What’s that smell? It’s political humor in 2017, according to Josh Lieb, former producer and writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. “There's always a temptation in comedy to go for the low hanging fruit, to go for the easy jokes. And right now it's not even that the fruit is low-hanging – it's on the ground, it's rotting on the ground,” says Lieb. When your grannie gets on Twitter to ridicule the current administration, she’s as funny as someone who’s studied and performed comedy for a decade. Political absurdity is stealing the comedic limelight, and comedians must evolve and aim much higher. Josh Lieb is the author of I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President and Ratscalibur.
Josh Lieb: I think the political situation always has a huge effect on what is humorous or what's funny, what people are laughing at. And when the situation is bad people need that escape. When our leadership is poor you need that satire, not just as a release but also as the strong finger of the people pointing back. There's no punishment worse than being laughed at. And there's nothing our leaders hate more than being mocked, any leader across the board nobody likes it. You don't like being mocked. So that's the most effective tool we have as a people is being able to laugh at our bosses. So when our bosses are especially oppressive that's when that kind of humor comes to the forefront.
I mean right now I think we're in an extremely difficult political situation. Like I'm glad I'm not at The Daily Show anymore for instance. I was there during the Bush administration like there was plenty to laugh at in those days and every American administration has plenty to laugh at. And this is going to feel dated I'm sure a year from now or ten years from now or whatever, but where we stand in the middle of February in 2017 there's always a temptation in comedy to go for the low hanging fruit, to go for the easy jokes. And right now it's not even that the fruit is low hanging, it's on the ground, it's rotting on the ground. Like you don't need a comedian to pick this up and look at this fruit, examine this this is why this fruit is funny, anyone, anyone walking up can point down at this joke on the ground and go oh my god what the hell is going on? A lot of the brilliance of Jon Stewart or Trevor Noah is finding this apple and going you've probably seen this apple a hundred times you haven't thought anything of it, look at this apple really look at it when you examine it you realize oh that's a crazy goddamn apple.
But anyone can see the apple tree you have pineapples falling off the tree now, you have coconuts falling off the tree, you have frogs falling off the tree. It's so intrinsically bizarre that there's almost not a challenge for a writer or a comedian to make fun of it. And by the way I'm not even being partisan here I'm not even talking like I do think the administration is doing some crazy stuff but I also think like our country is so divided right now that we're hearing crazy stuff from the other side too. And don't get I mean about a false equivalence and I'm not going to take, it but I just think there's too much - everything is to the forefront. There's no subtlety anymore. You don't need a brilliant comedic mind to find the comedy in things. Your grandmother can go on Twitter and say that's fucking ridiculous and she's right and she's just as funny as your brilliant friend who spent 20 years studying this at the University of Southern California.