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May. 23 2009 - 5:17 am | 424 views | 3 recommendations | 13 comments

I watched Glenn Beck’s entire comedy special and all I got was this stupid blog post


Before I’d heard of his stand-up comedy special, Unelectable, the words ‘funny’ and ‘Glenn Beck’ didn’t exactly have what you’d call a magnetic relationship to each other in my mind. After watching the whole thing on DVD, this remains the case.

This is because Glenn Beck is – you’d better sit down for this – not very good at comedy.    

I say that not as a liberal, but as a person who enjoys comedy and laughing and things that are humorous.  If there are jokes in Unelectable, I didn’t see ‘em. Sure, there are comedyesque things here – wacky facial expressions, props, observations, rants – but the way Beck executes them bears as much resemblance to comedy as kids playing house does to actually being married with children.


(Above: an unfairly timed screenshot of Texas governor Rick “I Love Secession” Perry in the audience saluting Beck)  

Economist George Stigler once quipped that the plural of anecdote isn’t data. I’d like to propose a comedic corollary to that: The aggregate of whine isn’t humor. It’s annoyance – at least for me. Most comedy specials are a merciful ninety minutes or less, but Glenn Beck’s brings the same lack of empathy to his ‘entertainment’ as he does to his politics. Unelectable has an unconscionable two-hour running time and it’s hard not to be claw-your-eyes-out bored by ten minutes in. It’s a plodding slog, a never-ending parade of every single thing that gets Beck’s easily gotten goat. The main thread of Unelectable is how – you guessed it – unelectable Glenn Beck would be as a politician because he just can’t stop telling so much damn truth. Humble, this one. Then there are the threadbare themes like liberals love terrorists, liberals hate America, liberals want to protect widdle owls over jobs, liberalszzzzzzzzzzz. Remember the 2004 Bush campaign? Good, you won’t need to rent this, then.

The remaining – I don’t want to dignify them by calling them ‘bits’ – well, ‘filmed portions of Glenn Beck speaking’ consist of little fables in the form of personal anecdotes and news items that illustrate how out of control government/the legal system/political-correctness has gotten. We can put them all under the broad taxonomic umbrella of “Total Bullshit”, but it’s handy to further differentiate the different brands of piffle, hogwash and claptrap the right-wing traffics in for future reference:

Glenn Beck’s Airtight Case Against Big Gubbment

1) Wacky 100 Year-Old Laws Still on the Books for Some Reason
“In [fill-in-the-blank] city, there’s actually a law that says you can’t shave goats/bathe donkeys/walk backwards on Tuesday! Big Government is out of control!”
The idea that Beck successfully passes fodder for fourth-grade humor books off as the unstoppable tyranny of big government is too sad to even contemplate.

2) Popular Misconceptions/Urban Legends
“In California, you have to get a hunting license to set a mousetrap now! Big Government is out of control!”
Long-debunked, obviously too-good-to-be-true-tales that a quick visit to snopes.com will rebut. Beck and his crew are either lazy or liars – or most likely, both.

3) Unpopular Misconceptions
“In San Francisco, they’re trying to pass a law to ban praying in public. Big Government is out of control!”
Like the second category, but doesn’t even rise to the level of urban legend. Complete fictions either made up by his staff or something he read in an obscure right-wing e-mail forward. Like Ricky Gervais’s dimwitted radio partner Karl Pilkington, Beck apparently believes everything he reads on the internet.

4) An Unbearably Long and Boring Anecdote from Glenn Beck’s Own Life
“I had trouble building a fence! Big Government is out of control!”
There’s only one of those in the show, and it involves Beck building a fence around his house, his pesky liberal neighbor, and some regulatory red tape or something. I’ll spare you the details. I can’t exactly accuse him of lying since it’s a personal story, but it’s one of those flattering-to-the-narrator tales full of obvious stairway wit and too-perfect villains that is bound to raise some red flags with anyone who’s ever been friends with a serial exaggerator.

Obviously, there are some stupid regulations, overly-invasive laws, and needless red-tape in government that we could do without.  My main point with that list, though, is that Glenn Beck is a liar – an all-day, up-and-down, straight-to-your-face liar, a trait that the ladies at The View recently witnessed for themselves and something he shares with all the other big right-wing blowhards.


The White Pander Party

Lying is deplorable, obviously, but to my mind, something far worse than a shameless liar is a shameless panderer. And from tip to tail, Unelectable is one great big sloppy kiss to ‘Real America’, Palin’s famous fictional land consisting only of the white, rural, and conservative.  And you can tell the audience believed it was present company included.  People that would, in their personal lives, turn beet red at having so much smoke blown up their ass cheerfully grab both cheeks and hand the man a funnel without blinking an eye. When Beck’s not presenting liberal leaders as the second coming of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao combined, he’s singing praise songs to his audience’s limitless virtues. These salt-of-earth, true-blue, jes’ folks can overcome any obstacle – except, somehow, spineless tree-hugging girly-men. This is the archetypal conservative cognitive dissonance – railing against the rise of victimhood as our default national posture in one breath and detailing how the audience itself is being endlessly victimized in the next.


