    3. km

      This goes way back. A joke as old as second wave feminism:

      Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

      A: That’s not funny!

    4. voteforno6

      This isn’t really a concern in the U.S., since the far right here seems to have even less of a sense of humor than the left.

      1. Publio

        The far right only has a sense of self-righteousness and self-importance. When you hear them joking, they sound angry. When you see them laughing at their jokes, they laugh in anger. Never lightheartedness, never joy. Their satire is fake satire. Satire should be made from a perspective where you feel your target is being ridiculous, the far right believes with all their heart that their targets are dangerous.

        There’s no humour within the far right, only anger and hostility.

    5. Aumua

      Yeah they do “meme”, but I find that the humor of the right wing to be limited, and never all that funny. It is a cold and somewhat heartless humor at best, and at worst it is little more than hate filled propaganda like Nazi portrayals of Jewish stereotypes.

      Edit: agree 100% with Publio above.

    6. Altandmain

      Yes – for those who are not aware of the article that Plutonium Kum was referencing:

      The woke have become super pious and unable to take criticism and any efforts at humour are far more likely to backfire than hurt the far right.

      Note how the “woke” crowd when critiqued tends to attack the person rather than the argument. In many ways, it mirrors Conservatives who are insecure and defensive about capitalism.

      Woke movements have become like a very fundamentalist religion and the cultural left is very vulnerable. To be honest, I think the best defense, rather than humour is a rejection of what the woke stands for. The German left, under Die Linke, and politician Sahra Wagenknecht may be the best defense rather than humour.

    7. Winston Smith

      As my father would say “if you’re not worth a laugh, you’re not worth anything”

  4. nycTerrierist

    fascinating subject — the power of humor to diffuse toxic vibes, to heal and enlighten,
    cannot be overstated.

    what great clips: loved the kkk’s tuba tagalong and the finnish clown safety patrol

    not a day goes by when i don’t think of Mel Brooks’ masterpiece:

  5. Wukchumni

    An artist friend in Pasadena came up with the Darwin fish concept circa 1985, and we had orange and black stickers made up and were the only drivers with them in the City of Angels, and I made a habit of pulling in front of cars laden with a fish or 2 on their rear echelon and then try desperately to act normal while hoping for a reaction from the evang driver behind me…

  6. The Rev Kev

    German humour can be pretty droll and sarcastic but I think that Americans are also fully capable of meeting these wing-nut groups with their own sense of humour. Back in 2016 when an armed group of far-right extremists occupied the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, they put out an appeal for supplies hoping for snacks, fuel and warm clothes. So people were instead sending them glitter, sex toys, nail polish, pedicure socks, and perfume. To top it of, one guy sent them a 55-gallon drum of “Passion Natural Water-Based Lubricant” to go along with all those dildos. American TV humour is pathetic but out in the wilds it can run pretty rampant when called upon.

    So here is the thing. Comedy appears to be under assault in America and comedians are saying how tough it is to do humour without some person trying to ‘cancel’ them because they got offended by something that the comedian joked about. The humourless Woke people PK talked about in other words. Mind you, you can have famous TV comedians do stuff like appearing in blackface in the past but they are not hunted down because they toe the line and are against Trump. Give me those old style comedians like George Carlin and Chris Rock and turn them loose on all these groups like the tech billionaires, the DNC, Nancy Pelosi and maskless politicians without having Twitter, YouTube and Facebook try to ban them from the net. And lets see how they do in the streets.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      Dave Chapelle has had some run-ins with the “woke” crowd in recent years. The more they criticize and demonize him for joking about certain subject matter, the more jokes he tells about it. Love that man.

      1. Joe Well

        Has he done any really funny work recently?

        He lost me when he went full woke on the Opioids epidemic. He more or less said that these addicts were overwhelmingly “poor whites” (arguable, still a lot of addicts of all races and income levels) and that crack addicts in the 80s-90s were overwhelmingly “poor blacks” (not true or at best an exaggeration according to this study) and that explains why supposedly there is more sympathy for the current generation of addicts (and not the fact that there are many, many more deaths from opioids or that attitudes have changed over 25 years–or that I don’t see a lot of practical results of this sympathy).

        It was one of the worst cases of making everything about race, and kicking the downtrodden and especially defaming black people (associating them again with crack addicts).

