It’s Tough to Be Funny on Zoom or Is it More?

I was on a Zoom call the other day with PJ O’Rourke, a political satirist who was a leader of the National Lampoon and is the author of 20 books.

“O’Rourke’s original reporting, irreverent humor, and crackerjack writing makes for delectable reading” describes his oeuvre.

He has addressed this audience many times before and it is a regular stop on his book tours.

Usually he leaves the crowd admiring his subtle wit and its oft-hidden wisdom about the foolishness — especially political — that surrounds us. This time, not so much.

Zoom might not be the best medium for that. It is a challenge to read the room when the room is row on row of faces or initials.

Nor is Zoom a great way to feel the energy of a speaker or the others in the audience. Likely some humorist will figure out how to tap whatever advantages there are to the new medium that has injected itself into our lives, but I am not sure that has happened yet.

Or maybe it wasn’t just Zoom.

O’Rourke observed that “we are not living in times of great humor.” He has a way of saying something that is undeniably true though we might not have thought of it in quite the way he did. It can be both funny and true.

He asked the audience, “Do journalists have the skills to cover today’s stories?” Zoom audiences, especially the larger ones, don’t usually get to respond because they are muted by the moderators.

His question lingered unanswered on the call, but it has continued to linger for several days, perhaps because the uncomfortable answer is “probably not.”

Journalists have been squeezed hard by bloggers who charge nothing for their words. Advertising has migrated online from print, and newspapers have closed throughout the country. The journalists who worked at those papers have gone elsewhere or nowhere.

That is only part of the story. The newspapers that have not closed are hanging by threads. Staffs and salaries have been cut and the job of being a reporter is far from what it once was. Yet economics has not stopped, and it remains the case that you get what you pay for in the market for capable journalists, and mid-range newspapers are no longer able to pay very much.

The smaller papers that have not closed are also being assaulted from the top as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and perhaps even USA Today (if people ever decide to stay in hotels again) are claiming ever larger shares of newspaper readers. When news is no longer delivered by truck, the biggest and most powerful can own any market that has enough electronic devices.

During a career in the finance business, I noticed that very few reporters had the slightest idea what they were talking about in a field I understood quite well. I asked an editor-in-chief how a journalism school graduate would react to being assigned to the business section.

“He’d jump out the window, but we are not on a high enough floor to do much damage,” was the reply.

“Then what training do you give the new reporters to enable them to cover the subject matter,” I asked.

“None,” he replied.

That certainly answered my question about the low quality of stories on business issues.

I doubt today’s reporters received much training in epidemiology, and many show vast gaps in their understanding of American history.

Perhaps, PJ O’Rourke, in his reporting days, would have observed the irony of progressives trying to tear down the statue of Andrew Jackson, a founder of the Democratic Party who joins slave owner, Thomas Jefferson, as “top-billing” in the countless Jefferson Jackson Day dinners that are staples of Democratic fund raising.

Some of today’s reporters know that but it appears that most don’t.

O’Rourke is now the Editor-in-Chief of American Consequences, a free online daily that seems to be sponsored by various elements of the finance industry. I have tried it for the last few days and it is off to a good start.

He had one other question that resonated on the Zoom chat.

“Isn’t someone supposed to be in charge?”

Given the absence of an answer to that one either, it is no surprise that there was little humor.



8 Responses to “It’s Tough to Be Funny on Zoom or Is it More?”

Glenn Melcher, June 24, 2020 at 1:17 pm said:

Nice share Haven: I think that we are all getting tired of the miscues of our half baked attempts at trying to keep ourselves safe.. Many of my favorite People are from the Midwest.. Go figure that’s where I was born and raised.. The subject matter expert in regard to Covid 19 is Dr. Michael Osterholm of hailing from the University of Minnesota..
Thank You for doing what You Do..

Kind Regards: Glenn Melcher in Minneapolis/ Saint Paul Minnesota


Haven Pell, June 24, 2020 at 4:54 pm said:

Thank you Glenn. Glad you enjoyed it.


Gaetano Cipriano, June 24, 2020 at 3:23 pm said:

The local newspaper where I live is the Morristown Daily Record. It’s really small potatoes and if you don’t have an appetite for the most local of local news it’s a waste of time. The Newark Star Ledger leans farther left than Sandy Koufax so I just gave up and I”m saving my few daily shekels. That leaves the Wall Street Journal which I think is a quality source and is actually improving over time. It’s particularly humorous that not one Republican ever owned a slave. Republicans were the part of abolitionists. All the slave owners were democrats. All the KKK marchers in New York at the Democratic National Convention were democrats. Bull Connor was a democrat. Robert Byrd was a democrat. It seems like today’s press has been afflicted with a collective case of amnesia- certain facts are forgotten conveniently. There is an essay written by the late Frederick Douglas about U.S.Grant in today’s WSJournal. I wonder if Don Lemon, Chris Cuomo, and the ever popular Rachel Maddow will feature that tidbit on their shows anytime soon…..


Haven Pell, June 24, 2020 at 4:53 pm said:

My American History teacher is a reader and he has been mentioned here often. Had I had today’s sense of what actually happened, I doubt he’d have written a college admission letter for me.


Sellers McKee, June 24, 2020 at 3:52 pm said:

My favorite is the destruction of the Ulysses S. Grant statue. What?

It’s history, “Americanism” and the free market system they are after, not racism. The real idea is to overthrow Trump and get Socialism, it would seem. One minor elected official I saw on TV last night was not even willing to wait until November. They want it now.

And isn’t that the whole idea of anarchy? That nobody is in charge?

I wonder what they’ll say if the get the PC Socialism they seem to want where everyone has to do exactly what they’re told, or else? That puts us all at the mercy of the Federal Government, if we’re not there already. Many actually believe that’s a good thing. And why not? Isn’t that the drivel they are being taught at school? I simply cannot believe some of what my 5 year old grandson is being taught at an expensive NYC private school. 5 years old! What’s that? Pre-kindergarten? It’s brainwashing, pure and simple. His father is desperate, but what can he do? Public school is far worse.

You quoted PJ as saying: “we are not living in times of great humor.” LOL. Just ask Jerry Seinfeld: he won’t even go to a college campus these days. Humor and PC Socialism do not mix. And journalists? Is a journalist with a political agenda a journalist? I don’t think so, but they sure do. Do they care that the entire “Russia Collusion” thing that was foisted on a credulous public was a hoax? Not in the slightest.


Haven Pell, June 24, 2020 at 4:50 pm said:

I am not having an easy time making sense of any of it.


Gaetano Cipriano, June 25, 2020 at 8:20 am said:

This anarchy and rioting is taking place in cities run by the blue machine.
It’s not happening in areas which are red because the politicians will clamp down hard.
Personally I would love to see the police be much more forceful. When somebody throws a rock or a bottle at the police their actions are in self defense. All bets are off. That’s not peacefully petitioning the government to redress grievances as guaranteed by the US Constitution. That’s lawless rioting, and lawless behavior must be smashed fast to prevent its spread.


Haven Pell, June 25, 2020 at 10:31 am said:

Do the demonstrations themselves matter as much to the demonstrators as the depictions of the demonstrations? The depictions differ based on the media outlet. Those outlets that favor the demonstrators show peaceful orderly images, while those on the other side show mayhem and vandalism. Is it a reasonable question for a reporter to ask of a demonstrator, “are you getting paid to be here and, if so, by whom?” If the answer is no, then the demonstrations are as they seem. If the answer is yes, there is a different story to be reported.


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