NEW YORK – Comedians always seem to think they're right. And one small but growing group is right — politically speaking.
Though a lot of comics and entertainers have lately been taking potshots at the president and the war he waged in Iraq, a number of right-leaning, conservative comedians have found their voices and started talking back.
A group of conservative comics billing themselves as The Right Stuff have been traveling around the country and are in New York this week to get laughs out of Republican delegates at the convention.
Another of the new breed is Brad Stine, a politically conservative Christian who weaves both elements of his value system into his act.
"I'm a conservative comedian — one of two known to exist in the Western hemisphere," Stine deadpanned in a phone interview. "I'm very pro-America, very patriotic. I use my time on stage to say how great the country is as opposed to saying how bad it is."
Entertainers like Stine and those in the Right Stuff troupe are capitalizing on the upsurge in the "God Bless America" sentiment that swelled with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"It's 'in' right now to be pro-U.S.," said psychologist Steven M. Sultanoff, the former president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. "There's been a resurgence of a lot of basic family values. That's become the politically 'in' thing — a return to conservatism."
Stine, for his part, did the struggling Hollywood comedian routine before moving to Nashville (the "Christian Hollywood," as he calls it) and booking shows for the Promise Keepers (search) and other primarily Christian audiences.
The targets of his jokes are the cast of characters you might expect: atheists, animal rights activists, the politically correct, "fanatical left-leaners," gun control advocates, divorcees and, yes, France — but Stine means no personal harm, he says.
"I never attack people — I attack ideas," Stine said. "We're all in this together. We have to be able to make fun of each other and ourselves. There is humor in differences."
His act is part mock-angry rant, part sermon and part exaggerated mugging, Jim Carrey-style. And he keeps it clean, without the usual barrage of four-letter words. The closest he gets is liberal use of the word "stinkin'."
"There are a lot of people in this country with no religious affiliation that would rather hear clean comedy than dirty comedy," Stine said. "I believe creativity is funnier than crude."
Right Stuff creator and producer Eric Peterkofsky didn't start his group to espouse Christian values, but he and the comedians in the show share Stine's conservative bent and patriotism.
"I was sick of all these Bush-bashing comics," Peterkofsky said. "We've added more to the buffet so that [our audiences] can finally come out. A lot of these people never go to comedy shows because they're offended."
The butts of the jokes in the Right Stuff gigs, according to Peterkofsky, are "the war, John Kerry (search), John Kerry's wife, France, animal rights, the over-labeling of Americans, the education system and gun control."
One of the comedians poked fun at Teresa Heinz Kerry's (search) remarks at the Democratic National Convention last month.
"I enjoyed her speech so much. It was actually like Heinz Ketchup: It was slow, full of vinegar and when she was finished, you wanted to smack her bottom," the comic, Jeff Wayne, told FOX & Friends recently. "She speaks five languages and can tell you to shove it in six of them!"
When Stine flirts with the topic of gay marriage in his "A Conservative Unleashed" (search) DVD, for instance, he wonders why men would want to marry other men since men are "cowards."
And he laments the fact that his religion doesn't let him hate anyone, even though sometimes he wishes he could.
"One of the great downsides of being a Christian is that my religion forbids me to hate people," he says, groaning. "I want to hate people. ... Not that anybody comes to mind right off the bat (FRANCE!)."
That follows with a stereotypical impersonation of a snobbish Frenchman.
"Humor is a great way of communicating," Sultanoff said. "In a very simple cartoon, joke or statement, you can say a lot about your position."
Stine is known to make occasional fun of Christians, mocking the "Harry Potter" book-burnings by various churches and the tendency for some Christians to see Satan at every turn.
"Not that I don't believe in Satan, but Satan doesn't have to do much more than wake us up in the morning and we take it from there," Stine said in the interview.
Humor is so effective, said Sultanoff, because of its power to unify.
"Humor tends to bind people together," he said. "If you're trying to solidify a group that may be pro-Democrat or pro-Republican, [humor] enhances your influence on the group."
The right-wing comics are coming at the right time, since some are sick of anti-government shticks.
"I like comedy, but I don't like what I've been seeing lately," said Jim Smith, 42, a military dad in Indianapolis. "I don't like it when they start hammering on people. … Right now we're in a state in this world where we need to be one."
Smith said he doesn't care who is in the White House — he thinks mocking a sitting president shouldn't be allowed, period.
"That's wrong," he said. "It shouldn't be a shooting match."
And in this political climate, the "right" kind of humor might draw in a wider cross-section of Americans who feel the same way.
"This conservative humor is going to appeal to a larger number of people or certainly offend fewer than the humor that takes greater risk," Sultanoff said. "But it may not have as great an impact."