Political Comedy's Gender Gap

I had no idea whether current events would overlap with Splitsider's Women in Comedy week, but then Michele Bachmann happened. At first I was like, that's great! Her Tea Party State of the Union response was like a media coverage suicide bombing. Bachmann blew herself up for a greater cause: to keep Obama’s speech from dominating the news cycle.

This should be political comedy gold, right? Indeed. On Thursday afternoon there were four video parodies of Michele Bachmann's rebuttal just on the Huffington Post Comedy page, plus one of those things Andy Borowitz does. It worked!

The appeal for comedians is clear: Bachmann is a nut job. This is not new, and Bachmann has been a dependable object of satire since the Tea Party's founding. But thanks to Thursday's insane rebuttal fiasco, political comedians can show a much larger audience what a nutjob she is, and learning this the audience will reject the allure of the crazy. It's like John Boehner loves to say: sunlight is the best disinfectant. READ MORE


The Fall of Joe Lieberman: A Look Back Through the Lens of Comedy

Comedians lost a dependable villain this week: Joe Lieberman announced his retirement in 2012. We'll always remember Joe Lieberman as the man who killed the public option, who campaigned against Barack Obama, and who kissed George W. Bush at the State of the Union. But Lieberman wasn't always evil. Before he was a traitor, he was a deluded, stubborn presidential campaigner, and before that, he was just boring. Before that, he was a good loser and faithful Democrat, and before even all that, he was just Jewish.

As he prepares to move on to that well compensated lobby in the sky, let's take a look back at Joe's transformation over the years, as told through our comedians. READ MORE


The Delicate and Vital Role of Comedy After a Tragedy

Okay, this was a tough week for political comedy. If nothing else, it confirms something about the nature of comedy that we know deep down: it plays a major role in our healing process after national tragedies.

Immediately after something as disastrous as the shooting in Tucson happens, comedy just feels inappropriate. That makes sense. How could we be so insensitive as to laugh? That's how it is until suddenly it's the opposite, and laughing about that same event suddenly feels like a welcome relief. Even if we're not conscious of it, we begin to demand laughter. When we laugh, does that mean the worst is over?

It's not remarkable that we heal, but it's interesting that together we know when it's okay to turn to comedy, and it's a little odd that we find comfort there. Normally, we wouldn’t describe our reason for enjoying comedy as comfort, but comedy might be more immediate and central to our healing than even our political leaders. It certainly is more important than memorials, or art, or, god forbid, poetry.

That's a lot of pressure on comedians. READ MORE


The Year Ahead in Political Comedy

The new year has just begun, but already political forces have been lining up that will define politics and political comedy for the next 51 weeks. Based on the events of the past week and from the end of last year, we can already get a pretty good glimpse of what's to come. Here are my predictions for the biggest topics for political comedy in the year ahead. Predicting things is easy and fun! If there's one thing we should have learned from all these years watching the Daily Show, it's that no journalist or commentator has ever been penalized for being wrong, even when they're wrong about everything. So let's get speculative. READ MORE


The Right Way to Make Fun of Michael Steele

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Part of me hopes that Michael Steele sticks around forever, if only so The Daily Show can keep making Muppet Michael Steele segments for our amusement. This character has been one of The Daily Show's strongest and most biting recurring segments, and it's a valuable one for political comedy. While the RNC Chairman was Jon Stewart's fifth-largest target in 2010, he has been virtually ignored by late-night comedy outside of Comedy Central and Saturday Night Live, despite public perception. Considering his constant, embarrassing presence in the news, it's a curious oversight.

Michael Steele's election to the RNC chairmanship in early 2009, right after Obama's historic inauguration, was widely viewed as Republican cynicism poorly executed. The stance of the Republican party toward minorities, mixed with Steele's stated goal of applying the GOP's values to "urban and suburban hip-hop settings" and his use of non-business English phrases like "off the hook" and "bling-bling" in interviews — well, it all felt like either an oblivious misstep by an out-of-touch and desperate political party, or a trap. The only explanation for the late-night silence must be that this clear fault line made most comedians wary or uncomfortable enough to stay away.

That is, except for Stephen Colbert, who instantly challenged him to a conservative rap battle. READ MORE


The Comedic Reaction to the Many Stages of the Wikileaks Story

The Wikileaks dump has been a dominant and ongoing story for a couple of weeks now, and the coverage by comedians has been just as heavy. As the story has changed its focus during that time, so have the jokes, and the comic take reveals a lot about how we understand and disagree about this complex and morally nuanced story. And that's without even touching on the jokes about how funny the name "Wikileaks" is, because I think we can all agree, it's a damn funny name. READ MORE


George Meyer's 'Army Man' and the Birth of 'The Simpsons'

If you follow the stories about the beginnings of The Simpsons, chances are you're heard of Army Man. But just as likely, chances are you haven't read it. Army Man exists mainly in lore, a rare, brilliant, short-lived moment of a magazine that, as one of the show's former producers called it, was "the father of The Simpsons."

