Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era

Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era

Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era

Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era


Satirical TV has become mandatory viewing for citizens wishing to make sense of the bizarre contemporary state of political life. Shifts in industry economics and audience tastes have re-made television comedy, once considered a wasteland of escapist humor, into what is arguably the most popular source of political critique. From fake news and pundit shows to animated sitcoms and mash-up videos, satire has become an important avenue for processing politics in informative and entertaining ways, and satire TV is now its own thriving, viable television genre.

Satire TV examines what happens when comedy becomes political, and politics become funny. A series of original essays focus on a range of programs, from The Daily Show to South Park, Da Ali G Show to The Colbert Report, The Boondocks to Saturday Night Live, Lil' Bush to Chappelle's Show, along with Internet D.I.Y. satire and essays on British and Canadian satire. They all offer insights into what today's class of satire tells us about the current state of politics, of television, of citizenship, all the while suggesting what satire adds to the political realm that news and documentaries cannot.


At a time when 24/7/365 fails to adequately quantify the world's information-gathering capacity, people cannot be blamed for finding themselves in need of a good laugh more than knowledge of the events that spawned it. Nevertheless, a small but growing segment of the American television audience is discovering that keeping up with the News is more necessary than ever. Why are people young enough to know better putting themselves through the horror show of disappointments, brutality, dysfunction, stupidity, and greed that plays out daily on video screens and, if rumors are true, newspapers? There simply is no other way to follow a monologue by Jon Stewart or Bill Maher or to separate the absurd from the ridiculous on King of the Hill or South Park. Preparation for topical entertainment has joined celebrity trials, natural disasters, and product recalls among the attractions that have thus far saved the News from going the way of the variety show on English-language channels.

As may be the case with life itself, the definition of “satire” is becoming more obscure as its fan base expands. in its long development from ancient Greek theater to the inky page, satire was a term reserved for a particular kind of humor that makes fun of human folly and vice by holding people accountable for their public actions. Darwinists and other nonbelievers might be tempted to ask, “Accountable to whom?” But they usually don't. Laughter—a visceral, involuntary reaction that feels good— is a more rewarding experience than pointing out yet another proof of humanity's pathetic, aimless existence. Samuel Beckett knew this when he consented to the casting of Steve Martin and Robin Williams as the leads in Mike Nichols's 1988 New York production of Waiting for Godot.

To find oneself laughing at an outtake of George W. Bush playing president on The Late Show with David Letterman is evidence of a personal moral context for viewing events—and no Camus novel can refute it. If you laughed, you have discovered what you might have already known if you hadn't skipped Walt Whitman in college lit: the president of the . . .

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