When Unintentional Laughs are the Only Kind 

In fact, the irony-deficient audience provide the sole shreds of entertainment in Unelectable. At one point, when leading into an anti-immigration rant, Beck references “the border issue”, and says, “To be honest, I just hate those people”. The predictable punchline is that he’s actually talking about Canadians (Har!), but what’s hilarious is that the Texas audience cheers and claps before he reveals that he’s not actually talking about Mexicans. Oops.  

Then there’s an extended bit mocking the racial and gender horse-trading and tribalism Beck claims goes into modern VP selection. Watch it here, if you dare.  What’s funny is that this was filmed in the summer of ’08, before the selection of Sarah Palin, the most transparent token to ever stumble onto the political stage, and a pol Beck so admired he broke down in tears introducing her. In this regard, Beck is the prototypical Republican, a group whose hatred for using race and gender to buy votes is matched only by their clunky zeal in doing just that.

Actually, Glenn Beck now identifies as a Libertarian, and like most Libertarians when they’re in public, he traffics in the vaguest of vague platitudes. Necessarily so,  since their actual policy prescriptions (like abolishing the EPA and dismantling Social Security) are widely unpopular with narrow special interest groups like ninety percent of people with a pulse. But  this was filmed last year, when he was still calling himself a Conservative, and responding to what that means, he said: “Conservatives believe in common sense.” Whoa, hold on Doc! I can’t handle all this tough medicine you’re making me take. Next you’ll be bravely taking a stand in favor of Truth and Freedom and Wet-Nosed Puppy Dogs and Ice Cream on a Hot Day. I think even Captain America got more specific than that.

So, it appears that, as a politician, Glenn Beck would be an unrepentant liar who shamelessly panders to his base while lazily demonizing the opposition and speaking exclusively in meaningless bromides. Will someone please explain to me how that’s unelectable?

And if you were wondering, yes, he cries on cue.  On four separate occasions.  


(Glenn Beck gently wipes away yet another cascade of crocodile tears) 


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  1. collapse expand

    I’m not a big Glenn Beck fan, but left wing hate mongering columnists make him more appealing. I was hoping that True/Slant wouldn’t emphasize the slant side. No wonder columnists like Childers got dumped by their former employers.

  2. collapse expand

    Sure, I’ll cop to being left-wing, and I’m glad to know that my column did its part to send you running into Beck’s arms.

    But “hate-mongering”? Really? I find it hilarious that the right has utterly, and un-ironically, co-opted a term that used to only be used by the most annoyingly politically correct leftists to hyperbolically describe right-wing radio. It pretty much proves my point above that there’s nothing the right does better these days than to wrap themselves in victimhood. You guys are the front lines of the new PC, and if every time someone mocks a conservative, you cry “hate” like a baby, I don’t know how you guys are going to make it.

  3. collapse expand

    I would love to know more about the audience makeup. How many snarky irony-seekers were there, and how many were just in it for the pure Love of Beck? And was there a single minority in attendance?

    • collapse expand

      Your comment leads me to believe you think that I saw the show in person instead of watching it on DVD. I like True/Slant, but I’m not about to jump on that grenade for you guys. :)

      I’d bet no one in the audience was there ironically. It’s not good-bad, it’s bad-bad in a boring way. Plus Beck and his fans are a little scary and kind of ‘off’ in an unsettling way. I wouldn’t want to be in the same room as them. Uh, I don’t remember seeing any minorities, but don’t hold me to that. And like the modern GOP, it skewed fairly old. Most people under 40 were kids with their parents.

      Generally, people were there more as Beck loyalists than as comedy fans. There were many more shots of nods of approval, cheers, and claps than there were laughs. This Amazon review (subject line: He Speaks the Truth) seems typical:

      Everything he says makes so much sense you can’t help but start nodding your head. It’s like he channeled my every thought. When you’re done watching it, you’ll feel frustrated, uplifted, depressed and motivated all at once. It’ll make your head hurt, but in a good way.

      Notice the lack of the word “funny”.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand

    Joseph you deserve a medal for having sat through how ever long Beck’s show lasted. And good work on pissing olddick off!

  5. collapse expand

    I would totally go in person, I bet it’s an amazing experience. In a horrifying way. Something tells me the big G-B isn’t playing any NYC dates though…

  6. collapse expand

    I’m still scrabbling around on the floor trying to pick my jaw up from where it dropped upon hearing that this smear on a gas station bathroom wall was even going to DO a “comedy” show.

  7. collapse expand

    I don’t want to get too “wonky”, but those “crazy law” observations are usually BS. What they do is take a reasonable law (at least at the time) like “Livestock are not to be herded down the main street” and morph it into “You can’t take a goat for a walk”. Intellectually dishonest (and not terribly funny, either)

    But my main point is: Good comedy requires intellect and introspection. Not all smart people are funny, but most really funny people are smart. And Glen Beck ain’t smart.

    Oh, comment for OLDDICK. When did criticism become hating? A reviewer can’t point out that a “comedian” is a hack, isn’t funny or insightful, without “hating”? Get a thicker skin or get off the stage.

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    As a young boy growing up in a small rural town in western North Carolina, I had one simple dream: getting the hell out of a small rural town in western North Carolina.

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