Politically incorrect comedy is making a comeback, even if it isn’t any good.
Earlier this week, stand up comedian Nick Di Paolo released his new special “A Breath of Fresh Air” for free on YouTube. Self-proclaimed as “too ‘dangerous’ for Netflix and too ‘honest’ for Comedy Central,” Di Paolo’s special is a sprawling denouncement of political correctness and liberal fragility sprinkled with buzzwords, gay slurs and occasional punchlines.
Di Paolo’s special is lazy, shallow and mostly humorless. It’s also the natural progression of conservative comedy.
The conservative comedy market is mostly untapped, even though the right wing has yearned for their own Saturday Night Live for years. Mike Huckabee tried to remake himself into Jesus Freak Johnny Carson for aging Republicans but with little success. Dennis Miller grabbed for the Fox News audience but was unable to mine his newfound reactionary churlishness into jokes. Joe Rogan puts people like Ben Shapiro on his podcast but thinly disguises his libertarian tilt under a veneer of open mindedness. Di Paolo’s the first comic of any note to fully commit to making complaining about liberals a centerpiece of his act.
Maybe that would be fine if it were funny. Sadly, we’ll never know. Di Paolo’s special is a grinding parade of easy targets getting belittled for no good reason. The special reeks of Adam Serwer’s 2018 assertion that the cruelty is the point, that Trump supporters “[rejoice] in the suffering of those they hate and fear.” Even the special’s artwork is casually cruel. The image features Di Paolo flipping off protestors, including the likeness of Muhiyidin Moye, a Black Lives Matter activist shot to death last year. Di Paolo has apologized, but the gaffe serves as a decent metaphor for the special as a whole—an entitled white dude seething at the wrong people over things he doesn’t seem to fully comprehend. He thinks everyone who’s not a white conservative male is bitching and complaining because they can’t handle the “real world,” aka one dictated and dominated by white conservative males.
Di Paolo’s jokes are obvious and lazy to the point of seeming caricature. Hacky bits about gender pronouns are followed by tired put downs of safe spaces. It’s the political comedy version of shouting out a local sports team to get a comedy club crowd on your side. Di Paolo’s pandering to an audience with jargon, stereotypes and slurs.
And he doesn’t even pander with evident skill. Near the start, he laments the lack of respect for “white European males,” citing a rest stop named after famed NFL head coach Vince Lombardi on the New Jersey Turnpike. Di Paolo wonders how we couldn’t give him something better, neglecting the fact that the NFL’s championship trophy is named after Lombardi. Eventually he meanders to a Jerry Sandusky punchline, but it’s a weird way to get there considering far more people probably know about the Lombardi Trophy than the name of a random North Jersey truck stop.
Di Paolo’s comedy tour-borne professionalism separates him from the bumbling Christian open mic-ers on Huckabee. Di Paolo’s an accomplished stand-up and actor. He’s been a Comedy Central regular, written for award shows and played bit parts on The Sopranos and Louie, among other shows. But he hails from the same shock jock radio generation that’s railed against political correctness since the early 2000s. He’s just the first comic to center an entire politically-charged special around it.
Perhaps Di Paolo won’t be alone in the conservative market for long. His special’s already generated a ton of buzz, even if most is negative. If it’s successful, more comedians will follow his lead. And as they do, right wing comedy will continue spiraling the drain, desperately trying to make lefties nervous.