Earlier this summer, MediaPost's David Goetzl made the interesting suggestion that Comedy Central should establish a conservative counterweight to offset its liberal-leaning programming (i.e. "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report"). The reader response to this column was swift and heated, with readers claiming: 1) that Stewart doesn't lean left, he just exposes hypocrisy; and 2) that conservatives can't be funny because they are so mean to the disadvantaged.
The notion that "The Daily Show" favors neither party is one that Jon Stewart himself tries to advance. During his June appearance on Chris Wallace's Fox News show, he claimed he had no partisan agenda. He said repeatedly that he is "a comedian first" and that "The Daily Show" is only about highlighting absurdity and corruption.
Is it possible that Stewart actually believes what he says? That all he's doing is finding laughs wherever they are and that almost all the absurdity and corruption is on one side of the aisle? Although it seems obvious to me that he runs a "liberal" show, sometimes we have to take people at their word. Maybe he's spent so much time in his own circle of like-minded friends that he can't even imagine what others might find absurd or corrupting in, say, more government regulation, teacher unions or Obama-worship.
I don't doubt that Jon Stewart is a comedian first; and he does bring to the show a comedian's full bag of tricks, including wit, sarcasm, accents, and funny faces. Partly because of this, his commentaries are frequently fresher and more incisive than anything on the official news shows. But it strains credibility to argue that he has no general political objective. Anyone who watches "The Daily Show" with an open mind can see that Jon Stewart, with his relentless ridicule of conservative politicians and obsession with Fox News, wants to move the country to the left.
Having a political agenda is not the same as being partisan, and it is true that Stewart sometimes criticizes the Democrats (usually for being insufficiently liberal). He was, for example, pretty aghast that President Obama reached a deficit reduction deal that did not include tax increases. And he will poke gentle fun at Democrats from time to time, but you always feel that he's laughing with them, not at them.
In any event, back to Goetzl's original point: does Comedy Central need a conservative counterweight? Probably not. Could it make more money if it had one? Yes. (And don't try to argue that Comedy Central already has a conservative alternative with "The Colbert Report." Colbert plays a conservative character, all right -- one who's dim and egocentric. This character is funny because he and his ideas are shown to be ridiculous, not because he delivers the conservative viewpoint with humor.)
To be clear, a conservative comedy show would not draw viewers from Fox. Although Fox and Stewart constantly snipe at one another, they are not really competitors. Fox's audience is older white men, while Comedy Central's is a completely separate cohort of younger guys. If Comedy Central did have a conservative political show, it would steal audience from other networks with young male audiences, such as ESPN, SpikeTV and Discovery.
My guess is that Comedy Central viewers are not inherently political one way or another. Sure "The Daily Show" and Colbert probably have nice niche audiences among Capitol Hill staffers, White House staffers and other aspiring political operatives, but I bet that their typical viewer is more like my son, a largely apolitical college sophomore who likes Jon Stewart for the same reason he likes Daniel Tosh and Demetri Martin: bcause they are funny.
Indeed, a younger male audience is probably ripe for conservative humor. This generation has suffered from the straight jacket of political correctness, liberal professors and self-satisfied Baby Boomers. As it is, they have no outlet for their frustrations other than tasteless shock radio, which takes the anti-PC approach way too far over the edge.
But if there is no demand-side barrier to a conservative show on Comedy Central, there is definitely a supply-side problem. If you Google "conservative comedians," the result is pretty slim, which is no surprise, since everyone knows that being a conservative in Hollywood or New York can kill your career. It would take a brave comedian or writer to come out of the closet and announce admiration for, say, Sarah Palin (and how much funnier would it be if it this comedian were also a woman?).
In the meantime, there is one Comedy Central show that actually does what Jon Stewart claims to do: it skewers hypocrisy and cant where it exists, regardless of politics, religion or race. The name of that show is "South Park." We can only dream of what a talk mock news show hosted by Trey Parker and Matt Stone would look like.