Ten days out of nine, Emily has the downright enviable job of trying to get what I write roughly in English. This can be especially difficult as I tend to coined new words, use an extra, a comma or three, and not write a gud. So if anything makes any sense when it finally shows up on your screen, it's only because you and our fearless editors put this essay on her dainty shoulders and carried it across the line.
But when she's not sobbing over my broken English, she's making people laugh as a stand-up comedian. She has performed in clubs on both coasts from the New York Comedy Club to the Punch Line San Francisco. and is here today because I can't think of a better one to answer these questions. So give her a round of (commentary) applause and stay tuned as we discuss how humor can break down barriers and touch people in ways outrage can never handle.
Mark: W.When you look at how things work in right-wing media, outrage and anger seem to be the driving force. From AM radio to Fox News, the hosts are all about being crazy 24/7. But if you look to the left, there seems to be a lot more humor. Whether Trevor Noah or John Oliver, the biggest voices seem to be those who arouse outrage with humor. Why is there such a thing? Difference?
Emily: I think Republicans tend to be more personal. It's all about how things affect you as individuals. How does this affect me? How much does this tax cost on my paycheck? On the other hand, I think if you look at the liberal or democratic way of thinking, it's more about us. About the group. Learn how policies affect groups we're not even a part of. How things affect people who are not me, my family or friends.
And I think the ability to think that way – think about things that don't directly affect you and your life, but realize that everything affects our world – is required for humor. Thinking about other people, people who are not you or who are just like you, but realizing that there are always similarities (we all have families, were once children, felt embarrassed or sad, or had great emotions) is for Humor required work. That's humor. It's about taking something, something that alone could evoke another emotion like anger, turning it around, processing it, and doing something else with it.
I think on the Republican side they are clearing up their anger. They are angry about immigration or what they see in cities and they don't want anyone to let them understand what people think there. T.capTrump is successful here. HePress the keys that matter to you. HeHe speaks to them in a way that makes them feel heard because he is directly reflecting to them the things that concern them personally. HeAcknowledges your concerns. On the left, politicians don't do that. They work to explain how what they propose will help the group. It's a very different feeling. And not very effective at reaching people who are still fixated on their personal concerns.
Mark: I've heard that all humor is about empathy. Are we talking about it? Imagine if you were the person at the center of this case or punch line?
Emily: Well yes and no. I think humor is also about narcissism. Lots of people who are comedians are nice, broken, narcissistic people. A defense mechanism is also built in. So it's about putting yourself or the protagonist in the joke, in front and in the middle. This is required for humor that "hits" rather than "hits". You take that person and make them the focus rather than the object of ridicule – even if something ridiculous happens around them.
Mark: I'm going to ask you a question that I know I've heard before, one that is likely to be asked of any comedian. Did people always tell you that you were funny? Were you a fun kid
Emily: I'm very small like … 5 ’nothing. Humor has always been a defense mechanism. It helps me to be seen. As a woman, I've never seen myself as a beautiful woman who turns everyone's head when I walk in the room and makes everyone say, "Oh, I need to get to know her." But when you can have a group of people around you and they all laugh, that attracts people. People are more interested in what you have to say. It makes you bigger.
Mark: Often times, when we look at something on the news that we think is obviously ridiculous, the way we write articles about Daily Kos can be quite astute. Do you think this type of humor works, or should we take a different approach in trying to convey these two stories and our disdain for some of these subjects?
Emily: I think it works most of the time. It's the perspective of how we talk about it – hitting instead of hitting. This is an audience that is pretty much in tune with what is going on, and as long as we can use that humor to make it more of an 'us versus the world' situation where we all together realize how stupid they are can be other side be … I think that works. Sometimes it gets me down. But it's important not to choose the low hanging fruit or be unnecessarily cruel.
Mark: When we started – before I remembered starting the recorder – you mentioned that, like any other comedian, you kind of hated getting up over Zoom. Is there still something coming in the near future? Something where Daily Kos readers could virtually come to hear your action?
Emily: Things are being planned on pretty short notice right now, so … yeah? Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be performing live anytime soon. As soon as I can be safe out there again, it will be me. In the meantime, people can follow me on social media – I can't keep my mouth shut for long. In all honesty, when I talked about the Zoom shows I was pretty pleasantly surprised by how well some of them went, but I keep my expectations low.
Note: I hope this is the first in a series that looks at humor and other means of responding to right-wing outrage. And since Emily has been kind enough to highlight some great goals among her co-workers (her other co-workers), expect another interview soon.