Why Fox News Fails at Comedy

At the risk of joining the ranks of politicians and pundits who use the "I'm no expert" disclaimer before pretending to be experts, lemme start by saying:

I'm not a comedian...although I once gave it a shot. My first night on the comic stage I had to follow Bill Hicks and that kept me away for good.

But I know and respect Comedy, and I know the difference between good and bad Comedy and that is why Fox News' announcement of the cancellation of The Half-Hour News Hour was not only music to my ears, but one of the all-time most merciful moments in Comedy's history.

Nothing is worse than a joke that tears and strains to tickle. Jack Benny taught us that anything could be made hysterically funny if its delivery is properly timed. But not the material on this show. Not even Jennifer Saunders could throw it and make it stick.

And this has nothing to do with ideology; it has to do with following the basic rules. It's about irony, and just as we've learned that those who don't believe in government are unable to govern, people who don't know the meaning of irony are not qualified to show it to us.

And it has nothing to do with old-fashioned sense of humor versus modern, either. I've been laughing long enough to know there's no difference. Hee-Haw was funny. Still is.

Carol Burnet and Tim Conway still make me giggle as convulsively as Dayne Cook and Sacha Baron Cohen, so don't call me one-sided or hipper-than-thou.

The problem is that Joel Surnow, who created both Half Hour and Jack Bauer, thought he could deliver the right wing's answer to The Daily Show and carve a niche in the market for conservative humor. Only he forgot some important parts, among them, obviously, the Comedy part. Dennis Miller couldn't go on the show and be a comedian; he had to be a commentator. And commentators aren't funny (Miller, when allowed, is still funny, just tragically misguided). And those whose job it is to actually be comedians leave you feeling like you've been pounded over the head with a joke instead of zapped in the gut with it.

Secondly, Surnow forgot the single-most important value of timeless Comedy: it unites. Richard Pryor did as much for the easing of racial tension as Julian Bond, and Jim Carrey proved that a white man could kick it with a black cast. Colbert and Stewart make Democrats and Republicans laugh at themselves. They succeed not because of language, political bias or controversy, but because the material is researched, painfully structured and impeccably timed.

Those details were lost on Joel Surnow. He was just out to make a point (or counterpoint, perhaps). But if the jokes land flat, all is lost. Today, Comedy wins.