Michael Loftus is a comedian and host of The Flipside, an upcoming satirical current events TV program that has been referred to as the The Daily Show for conservatives. While right-wing comedy shows have traditionally struggled to take off, Loftus and his colleagues say that they hope to cure of the ennui of Republicans who are unsatisfied with the lineup of liberal comics on late-night TV. Loftus has also worked as a writer and producer for programs such as Anger Management and Outsourced.
The Politic: What are the roots of your political views? Have there been any events, thinkers, or politicians that have shaped the way you look at politics?
When I was a kid, I would run home from school to watch Batman or Spiderman on TV. It seemed like it was the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and everyday the news was saying, “Oh, we’re trying. We’re doing something. Diplomatic this, diplomatic that.” Then I remember Ronald Reagan got sworn in, and all of a sudden the hostages were home and I had Superman and Batman back. [laughs] That was pretty much it. Ronald Reagan got shit done.
The Politic: How did the idea for The Flipside come about?
It’s been percolating out there for a long, long time. I was a huge fan of Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher because that was an open discussion of ideas. You’d have people on the left and people on the right. And then it seemed like there’s this void; there’s this vacancy. If you’re a staunch Democrat and progressive and liberal, it seems like you have so many places to go just to have a preacher preach to the choir. There’s nothing out there for people who are conservative. I think everybody’s had this idea; it’s a show that everybody wants to see. We’re just lucky enough to get there first.
The Politic: Why do you think that conservative comedy has traditionally struggled in the past?
Because they’re not funny. That’s just the nuts and bolts of it, man. Funny is the great, great equalizer. There are a ton of conservative comics. They just don’t want to be named because they think it’ll hurt them professionally. But if you’re funny, [people] can’t help but laugh. You want to be open and honest and funny without just being dogmatic and Mr. Propaganda Machine. That’s what I like about The Flipside.
The Politic: Some journalists have compared your show to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Do you think that this is a fair and accurate comparison?
Yeah, it is like The Daily Show. I would say it’s way more like The Daily Show than it is The Colbert Report. The Colbert Report is like a giant character piece; look at this insane character he’s created. The Flipside is much more like The Daily Show in terms of “here’s what’s happened recently and here’s what’s going on in politics.” With the Colbert Report it’s a show inside of a show. The Daily Show is much more forthright and honest: “Here’s the jokes and here’s the way we see it. Have at it.” That’s what The Flipside is going to be as well.
The Politic: Do you watch The Daily Show? Are you a fan?
I was a fan of the show. I once did stand up with Lizz Winstead, who’s just a fantastic person. She started The Daily Show; that was her show. So I watched it way back when it was with Craig Kilborn. That’s when I came on board. I don’t watch The Daily Show anymore, because it seems like Jon Stewart wants to have his cake and eat it too. He’ll go out there and preach his political beliefs, and that’s fine. And then when people call him on it he goes, “Oh, no no no. Don’t take me seriously. I’m just a comedian.” And then people call him on that behavior and then he says, “Well, no, I’m doing important work.” Dude, which is it? Are you a comedian or are you doing important work or are you trying to do both? He’s a slippery, slippery man.
The Politic: Then how is The Flipside going to be different? Do you think you’ll take a stand either way?
I’m going to do exactly what Jon Stewart did. [laughs] No, I’m going to be a comedian first and foremost. That’s the only way to do it. I actually agree with Jon Stewart on that. Just be a comedian. I’m not going to try to run for political office or have people go, “Michael Loftus, you should be a senator.” No, no thanks.
The Politic: I saw the pilot of your show and it seems like you mainly lampooned socialite L.A. liberals. Is that the main target of your show?
Well, the intent of that piece was just to show that it [The Flipside] can be done. It’s always easier to talk about something hypothetically, but actually very few people do the work. Woody Allen famously said that 70% of his success in show business was actually doing the work. So I got together with a group of dudes who actually wanted to film something. Like any T.V. show, usually the pilot is way different from what the show actually becomes. So we were just looking to show that we can stand up here, here’s the clips, here’s some jokes, here’s how it’s going to be, and then we’ll go from there. We’re not particularly trying to go after L.A. liberals or Chicago liberals. We’re just trying to poke fun at the status quo.
The Politic: Are you guys comfortable with lampooning conservatives as well?
Yeah, absolutely. A moron is a moron no matter what they call themselves. Nobody’s safe.
The Politic: What are your thoughts on politics today?
It’s really strange. I am also a student of history. I’ve read a lot, like the Adam’s biography. I’m a huge fan of the founding fathers and any stuff you can find about those guys. I just don’t think people today have any kind of a memory. They don’t understand history. The one great thing about living in colonial times is that you had all winter to sit around and think about shit – deep philosophical matters.
One of the great things about our government is that it works slowly. There’s a lot of thought that goes into legislation, hopefully. It’s when people do things very quickly that you make mistakes. When you live in this kneejerk reaction society – yeah, there are horrible things that happen and there are laws that need to be passed – but you can’t just go, “Oh, we need to pass a law tomorrow! What does it say? I don’t know. We should read it, but yay look at me I passed a law!” That’s redonkulous. The political thing today is “What have you done for me lately?” Maybe that’s they way it’s always been. I don’t know, but I wish people would just slow down, catch their breath, and actually do some work.
