But it’s telling that while conservative comics pick on undocumented immigrant Hispanics and other minorities who don’t have the standing to fight back, they rarely have the guts to make a direct, as opposed to an encoded, joke about those Jews held guilty of ruining Christmas. When African-Americans turn up—mainly the president—the gags are usually tamer than, say, Limbaugh’s tirades about women. What the jokes more often express is bewilderment about—and resistance to—the speed of America’s demographic turnover. In Not Cool, Gutfeld writes that “the haters of the old white male forget that it was a hardy group of old white men who created this country.” What bugs Gutfeld now, as it does Dunham’s grumpy old Walter and many present-day American conservatives, is that this country insists on perpetually re-creating itself, progressively whittling down old white men’s monopoly on power.
In this sense, a lot of conservative comedy both expresses and panders to today’s Republican base, older white men who see America changing and feel impotent about thwarting it. The title of a CD by the comic Jeff “Big Daddy” Wayne, It’s OK to Be a White Male, kind of says it all. Among the most popular conservative comics are four middle-aged men, most famously Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy, who have toured under the rubric the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. It is not quite right to say that they are to contemporary comedy what country music is to contemporary music—they really are what Grand Ole Opry–generation country-western is to contemporary music. Though Foxworthy endorsed and appeared with Romney in 2012, much of his and his peers’ humor is not political at all, but the stuff of daily domestic life, the foibles of marriage and kids and aging, much as stand-up used to be before Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and Richard Pryor, among others, upended the form. Like the Kings of Comedy (the band of black comedians that inspired the Blue Collar Comedy Tour) and the long-touring Catskills on Broadway (an earlier revue featuring classic Borscht Belt Jewish comics), these old-timers have a sustaining audience. But it’s a declining regional niche, not a mass market.