        So when the reviews came out that his new Netflix special was offensive without being funny, I didn’t watch it.

        I’m not saying “cancel” Dave Chappelle, but when a multimillionaire with a huge platform spouts lies about vulnerable people, and revives decades-old stereotypes about black people, that is not someone I want to listen to.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          Jerry Seinfeld: What is the deal with mother-in-laws? These people live to nag. When my mother in law and I stress law signed up for AARP she kept asking me if my experience was so different when I signed up 10 years ago. Now I keep hearing about parents worried about school choices for their kids. Let me tell you, it’d hard when it’s your wife. Going to her senior prom sure was weird. Don’t these kids have fake ids? Why do I need to buy booze? Show some initiative. Grow a beard. Millennials.

          I can’t believe Jerry is worried about being canceled, but as far as comedians go, you dance with who brought you. Many simply aren’t the voices of a generation they were, and they are ticked about growing old.

        2. lyman alpha blob

          Those reviews about his show being offensive without being funny were written by that same “woke” crowd without a sense of humor. I watched all of his new Netflix specials and found them all to be pretty hilarious. Have to give a lot of credit to Netflix for not cancelling him, as I’m sure there was a lot of pressure to do so.

          Why not watch it and make up your own mind?

          1. Joe Well

            >>Why not watch it and make up your own mind?

            Because there are literally thousands of things to watch and I have very little time. Also, I’d like to keep what remains of my nostalgia for his 2000s TV show which was a bright spot during stressful times.

            Plus, when someone is a multimillionaire superstar like that, they lose their edge if their specialty is talking about life among average people. I think this is also a problem facing Seinfeld.

            1. NotTimothyGeithner

              One of the Chapelle show episodes was a bit on rejected sketches they had worked on but didn’t finish including one based on a news story about an all LGBT school in Los Angeles. They came up with a gay segregated society. They had one really good joke about a kinder, gentler klan, but they didn’t have anything else. The gay dmv joke was on the nose. It reminds me of John Cleese and Graham Chapman’s effort on “Life of Brian” which was are we making a movie about a group going out for dinner or one about the first century Palestine and religions when they were writing jokes about Jesus not getting what he ordered. I think Chapelle went through a brilliant/lightning in a jar phase on tv (Eddie Murphy’s brother became a relative star), and to a certain extent, he’s annoyed cheap shots aren’t doing it.

              Even Dave Chapelle’s own breakdown was partially over the stress of funny versus stereotypes.

              Steve Martin walked away from stand up when his act wasn’t producing the desired outcomes from his perspective. No one is canceling Steve Martin, and he was in “The Jerk” with Bernadette Peters which could be why. His reasoning is largely due to it not being the same and he was loaded at the time.

              1. Joe Well

                I rewatched some Chapelle show eposodes last year and for me the humor didn’t hold up. Not unfunny just not as funny as I remembered. I think it was just that TV comedy at the time was so awful. So I’m going to maintain my fond memories of Rick James and Tracey Morgan the pimp by keeping them in my memory and not rewatching them.

                  1. Joe Well

                    I followed that link and got to thinking about Charlie Murphy, Googled…and found out he passed away from leukemia in 2017 at 58 years old.

                    RIP Charlie Murphy.

                    And that is enough memory lane for me, thank you.

                    P.S. I wonder how many 20-year-olds today would begin to understand that sketch. I barely knew who Rick James was and I was in my 20s when I saw that show for the first time.

  7. John Merryman

    Society is that dichotomy of liberal and conservative. The social energies driving it and the cultural forms giving it structure and direction. It’s when we don’t sense and understand the larger feedback between the two, the anarchies of desire versus the tyrannies of judgement, the heart and the head, the energy of youth versus the lessons of age. That each side sees themselves on the one true path and those going the other way as evil fools, that society becomes polarized.
    When liberalism is pushed to the point of reductio ad absurdum, where every desire, want, wish, impulse, identity can’t be nuanced, negotiated, relegated, tested, then eventually the only force and emotion which can control society is fear. Leaving the Stalinists in charge.
    On the other hand, when culture is seen as the one true absolute, then the in group views themselves as superior to everyone outside and then you do have Nazism. Or if you have a desert kingdom, with unlimited resources to keep everyone emotionally stupefied, you have Saudi Arabia.
    Life is more the yin and yang, than God Almighty.

