Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 09/07/22

Separation of Mirth and State. I recently spoke with Kyle Mann, Editor-in-Chief of the red-hot fake news site The Babylon Bee (which. at least by some estimates, has even surpassed The Onion in web traffic) about The Babylon Bee’s Guide to  Democracy: How to Flawlessly Rig Elections, Bribe Any Politician and Crush Your Political Enemies for Good. The just-published manual spoofs the increasingly humorless “Repeat after me – or else” mantra of the State-Media-Tech Industrial Complex. While some might consider the book to be blasphemy against statist scripture, others are apt to see a ray of hope that free speech still flickers along in America. And the fact that the Bee brand has been built up by a group of out Christians with an actual sense of humor (and are also able to laugh at themselves) may qualify as a miracle worthy of a holiday.

Our conversation follows this timely Bee video which would make for a great SNL cold open if SNL still had balls. Kyle, BTW, is the guy in the shades. The woman in the shades is not Kyle. I should note that our chat took place prior to President Biden’s totally apolitical Soul of the Nation address that was masterfully produced before what appeared to be a built-to-scale facsimile of the Gates of Hell.

JWK: So, tell me about the book.

Kyle Mann: Yeah, absolutely. This is our second book in our Babylon Bee Guide series. It’s just kind of our fun instructional guide format. We do a lot of fun satire of different topics in this series. Last year we had The Babylon Bee Guide to Wokeness (where) we did visual illustrations showing you how to get Woke and all of that.

This year we’re focusing on elections. This book is out right before the midterms, so it’s kind of a hot topic that people are talking about. This book was a lot of fun because we got to cover all different topics under the kind of umbrella of “democracy.” So, we talk about elections,  America (and) all the branches (of government). We do these guides to the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch and the Judicial Branch, kind of (showing) how the whole system works but we do it in a really fun way where it’s just totally packed with brand-new custom illustrations from our art team, interactive features, lists, all kinds of great stuff.

I thought The Babylon Bee Guide to Wokeness was awesome. I enjoyed working on that but we really turned it up to 11 with this one. We just had so much fun putting this thing together.

JWK: Speaking of Wokeness, it seems to me that you guys played a large role in turning the word upside down on the people who created it. It was supposed to be sort of a leftist elite word signifying a kind of superior awareness or whatever – but you guys helped turn it into something ridiculous, to the point where the left criticizes conservatives for insisting upon using it, like it’s suddenly unhip or something – but, again, they’re the ones who created it. You guys kinda made the word synonymous with dumb. How do you feel about that? Is that a kind of victory?

KM: I wouldn’t say we were the main people that did that but I think it’s true that comedians, satirists and people that are just pointing out ridiculousness were able to kind of take that label and point out how insane it was. That’s the beauty of satire. You can exaggerate. You can use irony, contrasts and ridicule to mock bad ideas and you can really make bad ideas look unattractive. Nobody wants to join a movement if it’s just getting mocked mercilessly by the comedians. Of course, that’s why people on the left want to ban, suppress or silence comedy. It’s because they can’t abide mockery. You know, when people start mocking their ideas, they really have no response for that. You can’t argue with a joke. I think there’s absolutely truth to the fact that comedians played a role in exposing Wokeness for what it is.

JWK: At the same time, you’ve probably been fact checked more than The New York Times. I mean jokes aren’t meant to be “factual” but sometimes they get at a truth that is really uncomfortable for the powers that be.

KM: Right. The comedians are always looking for a laugh. That means that a joke sometimes is gonna make a point, sometimes it’s not gonna make a point. Sometimes a joke can just be a joke. It can just be fun. But truth can be funny. Truth can be funny especially when nobody else is pointing it out. A comedian in a lot of ways is like the boy who points out that the emperor has no clothes. In the fable the boy doesn’t do that because he’s trying to be hilarious. He just does it because he’s like “Hey, look! This is pretty funny! There’s a naked emperor out there!” and nobody else is willing to say that – to cross that line, to point out the truth. So, I think it’s absolutely true that comedians can end up being truth tellers, either on purpose or accidentally.

JWK: Getting to your new book, I give you some credit for guts for having the audacity to suggest in the title that the election may have been rigged. I didn’t know you were allowed to do that at all – and you’re on Amazon! How do you pull that off?  I mean we keep hearing about “The Big Lie” and that 2020 was one of the most secure elections in American history. Most people, basically, seem afraid to even suggest that there were any problems with election security whatsoever, let alone getting anywhere close to the idea that it may actually have been rigged.

