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Is political comedy inherently leftist?

Brandon Griggs, CNN
Jon Stewart is one of many political satirists whose views skew to the left of the political spectrum.
Jon Stewart is one of many political satirists whose views skew to the left of the political spectrum.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • It's not easy to find right-leaning comedians or comedy websites, comedy experts say
  • Says one, comedy's "recklessness ... doesn't lend itself to the conservative lifestyle"
  • Admittedly left-leaning experts spoke on a panel at the South By Southwest conference

Austin, Texas (CNN) -- The vast majority of comedians lean to the left. Right-wing comedy is a rarity on the Internet. And Republicans are typically easier to make fun of than Democrats.

But comedians shouldn't take a political stance when trying to be funny.

That was the consensus of a panel of admittedly left-leaning comedy experts at South By Southwest Interactive, the digital culture festival under way in this Texas capital.

"Comedy has a recklessness that doesn't lend itself to the conservative lifestyle," said Rory Albanese, an executive producer and writer for "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." "It's the same reason why Christian rock bands aren't as good as regular rock bands."

Albanese was joined on the panel by Carol Hartsell, comedy editor of The Huffington Post, and comedian-author Sara Benincasa, a contributor to Vice.com -- although Albanese did most of the talking. During a freewheeling hour, the trio riffed on everything from the nature of humor online to GOP candidate Rick Santorum's recent comment that President Barack Obama is "a snob" for wanting young people to attend college.

Albanese admitted that after eight years of making jokes about President George W. Bush, it was difficult at first for "The Daily Show" to take aim at Obama. He said Obama's measured statements aren't easy targets for parody.

"There's funny stuff on the left, but sometimes you have to dig a little deeper. I can't say all the lies in politics come from the right. I think a lot of them come from the left," he said during the event Friday. "I do think it's important to try and come at things from all sides. What we do is poke fun at the [political] system, poke fun at the process."

Panelists agreed that partisan politics has almost nothing to do with what's funny online. "I don't think the Internet leans left," said Albanese, citing the Drudge Report and the far-right rhetoric in some online-comment threads. "It's a bad idea [for comedy sites] to pick a path politically before they go after what's funny."

Benincasa agreed, saying there's a reason most of the most popular clips on YouTube don't feature politics but cute cats and guys getting smacked in the groin.

Yet asked by moderator Alf Lamont to name a single right-leaning comedy site, the panel drew a blank. They also couldn't name any conservative comedians, save for maybe Dennis Miller. Hartsell said most of the comedians she knows are questioning, angst-ridden people whose insecurities may not jibe with conservative mind-sets.

Albanese said the 2011-2012 Republican primary campaign, with such colorful candidates as Rick Perry and Hermain Cain, has been comic gold for "The Daily Show" and other jokesters.

"With all due respect to the candidates, there is the view that all of them are insane. A guy like Santorum, who's taking an anti-college stance? That's funny. I mean, who the f--- is against college?"

Satirical TV shows such as "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" can raise viewers' awareness about political issues. But Albanese believes they shouldn't be someone's only source of news.

"When people say, 'I get all my news from 'The Daily Show,' I say, 'Well, that's a good start.' It's a launching point. But it's not a place to form your opinions."

Hartsell believes social media has democratized comedy by giving everyone a platform to be funny -- whether it's in Facebook updates, in brief Twitter jokes or goofy images on Pinterest.

"People just naturally want to make other people laugh," she said. "It's hard to find an audience when you want to be funny. When you're a kid, it's your family. But when you're an adult, the Internet gives you a constant audience. It may just be 20 friends on Facebook, but it's an audience."

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