The Politic: Is there a certain brand of conservatism that you ascribe to?
I’m all over the board. Sometimes I’ll go off on a subject, and people will go “Oh, you’re a libertarian, that’s what you are.” Sometimes I’ll go off on a subject and they’ll say, “You’re a financial conservative.” It changes. Here’s what I don’t think: I don’t think the government is going to save me from myself. I don’t think big government is the answer.
The Politic: Are there any modern politicians whom you admire?
Oh, gee whiz. That’s a good question. No, there’s not a lot. [laughs] There’s a lot that fills me with a sense of wonderment, like “How the hell did that happen?” But not a lot that I admire. That’s a tough gig man; politics is a tough gig.
The Politic: You’ve talked about how people are often afraid to laugh at your conservative brand of humor in public, but will go up to you after your show to tell you that they agree with your views. Could you talk a bit more about that?
I’m not going to name names, but I’ve had a number of comedians who I really respect, and I who think are very funny, who will come up to me after the show and go, “Holy shit man. Was that for real? Do you really believe that?” And I go, “Yeah.” And they’ll go, “Man, that was funny as hell, but I don’t have the balls to do that.”
The Politic: Why do you think there is this aversion to labeling oneself as a conservative?
Perhaps the fear is that the world isn’t fair. People are open to an exchange of ideas as long as you agree with them. But ultimately the fear is that people aren’t into an open exchange of ideas, especially if you don’t agree with them. I used to do a lot of colleges about, gee whizz, fourteen or fifteen years ago. I was on the college circuit and that was a very closed-minded place unless you were spoon-feeding them their own agenda. But talk about free speech – it felt like it was gone. I wasn’t even preaching politics back then. You were either with them or you were against them.
The Politic: You haven’t always done political humor?
No, not really. I was doing a show in Lake Tahoe and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I forget what had happened in the news but somebody had to talk about this. So I just did this giant, 20-minute riff where I went back and talked about every president I knew something about. I did this bit – the hall of presidents I called it – where I went back to Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton. I went down the row to present day, and the other two comedians on the show were crying they were laughing so hard. It felt so good; it felt like I had purged myself of all this shit and the other comics and the crowd went crazy. The two other comics said, “I wish I could do that. I wish I could do what you just did.”
The Politic: Do you think that’s the turning point at which you started to do more political humor?
Yeah, the point where you can say something and the sky is not going to crack open, anvils aren’t going to fall on your head, your career’s not going to be over, people are going to laugh, and people are going to want to come up to you after the show and shake your hand and talk to you and say that it was the funniest thing. People just loved it; they absolutely loved it.
The Politic: What is the ultimate goal of The Flipside?
The ultimate goal is just to have a great, funny, funny show from a different point of view. It’s weird: there have been a lot of people in the news talking about conservatives not being funny. The timing of it couldn’t be better for The Flipside. There are a ton of funny conservatives. People just don’t know that they’re conservative and they’re not talking about it for whatever reason. So I just want to do a really funny T.V. show from a different point of view.
The Politic: Could you elaborate on why you think the time is right for The Flipside?
I think the reason why people are excited about it now on the conservative side of things – the Republican, the Right, whatever you want to call it – is that Obama is just so cool. The Republicans are really being painted with a broad brush of just being these neck-tie-wearing, suit-wearing, glasses, geeky white guys, and that there’s nobody even remotely interesting or funny or cool in the Republican party. Then of course as CPAC comes around and these guys are saying, “We’re going to reach out and get the youth vote” and crap like that – that’s the interest of “How are the Republicans going to try to make themselves hip?” That’s the freak show element. Ultimately, we’ve been working on The Flipside for a lot longer than the Republicans have been trying to make themselves hip. [laughs]
The Politic: So how long have you guys been working on The Flipside?
It’s been a little over a year with the planning stages and the business stages and getting the pieces in order and getting everything ready to go.
The Politic: Do all the writers share the same political views?
Yeah, I guess so. Just like any environment, there are people who are way far out to the Right: massive libertarians. Then there are people who are more to the center and more to the left. So there’s a bunch of conservative people on the staff. But then there are a couple writers who are not, who are just funny dudes and don’t share our political beliefs, which is great, which is awesome.
The Politic: How do you guys come to a consensus about what you’re going to say then?
Here’s the deal: when we first started talking, funny wins the day. If you’re pushing a political agenda and that’s all you’re doing then you’re going to have shouting matches and a war of words. But if you’re like, “What’s the funniest way to do this?” and somebody pitches a joke that everybody laughs at, then that’s the one that’s going to win.
The Politic: Is there anything else that you would add?
I just want to make a funny TV show. That’s all I want to do. I want to talk about politics, I want to make people laugh, and not be from the same old tired formula of “Hey let’s make fun of this Republican guy because he said this and here’s the sound bite of him doing this.” It’s just tired and boring. So I want to do something new and interesting and from a different point of view.