Camillien Houde, Montreal’s endearingly faulted mayor, once quipped: “Any time you want to be funny, all you have to do is tell the truth.” This is doubly true of satire, which thrives on stereotypes and verisimilitude. Tori Amos’s deliciously malicious cover of a misogynistic Eminem song is powerful precisely because, as Latoya Peterson observes in Jezebel, “Amos did not change any of the lyrics, she just presented them in a different light, through a woman’s voice.”
Likewise, Stephen Colbert’s satirical portrayal of a right-wing blowhard on The Colbert Report was hilarious when George W. Bush was in the White House precisely because Colbert is, in real life, a devout Catholic who teaches Sunday School. Colbert’s stereotype rang true because he knew what he was talking about. As Aaron Haspel maintains in Everything (2015): “It is the truth in the stereotype that is objectionable.”
Twitter’s Titania McGrath is funny for the same reason that Stephen Colbert was funny, and her satire works for the same reasons Tori Amos’s satire worked. Titania tells the truth. She doesn’t exaggerate. And she doesn’t misrepresent. I’ve heard progressives say everything Titania says, with deadly seriousness, more or less word-for-word. Apostates have produced most of the best satire because they know what they’re talking about. They know their enemy. Because their enemy is now, or once was, a friend. I’m not sure who Titania McGrath is in real life—I’m not even sure if she is a she—but I’m sure that, whoever she is, she’s swimming in the progressivism she mocks. Because you can’t mock that well from a distance.
When my wife and I saw Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix-special Nanette live last summer, she was performing in front of an overwhelmingly progressive audience in Montreal’s Gay Village. As such, those parts of the show wherein she directly addresses and scolds straight white men fell flat: “To the men . . . to the men in the room, I speak to you now, particularly the white men, especially the straight white men. Pull your fucking socks up!” There were very few straight white men present. She was preaching to the choir.
Preaching to the choir can be fun. But it’s a dangerous kind of fun. Because you get lazy. Sooner or later, the comedy suffers. Your stereotypes no longer ring true. And your jokes just aren’t funny. Netflix comedians pepper their sermons with humour these days, much as pharmaceutical companies sugarcoat the medicine we give to children.
John Faithful Hamer is a father, husband, teacher, philosopher, poet, podcaster, and wannabe herpetologist.