KM: Yeah, we haven’t run into any problems so far but I think when you do things as a comedian, in general, there tends to be a little bit more leeway for that. We didn’t release a book saying “The 2020 Election was Rigged!” That’s not the point of the book. (It’s) not the claim we’re making or it’s not that text that we use but we do get to point out some of the absurdities with things like the 2020 election, the 2016 election or just elections in general. The insanity (comes when) you can’t even tell a joke about that kind of stuff or you can’t even just ask the question about it without being labeled some kind of “spreader of misinformation.”

In the book we do these stick figure diagrams of how to rig an election and we point out some of the funny stuff that happened – you know, stuff that just smelled fishy to ordinary people on 2020 Election Night, even if they ended up not being something weird that was going on. We point that out and we also just make funny jokes. You know, (like) one way you can rig an election is by sneaking into a polling place and – releasing the bees! Through comedy you can switch back and forth between making serious points and then just kind of making kind of the lighthearted joke also – and that just maybe help that message go down a little bit better.

JWK: I mean it’s certainly true that you’re not accusing anybody of anything but when you look at the rough treatment given to people who have genuinely challenged the election results – I’m thinking specifically of Mike Lindell, the MyPillow guy (who you guys jokingly reported launched a line of MyPillow Voting Machines) – do you ever get a little nervous that you’re taunting powerful forces?

KM: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean we at The Babylon Bee have had many run-ins with fact checkers. Like I said, it’s a little bit of a two-sided coin because comedy, in general, can slip by some of it but, once they kind of catch onto it, then they’re onto you and you can’t really get out from under it.

At the same time, if you look at like Facebook‘s algorhythm, if you use a word like “rigged” about an election your post gets flagged and it doesn’t matter if you were saying “The election was not rigged.” You know, just those key words, just even talking about it, gets you flagged for “misinformation.” So, we’ve had that kind of problem before – where we try to tell a joke about Covid 19, vaccines or climate change. Even if we’re not making some point about it – even if we’re just being goofy – then you get flagged for “misinformation” on Facebook. So, it’s tough to joke about those topics that they don’t want you to joke about, for sure.

JWK: Is it true that you guys are getting more hits than The Onion these days?

KM: I don’t have all the stats for where The Onion is. I have seen that flying around. I’ve seen some people will go look up Onion stats and look up ours. We’re definitely competitive. I know many months we have more views than they do. So, depending on the source you look at, yeah.

JWK: I think most people would perceive you folks to be on the conservative end of the political spectrum. Do you find it frustrating how the media will go crazy over stories they think portray the former president in a negative light but will seemingly do their best to avoid covering anything to do with Hunter Biden’s laptop? I mean it seems cliché to say – but also true – that if it was Don Jr.’s laptop they’d have to invent a new day to give it the amount of coverage they’d be inclined to give it.

KM: That’s part of the fun of being a comedian – that we can point out that kind of hypocrisy and the frustration that people are feeling over that and we can do it in a fun way. There are people on social media who are conservative that try to call it out but it can come off as complaining, whining or like “Hey, why don’t you talk about Hunter Biden?!” The left isn’t listening to that. They don’t care – but, when we tell a joke about it, you can kind of cut through that noise and you can make a point and, maybe, people will start to listen.

JWK: You anticipated my next question. News and commentary can be great but people kind of tune it out to a large degree, especially if they don’t agree with it to begin with. Is satire an entry point to get people to at least hear alternative perspectives?

KM: There’s a G.K. Chesterton quote that we quote often. He says “Humor can get in under the door while seriousness is still fumbling at the handle.” We think that’s a great descriptor of how comedy can kind of make the point that it’s hard to get to with straight talk.

JWK: There was a time when, say, the late-night comedians may have leaned left or whatever but they did sorta follow the comedy wherever it went. It doesn’t seem to be that way so much anymore.

KM: They’re late-night lecture shows. You’re right, that phrase “follow the comedy” is kinda what we want to be doing. We want to tell a joke even if if makes fun of our own side or even if it makes a different point than we were originally thinking or even if it makes no point at all. Funny can kind of trump all that. I think the problem is that once you start to get dictated by your agenda, then you kind of chase the easy applause line. Then comedy’s gonna necessarily be sacrificed. I think Trump (ruined) a lot of the late-night comics. They didn’t know what to do with him because he was so funny in and of himself. Trump was just a funny guy. So much of the ridiculousness that was going on back then was great fodder for comedians but, instead of playing with that and having fun with that, they just decided to beat the same drum every time – like “This shows that Trump is evil!” or “This shows that Trump is Hitler!” It gets boring after a while.

JWK: Jimmy Fallon actually got into trouble for messing Trump’s hair on The Tonight Show because that made him seem – horror of horrors! – human.

KM: Right, exactly! But it’s funny. Now you’re getting in trouble for actually chasing the joke because people are mad that you’re not pushing the agenda. That’s really bad for comedy.

