Comedy and politics have always gone together. Political cartoons have existed for as long as politics have been cartoonish. In the 70's, comedians swatted the low-hanging fruit of Gerald Ford's clumsiness and, in the 80's, the Reagans' enthusiasm for astrology. During the Clinton years, you could have gagged on the number of jokes about blue-dressed interns and over the two terms of George W. Bush's administration, so much ridiculous happened that the requisite ridicule was enough to sustain a daily show like The Daily Show, with plenty of surplus to give Stephen Colbert a spinoff. Finally, W.'s name and "surplus" in the same sentence. You're welcome, former Mr. President!
In the last election, depending on your bent, you might even have thought of comedy as heroic. You're probably asking, "In what sense, Churlie?" Well, Katie Couric's interview with Veep candidate Sarah Palin was seen by under six million people, or less than three percent of eligible voters. But, after Tina Fey's portrayal on Saturday Night Live, the number of people who became aware of that interview increased to...all of them! Approximately. If you were one of the relative few who actually saw the original horrifying exchange, you can give comedy the credit for helping the rest of America dodge a bullet like a wolf being shot at from a helicopter by the Governor of Alaska!
How did we get to a place where, rather than just riffing on the news, comedy actually had the power to, in many ways, supplant it? The mainstream media was always supposed to be unbiased, which we recently seem to have figured out is kind of a big fat lie. Journalists traded integrity for access and we suffered. Comedians present a more honest proposition: they're obviously biased, bred to say what others dare not and willing to exploit anything for a laugh. In fact, it's the comic's tendency to try to fill his bottomless pit of neediness with our laughter that makes him an equal opportunity offender, and thus, more impartial than anyone. A comedian's integrity may come incidentally, but it's there.
Good comedy will always shine a revealing light on politics and great comedy will hold up a magnifying glass to politics. But the best comedy will shine a light on politics while holding up a magnifying glass until politics tries to run away or catches on fire. Metaphorically speaking.
Caissie St. Onge is a writer and producer for Best Week Ever with Paul F. Tompkins on VH1. See the show "Writers Speak! A Potentially Regrettable Evening with WGA Comedy Writers," this Friday May 8th, 7:00 pm - 9:30 pm at Washington DC's Newseum. More WGA blogs about the event available here.