Those who don’t watch TheBlaze may not be aware of them, but Glenn Beck‘s network has a pair of seasoned comedy vets regularly churning out sketches for a show called The B.S. of A. Host Brian Sack is an irreverent comedian with a few critically-acclaimed humor books under his belt; executive producer Jack Helmuth has written for Saturday Night Live, the MTV Video Music Awards, and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Together, the pair has written a new book, The United States vs. Santa Claus, that lampoons everything from the “War on Christmas” hysteria, to those who’d actually wage war on Christmas, to the media and activist groups who latch on to controversy as their lifeblood.
Sack and Helmuth spoke briefly with Mediaite about the book; about being known as “Glenn Beck’s comedians” despite having their own distinct voice; and about the farce of politics in general.
How do you deal with people occasionally writing you off as “Glenn Beck’s comedians“?
Helmuth: It’s tough to get comedic actors in New York to come in and trust us and do comedy. They hear the name Glenn Beck and knee-jerkedly say “No, thanks.” And these are actors looking for work.
Sack: Look, he’s a polarizing figure. He has the Glenn Beck taint. He’ll often tell us: “I wish I could get you away from my taint.” [Laughs] And I’m certain there are people who go, “Oh, it’s on TheBlaze, I’m not gonna like it.” You can see it in the way people react to the sketches on YouTube. It’s normally a bunch of real shtick-y laugh-in type jokes that were well-received until a left-wing blog saw it and said it was “racist.”
Helmuth: One of our writers posted a sketch that he had written on Facebook. I loved the way it turned out. It was some Innocuous sketch about Halloween stores being unable to figure out why sales went down in November. It was a funny sketch, but all one of his liberal friends could do was write: “I guess Glenn Beck couldn’t find any black people for that sketch.”
What do you say to people who directly confront you about working for Beck?
JH: People will sometimes ask me, “How can you work there with the things he says?” You want to know how? He gives us complete — and I mean complete — control over content. If we want to put it out there, we do it.
At one point in the book, you describe Beck as having “died of hydration in 2021 after crying over his ‘love for America’ for six straight days.” I take it Beck has a sense of humor about himself?
BS: Oh, he has a very good sense of humor about himself.
JH: Oh, the things we say about that guy! He loves it.
So let’s talk about the book. [For readers: It’s a fictional chronicling of the U.S. government attempt to “shut down” Santa Claus, leading to a whole array of congressional hearings, government intrigue, activist outrage, and all kinds of protests.] How’d you come to this idea?
BS: Glenn actually came up with the idea. “What if the government destroyed Christmas?” he asked.
JH: Glenn wanted to write it, but ran out of time. So our publisher said, well, this could be a good idea for a humor book. Why don’t we have them do this? And we thought: Sure, there really isn’t a good comedy book out there lampooning big government.
BS: So we tried to think: What does Santa do that government could be upset about? There are plenty of EPA and Department of Labor regulations being violated every time he enters the states. And the fun origin of the mess is that it was instigated by a child’s email to a politician.
JH: The story gets pretty silly. At one point, a congressman almost drowns when he looks up with his mouth open during a rainstorm.
It seems like you see a lot of farce in everyday politics. While the government attempts to banish Santa, activist groups latch on to the cause du jour and attack the jolly fat man for “enslaving” reindeers…
BS: That comes from experience. I was the PETA guy in college; I was the animal rights guy in college. I was all about “Meat Is Murder,” but then I discovered it’s possible to be a Smiths fan and not be a vegan.
JH: I think there’s a lot of that in the book. Every now and then you’ll see a fake online message board discussion we wrote up, where people are like: “Hey, a cause!” and then they angrily shout at each other about being “LIBTARDS” or “RETHUGLICANS.”
Yeah, the book has a lot of “screenshots” of Facebook fights, farcical message board battling, etc. How’d you come up with all these fake details?
BS: Actually, a lot of the people in those sketches are the names of people we know.
JH: I went to a small-town high school. Everyone’s name is in the book. Every little detail is based on something or someone I’ve experienced. It’s fun because your past provides you with devices to launch jokes.
A lot of the book is made up of fake transcripts of actual cable news shows and fake columns by prominent pundits. At one point, you collect a bunch of fake quotes from everyone from Paul Krugman to Bill Maher to Rush Limbaugh to George Will, all applauding the effort to eradicate Santa Claus under their respective political perspectives.
At another point, you define both MSNBC and Fox News as “A trusted source of news for individuals willing to sacrifice journalistic integrity for the preferred benefit of having their viewpoints reinforced by an openly partisan punditry.”
BS: Ha, well, we’re not out to make friends.
JH: We’re out to make people laugh.
Let’s talk about comedy shows in general. Jack, you used to write for SNL. A lot of conservatives tend to reflexively recoil at the thought of late-night comedy, because it’s part of “Liberal Hollywood,” but based on your experience, is the show really as “in the tank” liberal, the way conservatives seemingly believe it to be?
JH: I wrote for SNL between 1997 and 2000. And I’d say that 85-percent of the cold opens we did hammered Bill Clinton. There was nothing but jokes about him being a cheeseburger-loving hick. To me, politics didn’t really occur in those sketches. 2001 changed things, though, and people lost their spine in terms of mocking the president. At first, it was “unpatriotic” to mock Bush, but then they went back to tearing him apart.
BS: Sure, but SNL definitely treats this president [Obama] with kid gloves.
JH: I don’t think so, necessarily. I think they are just struggling to reconcile within the show how to make fun of this black president. They aren’t quite sure how to make fun of him.
Look, there’s no human chain to protect the president. A political show like the Daily Show is different, but SNL is not that.
On a related note, lots of conservatives seem to think Jay Leno is departing NBC because of his recent string of attacks on the president. Are you skeptical of that?
JH: Very. They’re getting rid of Leno clearly because of internal NBC politics.
BS: Like any network, NBC only cares about viewers, not about ideology. If they think viewers want to see a younger face, that’s what they will deliver. Besides, there are some episodes where you can tell Jay just counts the jokes and fills his quota.
Your viewers tend to be more conservative, obviously. Does that lead to any issues with what you can and cannot say?
BS: All we care about is doing something funny. During the last GOP primary season, it was only Republicans making headlines, so it’s all we had to do. We made a slew of Gingrich jokes, and the audience loved it, but then when you get closer and closer to the one-dog-fight, they stopped wanting jokes at his expense. Suddenly you’re walking on eggshells. So there’s this constant calculating, but that’s a comic’s job.
JH: People are fallible. We’re not interested in mocking values. We don’t make fun of someone truly believing something, so we try not to offend our viewers’ core beliefs, but rather the people.
BS: We poke fun at what we see.
JH: And sometimes there is a message. We had a game show featuring a fake Todd Akin and Claire McCaskill. The premise was that he kept saying terribly stupid things. We were making fun of his views, but we were suggesting “Hey, maybe if you shut up, you can win the election.”
You’ve both mentioned before how people can’t believe your office is full of liberals…
BS: Yeah, people can’t believe theBlaze isn’t all right-wing Republicans. We once had a live audience here, and this lady couldn’t believe that we had liberals in the building. We have everybody!
JH: For comedians, there’s an old story about what you look for in hiring someone. Rosie Perez told me a story of how she met with Chris Rock and was asking if she just needs to find good Latino comedians to write for her. And told her to just find the funniest people you can find, and all the rest of that stuff works itself out.
So, for us, I really don’t care if our writers are liberal, so long as they can write.
Check out Helmuth and Sack’s book here.
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