Exploring the crossroads: politics and comedy

As outreaching and influential as politics may be, the coverage behind political events is often dryly presented by a news anchor behind a desk. Unable to pay attention to this bland media reporting, many have fallen out of the loop of political news. This standard form of conveying political events is relevant and necessary, but many media consumers have now found a more engaging alternative of staying informed by watching comedy shows.

One example of the attraction of political comedy coverage comes from the satirical “Saturday Night Live.” Since their “Trump versus Hillary” debate spoofs portrayed by Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon, “SNL” has gained heavy traction with viewers for their comedic portrayal of the 2016 political season.

Freshman Valerie Miller sees “SNL” as a less stressful alternative to the regular news. “A lot of people get stressed out by political events,” says Miller, “so [this show] kind of just calms everyone down and makes light of it.”

The lighter air with which shows like “SNL” approaches political controversy does alleviates some of the tension created by the distressing events that are often being covered.

Sophomore Laurel Bolt believes that comedy goes beyond stress relief and actually casts a sense of positivity onto negatively seen events: “I think [viewers] want to see a happier side on the things that are happening because there’s been so much bad and it’s all “Trump’s doing the ban. Trump’s doing this.”

Connie Liu

Spoofs like “SNL” do a good job of injecting an element of humor into political topics, but they are not the only source of comedically presented politics. Shows like “The Colbert Report” or “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” are also also known to be comedic shows that center around politics. However, instead of mimicking political events with actors, they are actually run similarly to actual news shows. Senior Edison Brooks uses such shows to stay informed about politics in an engaging manner. “It’s funny and you still sort of learn more about what’s happening around you. [John Oliver] tackles some pretty boring stuff, but still it’s important stuff that we should know.”

Comedic political news presented in this more traditional news show format also presents an excellent opportunity to get more, younger watchers familiarized and involved with the subject. One room for expansion lies with younger viewers. Anneke Struble, who watches “SNL” has seen this expansion to a younger audience. “Well, I think that before it was a lot of adults [that watched this show], but now a lot of younger people are starting to watch it too … for young adults especially it’s cool because it’s different and it’s not just the news,” she says.

While comedy shows largely cater to a new generation of younger viewers, they also appeal to the more seasoned news-show audience by providing a straightforward perspective on the stories covered. Many may accuse political comedy shows as a medium for “media” to cater to the liberal viewpoint, but senior Justin Sell sees certain programs — namely “Real Time with Bill Maher” — as a less cluttered source of news. “Especially with a lot of the distraction that’s happening with the travel ban, the tweeting… stupid things like the tweeting distract from the real issues and the political comedy shows are really adept at cutting through that and getting to the real issues.” To Sell, these shows provide a less sensationalized approach to politics when compared to traditional news broadcasts.

In this sense, the more blunt approach to news provided by Bill Maher and the like may appeal to viewers trying to find a larger diversity of opinions in political comedy. Sell explains, “There’s always differing viewpoints on the panel. So you’re introduced to differing viewpoints from people from all walks of life, whether they be elected representatives, whether they worked in the intelligence agency, or maybe they’re just a really well versed author, maybe they’re an involved actor.”

Seeing as politics dictate much of our environment, creating a broader understanding of current events is beneficial to the nation as a whole. Intertwining humor with political news to create a more attractive overall product therefore may be a necessary step towards educating a majority of the nation. Struble concludes, “[Political comedy show hosts] exaggerate a lot of the political situations, but at the same time, I think that that’s important so that people can step back and realize ‘hey, not everything that we’re learning about is true.’ We shouldn’t just trust [politicians] just because they’re saying stuff. We have to actually analyze stuff for ourselves.”

Posted by Katie Savage

After two fantastic years on the Outlook staff, Katie is excited to continue her work as a Features writer. When not relentlessly fighting off senioritis in the classroom, Katie can be found on the soccer field, at Chatime with friends, or lounging at home.

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