  8. Polar Donkey

    I remember Billionaires for Bush. People liked them. It’s sequel Billionaires for Barack made people uncomfortable. Weren’t only republicans supposed to be plutocrats?

    1. Dr. John Carpenter

      The left is totally ok with humor in approved places (The Daily Show, SNL) against approved targets. Only the “dirtbag left” seems comfortable with brandishing humor as a bipartisan weapon or even just using any humor with real teeth against the right. I think it’s a missed opportunity, frankly.

    2. GramSci

      Billionaires for Bush is attempting a comeback.  “Billionaires for Bush or Gore” was a hard sell, as would be “Billionaires for Trump or Biden”.  So, according to the  link, their new website “Billionaires for Wealthcare” is under construction.

      Back in the day my wife, Lotta Cash, and my alter ego, Hiram Cheep, would gather our fellow “country club” members on election season weekends.  Our favorite venue was the Trader’s World flea market between Cincinnati and Dayton. Not only did it selectively reach the desired audience, it was the best ad buy around. On a nice Fall day, $20 would buy a table and we could play to an audience of 10,000.

      You can buy a tux on eBay for $20.  Unfortunately, COVID is going to complicate street theater.

  9. Geo

    The story of how the radio show for Superman was used to demystify and mock the Klan is also a good one:

    “In revealing everything from code words to rituals, the program completely stripped the Klan of its mystique. Within two weeks of the broadcast, KKK recruitment was down to zero. And by 1948, people were showing up to Klan rallies just to mock them.”

    This is part of why my distain for the new movie versions of Superman as an Ayn Randian a-hole is so deep.

      1. GramSci

        Hahaha! Yes, those were the days when [some] “mild-mannered reporters for great metropolitan newspapers” did fight for Truth and Justice as the “American Way”.

  10. Igor Slamoff

    Molly Norris tried making fun of extremists once, but it didn’t turn out very well.

  11. Geo

    Presidential debates may be cancelled! That was the only thing abou this election I was looking forward to!!! :(

    Seriously, Trump v Biden in a verbal skirmish was gonna be the best match of wits since I saw my cat attack a paper bag and get her head stuck in the handle then run around the apartment freaking out because the bag was chasing her the whole time.

    (Oops! Meant to post this in “Links”. Sorry)

    1. Alex Cox

      Thanks for posting this anyway!
      The debates are the only thing we have to look forward to in this sorry mess.
      They must go on!

      1. nycTerrierist

        Agreed — we at least deserve those debates!

        and seriously, if his supporters don’t think Biden can get through a debate with Trump,
        isn’t that a damning indictment of his ability to handle himself as President?

        I hear its a challenging job

        1. Geo

          If they do it it will probably be through Zoom from his basement with Jill Biden by his side speaking for him. If Joe speaks his stellar team will pull the plug and claim tech problems.

          Joe Biden 2020
          “My time is up”

        2. JWP

          Bring back Mike Gravel. With slogans like “Compost the Rich” and “the Gravelanche” and his amazing performance in 2008, He is the dose of humor and reality we all need.

  12. Susan the other

    Thanks Lambert. This was great. Spit my coffee. I do agree with this thread about the “woke” being humorless. So we’ve got shades of the Merry Pranksters and Charlie Chaplin – fine tuning their satire in Germany. But I noticed that that hilarious Tuba clip was the good old USA. So I just wanna make a point here about propaganda – sophisticated sophist propaganda. This is how sneaky Trump is – he is turning the term “fascist” inside out. The NDP in Germany is photo fascist; Antifa in the USA is not fascist. The NDP has a following of Germans who were never able to come to terms emotionally with WW2. So their reaction to being forced to accept millions of immigrants from Syria who are given full citizen rights faster than they got them (which was never under East Germany) seems like a partially honest reaction to current German politics. And one that was tailor made for satire. The Apple Party. National Fruits. But that doesn’t work against a different history – Antifa was immaculately conceived as a reaction to neoliberalism in all it’s woke-ness. A Woke-ness that was blind to the inequalities it was creating and perpetuating. Still, somebody should have been there to play the tuba for Trump’s upside down bible photo op. No? Instead of satire, we Americans are just plain pissed off. Portlandia is celebrating the expulsion of Trump by burning a pigs head and some bibles on the federal courthouse steps. That could backfire.

