If you’ve been hanging out around the middle school lunchroom that is the blogosphere, you may have noticed a fight is brewing, and late night hosts are mad. In fact, some of them are outraged. At least, that’s what I’ve been reading. Jon Stewart was always obliterating Fox News in his heyday and there is even a top five list of his most epic takedowns. Now John Oliver is furious about mental health, blistering televangelists, and dropping the mic after long rants. Stephen Colbert has joined the rumble with some takedowns, too. Why are media outlets using this language to describe comedians, and what exactly is the role of the political comedian in our culture anyway?
John Oliver OBLITERATES the so-called mental illness debate.
It’s possible they’re just trying to spread the message conveyed by the late night shows, and think that using a tone of excited gossip will do it. Framing comedians as troublemakers, rebels with applause, taking down The Man, is certainly an entertaining heroes-and-villains story. I think it goes beyond the headlines into something deeper: how we view comedians in our culture and the role they play for us.
Political comedians are the court jesters of the modern era. From as far back as the 15th century and well into the 17th, the court jester was the truth-telling clown calling out the monarchy. While there is some debate on exactly how much of that is romanticised and how much is factual, it is true that Queen Elizabeth and King Lear both threatened their jesters when they crossed the line. Perhaps that jester was guilty of “epic p’wnage” on Queen Liz, who may have been the Bill O’Reilly of 1558.
While for many years Stewart wore the banner of “the most trusted name in fake news,” he was also just one of the most trusted names. News or fake news: It didn’t matter. People looked to Stewart the way they now look to Oliver and Colbert. We want our comedians to tell us the truth about ourselves, about our politics, about our world like the jesters did hundreds of years ago.
They can call out the bully because they yield the magic sword of humor, which cuts through delusion and propaganda with its sharp edge, made of wit. They don’t always get it right — no one does — but if a comedian has shifted my perspective or brought my worldview into greater focus then they have done their job. Often they also speak for those of us who don’t have a platform, acting as a voice for those who don’t have one loud enough. We can get behind them, cheer them on and sigh in relief as the bad boy takes down the school bully. Did you see it? He totally demolished him.
Lori Chandler is a writer and comedian living in Brooklyn, NY, which is the most unoriginal sentence she has ever written. You can look at her silly drawings on Tumblr, Rad Drawings, or read her silly tweets @LilBoodleChild. Enough about her, she says: how are you?
JOHN OLIVER PHOTO CREDIT: David Livingston/Getty Images
SPACE PHOTO CREDIT: iStock
PHOTOSHOP: Lori Chandler