Did you hear the one about a Republican Jon Stewart gunning for The Daily Show? Those waiting for the punchline will have to wait till fall, when The Flipside, a conservative take on political satire, hits the airwaves.
Host Michael Loftus is a relative unknown, but as he’s planning to come after “insane liberals,” it’s time for an introduction. A fan of Ronald Reagan and John Adams, Loftus hopes to get Americans to toss political correctness aside for a free exchange of ideas. And if you say the American dream is dead, he gets really cross.
He’s breaking into the world of conservative comedy, and though many before him have failed, this Midwesterner might be just the man to shake things up. After all, he was born on July 14, 1965 — which just happens to be the French revolutionary holiday Bastille Day. “I’ve always wanted to go to France for my birthday and see the whole country and just celebrate me,” he says.
The politicians write new sh*t every day.
— Michael Loftus
The son of a conservative mother and a father who refused to tell anyone how he voted, Loftus says that aging, parenting and financial concerns drive his conservatism.
Loftus wants to use The Flipside as a platform for exchanging ideas while lambasting political idiocy. “There’s a lot of jokes nobody’s doing, and I don’t know why,” he says. If the pilot — in which “environmentalist” Harrison Ford is taken to task for flying to fetch burgers — is any indication, liberals have more to worry about than conservatives. “My producers are going to get mad at me for saying this, but nobody is making fun of the insane liberals.” Loftus plans to fix that.
And he’s not remotely concerned about finding material. “The politicians write new sh*t every day,” he says. For example, he mentions President Obama misspelling “R-[E]-S-P-E-C-T” (leaving out the first E) when he introduced Aretha Franklin a few weeks back. “There should be parades to that joke,” he says.
Dream interviewees for Loftus include Al Franken, Nancy Pelosi and the Clintons. And the first question for Hillary and Bill: “How do you guys make this work on any level?”
The youngest of five in an Irish-Catholic family, Loftus reflects on a idyllic childhood in Columbus, Ohio, in which he learned to seek attention “to remind my parents that I was alive.”
After failing as a punk-rock singer and trying to work full time while attending Ohio State University, Loftus dropped out of school. He soon discovered stand-up: A friend invited him to a comedy club where amateurs competed each week for $200.
He turned into a “comedy crackhead” overnight.
“It was the worst experience of my life,” Loftus recalls of his humiliating first attempt. Determined to do better, he set out a plan for the next week, went back and nailed it — and turned into a “comedy crackhead” overnight.
Growing up, a friend’s dad had all of Richard Pryor’s albums, and Loftus became an instant fan. He also appreciated his own dad’s favorites, Jonathan Winters and Bob Newhart, and the fact that these men could create their own realities onstage. “They were all doing theater in a weird way,” he notes.
Between the ’80s and ’90s, Loftus toured the comedy circuit as a stand-up and got involved with improvisational comedy, co-founding Midwest Tool & Die, which enabled him to mix his love of theater with comedy. He trained with the likes of Second City’s Paul Sills, and toured as an independent comic as well as part of the improv group.
Loftus regrets that he didn’t break away sooner. “I wish I’d gotten hungrier before,” he says, noting he was happy to headline at remote clubs. “I think it made me a better comic, but after so many years, you’ve gotta stay hungry,” he says, as a warning to other comedians.
So he and his wife, Pam, moved to Studio City, Calif., in pursuit of comedy success and to start a family. Loftus continued doing stand-up and began writing and producing TV shows, including NBC’s Outsourced and ABC’s The George Lopez Show. He now writes for Charlie Sheen’s latest series on FX, Anger Management, and says it’s a pleasure working with the much-maligned former star of Two and a Half Men. “He comes in and crushes it,” Loftus says.
And he wouldn’t say it if he didn’t mean it. Loftus isn’t shy about taking someone to task, least of all his own wife. In his 2009 one-hour special, You’ve Changed, the comic proved that everyone is fair game by making Pam the butt of jokes about marriage, sex and parenting. Offering fellow comics additional advice, Loftus notes: “There was some blowback from that.”
Loftus believes his conservatism solidified in response to parenthood and financial concerns. “It’s weird how when you have kids you start to think about bigger things. It’s definitely changed my comedy.” He’s moved beyond observational performances to looking at the bigger picture, as in how the planet is being run. “How much money does the government need of mine?” he says.
Conservative comedy shows have been known to flop. If YouTube’s News Busted, Fox’s Red Eye and the canceled 1/2 Hour News Hour on Fox are a guide, Loftus is facing some tough odds. And critics aren’t helping, pointing out that the pilot for The Flipside was short on laughs and long on agenda. The Daily Show targets anyone and everyone, but conservative comedies just target liberals, they lamented.
I don’t think anybody likes getting preached to — it’s got to be funny.
— Michael Loftus
Loftus, a fan of The Daily Show (at least in its early days), agrees. “It’s very tough to do,” he says about finding the right balance. “I don’t think anybody likes getting preached to — it’s got to be funny.”
He claims that he will redress this by poking fun at both sides of the aisle. “Let the chips fall where they may, but if you’re a moron, I’m coming for you,” he warns.
Executive Producer Kfir Alfia says the show is already cleared in all the top markets and will be shown in at least 70 percent of the country starting this fall. Loftus wants to take the once-weekly half-hour show and grow it into a nightly political satire event.
Successful conservative commentators (albeit noncomedians) like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity are believed to earn more than $10 million a year, helping Fox News secure more than a $1 billion in annual profits. And the liberals’ top funnyman, Jon Stewart, rakes in between $25 and $30 million a year — more than David Letterman. Alfia is quiet on projections, but a comedy success could spell huge money.
With his Midwest accent and boy-next-door charm, Loftus says he’s grateful to be an American. “I’m living the American dream. I had a great-grandfather who came over to this country because he was starving to death in Ireland, and now I can be onstage talking about politics.”
No, he’s not running for office, but he is campaigning for a free exchange of ideas and a bit of fun, conservative style. And he understands that liberals won’t agree with him. “That doesn’t make me evil. It just means we disagree. And now I’ve got a comedy show. Watch out!”
Why you should care
Because a Republican comedian plans to take political idiocy to task, and he’s got his very own show.