For as long as late night television has graced our screens, entertainment has mixed with news to form a comedic take on current events. In a way, it is a form of debriefing an audience on what it has already heard from official news sources but with something else: an unrestrained opinion. While traditional news channels are expected to simply report the information on a current issue, it becomes someone else’s job to publicly process the news and the potential effects it may have. This is where comedians perform a great public service. As many mainstream news outlets are accused of being liberal, they have to be careful about revealing their biases for fear of being called illegitimate. Comedians, on the other hand, can provide insight into the ridiculous, scary, and unbelievable world of politics we are experiencing through means that we, as a public, can relate to.
Election season has always been a hotbed of material for comedians. This past election, with such a close race and multiple scandals from both sides, brought the tension to an all time high for the American people, leading to the need for comedic relief. It’s no surprise that while politicians tend to be charismatic people, they make for great characters in skits where their qualities can be exaggerated for comedic effect. “Saturday Night Live” is infamous for its political coverage during elections, with iconic impressions of Bill Clinton as a saxophone-playing womanizer, Sarah Palin as a gun-shooting Alaskan, and most recently, Hillary Clinton as an unrelatable power seeker and Donald Trump as an incoherent narcissist. In these skits, politicians become blown-up caricatures of their reputation to the general public, and many find it satisfying to see their most outrageous traits being called out on television when traditional news sources remain neutral.
Naturally, scandalous politicians who set off public reactions will tend to get more air time. Donald Trump has become a favorite character portrayed by Alec Baldwin on SNL because of his unorthodox history as a celebrity and the many controversial statements he’s made. As he begins his presidency, you can be sure that comedians will continue to call him out on anything the public considers shocking. In a way, this helps hold politicians such as Trump accountable for their actions. By reminding them that the public is aware of and judging the actions they take while in power, comedians can give politicians more honest feedback on how Americans truly feel about them.
Furthermore, while comedians don’t always relay a plethora of facts as news outlets do, they can sometimes do a much more effective job of revealing the truth about a candidate and highlighting important current events. While a news channel broadcasts up to date ongoing affairs, comedians take the time to delve into news that is particularly concerning to their audience. In a way, it helps some Americans stay informed about what is particularly noteworthy. Shows such as “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver spend an entire episode exploring one aspect of political concern (for example, Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall). While it is primarily a comedic show, John Oliver has said that many viewers, mostly Millennials, use him as one of their main sources of news. By watching him, they are receiving a thorough summary about an issue along with comedic commentary that makes these kinds of topics more palatable. Compared to the often intense and unexciting mainstream news, comedic satire can be a much more appealing way to stay informed.
Using their freedom to be openly opinionated and focus on a few choice events, comedians can point out the ridiculous aspects of what is going on in society in a way that mainstream media tries to avoid. This is a level of coverage that does more than scrape the surface; it delves deep into the societal impacts of this election. Comedians tap into the true feelings of the American people and reveal what is actually going on from a citizen’s perspective.
As a result, comedy has become a coping mechanism for the public during a very nerve wracking and divisive time. It’s comforting to see our insecurities in our candidates being portrayed for millions of others to see, and brings us together in mocking the usually intense and serious world of politics. By doing this, comedians broadcast an viewpoint that brings people together and keeps them informed, one ridiculous joke at a time.
Claire Harvey is a second-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org