Army Man was started by George Meyer in 1988. At the time, Meyer was a 32-year-old former writer for Letterman and SNL who had grown tired of New York and television and fled to Boulder, Colorado. He wrote the first issue mostly himself, with help from some college friends. He typed up, Xeroxed, and assembled the pages on his bed: two hundred copies, which he gave away. The mountain location and do-it-yourself production have become key details to the magazine's now legendary beginnings: Army Man was born of frustration and exile. Having worked on the Harvard Lampoon and the defunct National Lampoon, Meyer has said he was motivated in part by the lack of truly funny publications in circulation in the late 80s. He determined to fix it with a homemade zine. READ MORE


The Better of the "It Gets Better" Parodies

The Daily Show's It Gets Worse John McCain parody was a high point in political comedy for the week. Heck, maybe it's the high point for the year. But it's far from the only It Gets Better parody out there. What you'd think would be a sensitive topic for comedians to handle has in fact spawned its own mini-genre of spoof. These parody responses have (mostly) respected the premise of Dan Savage's original project. That's pretty remarkable: the speakers in the original videos are almost never mocked. Instead, comedians are joining forces with them to spread the word. The response videos can be just about evenly broken into two large groups: It Gets Worse for Bullies, and It Gets Better (for other things too). Here are some of the better It Gets Better parodies: READ MORE


Quiz: Who Said It, George Bush or Will Ferrell's George Bush?

George W. Bush is back! Just in time to miss the November midterms, the ex-president is back in the news and in late-night comedy routines. Did you miss him? It seems like not so long ago that we thought a golden era of political comedy would end with his departure. It turns out we've been doing just fine without him. If there's one thing his awkward return brought back, it's remembering that we didn't even need comedians to help us laugh at him. As the popularity of Bushisms showed, this was a president we could laugh at in his own words.

Now that his memoir is here, do his words hold up against the comedians'? Here's a quiz. Some of the following quotes come from Bush's Decision Points. Some come from Will Ferrell's Broadway hit and HBO special You're Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush. READ MORE


The Trouble With Looking for Political Bias in Late Night Comedians

If you like comedy but love statistics, then this was your week. Two studies released this week look into the political leanings of late-night comedians and their audiences. As raw data, the information they provide is fascinating, but the conclusions they draw are a bit iffier. Is it really possible to tell something about a comedian's political leanings by counting jokes?

First is a study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University, which analyzed 1,652 political jokes told by late-night hosts this year. In a release titled Jay Leno Is Red, Jon Stewart Is Blue, the center claims that late night hosts are as divided as Fox and MSNBC: READ MORE


The Impact of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on Comedy

There has been enough talk about the political implications of this weekend's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. What about its impact on comedy? Its success as comedy? The acts broadcast from the stage have gotten a mixed reaction (ranging from safe to esoteric). But the comic bits Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert performed were only a tiny part of what I felt was a great moment for comedy, and great comedy. The rally's immediate impact ought to be: "More of this, please."

If you were like most who attended the rally, you couldn't hear a thing that was happening on stage. And really, it didn't matter. The rally experience was instead everything else that happened on the Mall, and that is what's going to be remembered. By bringing the Daily Show to the front of the Capitol Building, the rally has hopefully expanded the notion of at least where comedy is possible. Like a Happening, the comedy was wrapped up in the event itself. The rally was almost the reverse counterpart to Andy Kaufman reading the Great Gatsby as stand up: it worked as a moment of levity wedged into an entirely serious context.

That context includes the coverage itself: I watched the local DC news on Saturday night, and the anchors kept calling the rally by its proper name, enunciating the mouthful "and or fear" every time they mentioned it. At no point did they betray any awareness that the name itself is just darn funny, or that a gathering in the name of a cause and its opposite might be just a teeny bit absurd. Either they didn't get it, or they were being pushed to the limits of their professionalism. This was comedy seeping out into the real world. READ MORE


Are Comedians Making Enough Fun of Democrats?

For a decade, Republicans have been the butt of far more jokes than Democrats have. It's natural that comedians would make fun of the people in power. During most of the Bush-Cheney years, we could rely on nightly comic savaging of our president from a variety of outlets. (Remember That's My Bush?) But even though Democrats have been in power for two years, comedians have continued to focus most of their attention on Republicans.

Conservative critics and internet commenters always accuse the Daily Show and other late-night comics of having a liberal bias (even Jay Leno). Comedians had no trouble making fun of the Clintons, though, and continue to do so today. The problem seems to be that the current Democrats are so b-o-r-i-n-g, and except for Joe Biden, no one's been able to pick up any good personal foibles to build a parody on. READ MORE


The Top Political Ad Parodies of Election Season

According to news reports, it's been a brutal year for political ads. But what about political ad parodies? With just over a week until Election Day, there have been plenty of great new web videos satirizing political commercials. Here's a run down of some of the best parodies of the season, organized by type, to be read in the most ominous sounding voice possible. READ MORE


This Week in Political Comedy: SNL and the Sheeba-Shabba Dance

"You're just jealous that you weren't on Saturday Night Live."
Christine O'Donnell, who has never been on Saturday Night Live

A good political impression can change our perceptions of a candidate in real life. Ten years ago Dana Carvey went on the talk show circuit and discussed how bad his impressions were. In an appearance with Conan O'Brien, he made fun of his own Ross Perot, trying to demonstrate just how unlike the former presidential candidate it was. To prove his point, he stood up and did an enthusiastic jig while singing "Sheeba-Shabba-Sheeba-Shabba-Sheeba-Shabba," a wordless dance that looked like nothing any political candidate had ever done. The audience broke into wild applause. He told Conan, "And I have people going, 'Your Perot is so accurate. My God. You sound just like him.'"

For most of us, Dana Carvey's Ross Perot has replaced Perot himself in our memory. The caricature became more real than the candidate, and how Perot might actually behave makes no difference anymore. This is true for many Saturday Night Live impressions of political figures (Will Ferrell's Bush is another example). The exaggerations that make an impression great, what you could call the comedian's Sheeba-Shabba dance, work not because they're accurate, but because they show the candidate distilled. They feel like how the true candidate would act in his ideal state, which we naturally assume would mean when he is at his most unhinged. READ MORE