Copyrighted material


by Steve Young

Steve Young columns

Watch out, P.J. O'Rourke. Make way, Dennis Miller. The Lords of Loud are going Mort Sahl all over you. And we have Johnny McCain to thank for it.

So you say the right wing doesn't have a sense of humor. Okay, maybe the listeners don't, but the boys behind the mike spent the last 24 hours auditioning for a prime spot in case Fox revives their hysterically clever "Half Hour Comedy Hour."

The laid back, Steven-Wright-humor of Mr. Mark Levin hit the airwaves with a monologue threatening to toss his headphones if McCain won the Florida primary. "I'm not coming back. If talk radio doesn't work, why come back? If talk radio is weak, ineffective and had no influence... I don't need this. This might be it tonight."

Levin claimed he had talked to his wife about it. Throwing in the wife reference always makes the humor all the more charming. It means he doesn't make a decision without first checking with the little woman and shows us all that he's not the Doberman attack dog he wants us to think he is. Unfortunately, he blew it by revealing his satire naivete when he told his audience, in his first segment yet, "I'll die at this microphone." He had given away the joke, which you just don't do unless, of course, he intended to die that night. That, ladies and gentlemen, would be brilliant.

On the other hand, Sean Hannity went fifty-five Andy Kaufmanish minutes without letting the Hannityheads in on the gag.

"I was wrong on McCain. He was winning the hearts of Republican Party. Securing borders just keeps people from feeding their families. It's heartless...makes us irrelevant! Who needs the Death Tax?!"

Sure, dead people don't need money, but his callers were incensed that their hero was willing to ignore the needs of the deceased who don't even have three hours a day to listen to Sean. Some callers were ready to boycott. One woman offered her grandson up to pick lettuce to keep Sean from moving left, but the Great American told all who listen that Great Americans should be willing to change to make America and Americans greater.

You just were waiting for Sean to start pulling women from the audience to wrestle. He was hot. But his callers were hotter.

They tried to talk Sean out of his new progressive conservative stance. Hannity would have none of it. Never breaking character, he used the classic, "Anyone who doesn't believe me didn't listen to the electorate" A-material. "We should close Gitmo, talk with terrorists, have no drilling in ANWR and protect the environment!"

Then he closed with the killer: "Ted Kennedy can be right! I was too harsh on Kennedy, Edwards and Feingold. Talk radio has been dividing the country!"

What was next? George Soros to invest in Fox? MSNBC to offer Hannity a show? Free Ruth Chris steaks for the poor?

Right-wing bloggers went ABM (Anything But McCain) ballistic:

"(Hannity's) nuts. He's buying into the global warming BS. His goose is cooked," wrote Wastedyears at Free

"Sean's going soft on McCain," wailed Incorrigible.

But then, Sean let them in on it. He was being facetious. Too bad.

If either Levin or Hannity wanted to truly earn their satire wings, they would have never let their audience in on the joke. Ever. Number one, telling a joke, then explaining that it was a joke, is the mark of a comedy club open-stager who doesn't have confidence in his material. But even more, it is a sign that a comic doesn't trust his audience to be smart enough to get the joke. And certainly no one would ever claim that those who listen to talk radio aren't smart enough to think for themselves.

Andy Kaufman would have never broken character -- he knew that his audience got it. A lot of people, even today, think that he died. But you don't see Andy telling everyone it was a joke. See, that's what we call genius.

Steve Young is author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful...Mistakes, Adversity, Failure and Other Stepping Stones to Success" (

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor   January 30, 2008   (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.