    1. JEHR

      ” Still, somebody should have been there to play the tuba for Trump’s upside down bible photo op. No?” Yes!

  13. Big River Bandido

    I have never found FDRs “Fala” speech to be a knee-slapper though it does give me chuckles, particularly his feline delivery when he talks about vote suppression. But back in 1944, it was apparently a huge hit, and the audience roared.

    Reagan also used mockery of Democrats and liberals to devastating effect. Leftists today need to borrow a page from them. So what if the Wokesters don’t like it? Of course they hate it — they have no humor to begin with, and besides — they’re the targets!

  14. John Anthony La Pietra

    Some examples include converting a Nazi march route into an involuntary walkathon to raise money for anti-extremism social work. . . .

    I remember suggesting something similar some years back when the Westboro Baptist church gang announced plans to come to the area.

    1. sj

      Once upon a time, I had a similar idea for the mobs that protested the Planned Parenthood near me: get pledges of X dollar amount for each protester and then have a board that posted how much the protests had brought in donations the previous day or week.

      I was active in Dem politics at that time and may have had the connections to talk about it with PP, However, right after I had the idea I moved out of state so it never went anywhere, but I still think it would have been awesome.

  15. John Wright

    The use of humor can make an impression that sticks.

    Probably in the 1980’s a group of white supremicists rented a mountain top in Northern California from a private owner to have a rally.

    The owner was unaware, for a while, of the group’s intended purpose.

    He let the rally proceed for fear of his own safety if he attempted to stop the rally.

    Someone later wrote a letter to the editor and stated to the effect

    “I saw pictures of the people at the rally.”

    “If this is the Master Race, I sure want to see the qualifying heats”.

  16. Kurt

    We had similar fun at a BLM march, shouting
    “Bros before Ho’s”,
    “Stand up to white feminists”
    “Don’t let the white wet dogs-pussies tell you what to do”

    Graphics are fun too. “Black Lives Matter” painted on walls was changed to
    Black Ops Matter!

  17. Aumua

    Well if one thing is clear from this thread, it’s that NC has no sense of humor at all about the ill-defined category of “woke people”.

  18. Sound of the Suburbs

    Learning from history.
    We stepped onto an old path that still leads to the same place.
    1920s/2000s – neoclassical economics, high inequality, high banker pay, low regulation, low taxes for the wealthy, robber barons (CEOs), reckless bankers, globalisation phase
    1929/2008 – Wall Street crash
    1930s/2010s – Global recession, currency wars, trade wars, austerity, rising nationalism and extremism
    1940s – World war.
    We forgot we had been down that path before.

    The lesson of history …….
    When the US needed an FDR, it got an Obama.
    Now they’ve got Trump.
    They’ve taken a more European approach this time.
    Trying to maintain the status quo is not a good idea, they needed a New Deal.

    It is amazing when you look at how far we have moved from the understanding of the 1940s, to the fantasy world of today.

    What did the economists learn in the 1940s?
    In the paper from 1943 you can see …..
    They knew Government debt and deficits weren’t a problem as they had seen the massive Government debt and deficits of WW2.
    They knew full employment was feasible as they had seen it in WW2.
    After WW2 Governments aimed to create full employment as policymakers knew it could be done and actually maximised wealth creation in the economy.

    Balancing the budget was just something they used to do before WW2, but it wasn’t actually necessary.
    Government debt and deficits weren’t a problem.
    They could now solve all those problems they had seen in the 1930s, which caused politics to swing to the extremes and populist leaders to rise.

    They could eliminate unemployment and create a full employment economy.
    They could put welfare states in place to ensure the economic hardship of the 1930s would never be seen again.
    They didn’t have to use austerity; they could fight recessions with fiscal stimulus.

    We forgot everything they learned after the 1930s, and removed the things that stopped politics swinging to the extremes and populist leaders rising.

  19. Wukchumni

    I’ve noticed that humor has kind of died in the USA since the internet, rarely is a joke told in person anymore, we only read jokes online, pretty much.

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