Now more than ever we need a little comedy in our politics and comedians are delivering. Comedians have been using politics as a source of material for generations, but now it’s becoming more and more a part of pop culture. Through these satires, skits, and stand-up our political views are being captivated and challenged.
I first began noticing the effects political satire has on its audience while watching Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. Maher is a big personality and a good host, but what really struck me was how in the middle of a panel discussion that included the best of politics and comedy (and guest star Fred Armisen) there was Maher himself, a stand-up comedian, using humor to lead and shape political opinion.
Real Time is just one of many shows centered on political humor. Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report create a very familiar news setting (Fox News anyone?) paired with satirical hosts both mocking and defying the ways we talk about and receive our news. Stewart does this with a neutral look at political issues while Colbert takes on the persona of a hard right-wing television host.
Not only do these shows make us laugh with their complete lack of subtlety describing America’s problems, but as an audience we are also getting actual news. Back in 2006 Indiana University did a study that found The Daily Show covered as much substance as conventional news stations. In a recent interview President Obama told Rolling Stone Magazine he finds the show credible.
Politics are an uncomfortable subject for anyone to discuss – Thanksgiving dinner has proven that – but what comedians like Stewart and Colbert do with humor is give that comfort to their audience while still reporting the same news as conventional channels.
While humor ads to the ways we receive and process our news it also adds to the control we feel over it. A good example of this is when Tina Fey began her famous impersonation of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. Though the skits were meant in good fun, their impact shaped the views around the Alaskan politician, especially for those already opposed to her. SNL is famous for its impressions of famous political figures and situational skits: Dana Carvey’s George Bush Sr., Darrell Hammond’s Bill Clinton, Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush and Armisen’s Barack Obama. Whether or not you like these figures, being satirized helps channel opinions in a safe and lasting way. If you thought Palin was a joke before, Fey’s impression broadcast that voice.
Comedians already have a larger than life presence over their audience that makes them appear to be an authoritative figure. Stand-ups like David Cross, Patton Oswalt, and Lewis Black all work political issues within their routines. Lewis Black has a trademark temper when it comes to discussing politics, which you can find regularly on The Daily Show. David Cross and Patton Oswalt both produced routines and albums that were very critical of the Bush Administration. Connecting with the comedian is connecting with their ideas. A major question is whether or not these comedians have any sway over the public’s opinion. There are many arguments but it seems more fitting to say that these comedians are gutsier and more controversial in their expression of these issues where the average audience member is not, taking the discussion to another level.
Comedians are charismatic, opinionated and possess voices that are hard to ignore. They certainly don’t run the world, but they can have a significant influence over it.
Filed Under: Featured
About the Author: Currently working on my B.A in Film Studies at CSU Sacramento full time, working part time, and playing the rest of the time. Began my love of comedy with Gene Wilder, and haven't looked back. Tweet me @steviewho