JWK: The Babylon Bee brand is really taking off. Do you have any plans to extend it to movies or TV shows?

KM: Yeah, we’re working on things in that arena. If you look at our YouTube channel we’ve done a lot of sketch comedy and some of it’s been very successful where we’ve taken kinda the dry, satirical news comedy brand of The Babylon Bee and we’ve been able to do some really great sketches on there that really fit with what The Babylon Bee is trying to do. So, we’re looking for other ways to kinda push the envelope in that direction (including) longer-form stuff.

JWK: I’ve watched a number of those. They’re very funny. I particularly liked the couple you did spoofing Law & Order.

JWK: I think the Micro Aggression Unit videos could actually be expanded into an Airplane!-like movie. Any thoughts along those lines?

KM: Nothing that specific but definitely taking a concept like that or possibly doing something like a compilation where we do something in the vein of what Saturday Night Live has been doing. It seems like maybe there’s an opportunity to do something like Saturday Night Live but funny. I’d love to do something along those lines but no specific plans yet.

JWK: I just mentioned Airplane! Do you think a movie like Airplane! could even be made today?

KM: I mean it can (be). It’s just a question of what kind of audience would it find? You know they still make offensive, crass comedy movies. It’s just there are certain kinds of jokes that Airplane! could make that were taboo back then. I don’t think comedians and comedy writers today have the bravery or courage to tell certain jokes that the powers that be don’t want them to tell. I don’t know that those are the same jokes that are in Airplane! They’ll make fun of certain things, they won’t make fun of others and that makes it kind of boring because you know what kind of things they’re gonna go after in a movie like that and what kind of things that they’re gonna stay away from.

JWK: I think what often makes something funny is finding a way to say something that’s true but you’re not supposed to actually say. I mean that kind of humor goes all the way back to the Marx Brothers.

KM: Yeah, absolutely. I was talking about the boy who points out the emperor has no clothes earlier. In the story it’s almost accidental. There is a comedy element to the fact that the straight absurdity that everybody’s staring at a naked man and isn’t willing to say it. I think that’s really apt for what we’re in now where you can’t call a man a man without getting banned from Twitter. The boy who pointed out the emperor has no clothes would get banned from Twitter today, I think.

JWK: Is The Babylon Bee still banned from Twitter?

KM: We’re not technically banned. We’re locked out of our account until we click a button saying that we committed hateful conduct against Rachel Levine for giving Rachel Levine our “Man of the Year” award. We’re not gonna delete that tweet…The way we have gotten around (it) is through our paying subscribers. We have a subscription service on our website where people can pay as little as five bucks a month. That helps support us. That has been a really effective way for us to get support directly from our fans rather than  having to fight the Facebook algorhythm or Twitter.

JWK: I know you want to make people laugh with this new book – but is there anything else you want people to take from it, aside from a good laugh?

KM: Actually, it’s kind of interesting because, while the Wokeness book was obviously about Wokeness where there’s not much of value in Wokeness that you can really focus on. So, because this is The Babylon Bee Guide to Democracy, we’re able to actually talk about things of substance like the history of America and how the government works. There’s a chapter on government spending and taxes. There are chapters on how the election process works (and) your constitutional rights. While it’s done satirically, I actually think you could use this as a kind of text book and maybe actually come away with some kind of working knowledge of how the government works.

JWK: As much as you’re finding the humor in our current state of affairs, do you have any actual fear about the future of democracy?

KM: Was it Reagan (who said) you’re always one generation away from losing it? We should always be aware of that. I do think the media doesn’t help. I think that people that are constantly online and constantly worrying about everything don’t help. If we are losing democracy, it’s not in the way that the mainstream media thinks we are. I think it’s from the other side. You have our government – you know, X number of Republicans and all the Democrats – that are voting for these massive spending bills, tax increases and hiring more and more federal agents. That should be concerning, not one guy complaining that he thinks one specific election wasn’t fair. That’s not the threat. Trump is not the threat to democracy. To me the threat to democracy is this monolithic party in D.C. that’s getting more and more power and spending more and more of our great grandchildren’s money.

JWK: At least with Trump, like him or not, you know he’s being watched. There’s no question that they’re watching him. With the other side, like you say, it seems there’s this monolithic Democratic Party/Corporate Media/Big Tech alliance that just wields an enormous amount of power when they act in unison.

KM: Yeah, absolutely. You have super-powerful government and then you have Big Tech doing their every bidding and you have (seemingly) every corporation in America supporting them and towing the party line. That’s when you have to be worried – when you have that kind of monolithic entity.

End Note: For more on The Babylon Bee read my interview with Managing Editor Joel Berry here.

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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