The Week the Jesters Wept

In myth, folklore, and fairy tales, the lowly position of the jester is the only one who can speak truth to power, and he does so through comedy. This is why satire exists.

The jester archetype is famous for bringing the arrogant down to earth, highlighting hypocrisy, and pointing out absurdities, inequalities, and injustices.

If drama is about mankind becoming its best self, comedy is about showcasing humanity’s imperfections.

Comedy highlights our flaws, our foibles, and our failings, be it the jester in Shakespeare’s King Lear, or sketch comedy political skewering on Saturday Night Live.

Comedy always tells the truth. This is why it resonates, why we laugh, and why we keep coming back for more.

Comedians, like jesters, must be clever, witty, and subversive to deliver the truth. Partly, because they can get away with it, but more importantly, because they can accurately see it. Thus, it is the comedian’s deeper purpose to challenge the status quo in attempt to bring about positive change.

This is why in the post 9/11 world, the last American truth tellers were satirists on late-night comedy shows. The Daily Show, followed by The Colbert Report, led the pack, and our intellectual validation now came from Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, and Tina Fey.

It was our elected officials who were now laughable, and the press, having served as the government’s watchdog for over a century, became little more than a lapdog.

Mark Thompson, President and CEO of The New York Times Company, recently wrote:

People often wonder why late night comedians seem to unfairly target conservatives, but these people do not understand comedy.

Comedy challenges those in power. It disrupts their con. It signals out their hypocrisy. It holds them accountable in a world where newsmen no longer bother.

Comedians aren’t signaling out conservative doctrine – they are shining the light of truth on corruption, deception, and manipulation, and these are always strongest within the power structure. Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, everyone is fair game.

Whoever is in power and behaving most inappropriately will always get the brunt of the jester’s jabs, as the power structure, particularly under the influence of the alt right, is concerned with maintaining the status quo, shirking change, denying reform, and desperately clinging to outdated traditions and institutions designed to control a populace.

When the royalty make fun of the jesters, it’s called bullying. It’s what Republicans do on campaign trails and in stump speeches. It’s what Donald Trump did his entire campaign. It’s what Fox News and Rush Limbaugh do for a living. And it’s a form of oppression.

America’s late night TV circuit is the last line of defense in a country where journalism has long gone. It is now only through comedy that we find the truth.

The truth is never easy to hear. The truth is not welcome. The truth is inconvenient.

This is why most of us refuse to see it, and why a little laughter often helps to hear it.

Last week, with the election of Donald Trump, truth died - and our comedians cried, from Seth Myers to Stephen Colbert, from Chelsea Handler to Saturday Night Live. The late-night world, much like the rest of the world, mourned the death of our democracy.

Cohen had died the week of the election, and his song captured the widespread feeling of sorrow that swept through many U.S. cities that week.

In the aftermath of Election Day, whether communicating with friends on the East Coast, the West Coast, or in D.C., the mood was eerily similar – friends texted reports that it felt like the day after 9/11, that a shroud had descended, like someone, or something, had died.

The country was collectively grieving.

It’s no wonder “Hallelujah” became the go-to emotional score for so many television shows in the 21st century. Be it The West Wing, Scrubs, or Grey’s Anatomy, you knew by the song’s mighty fall that a beloved character would make a final exit.

And while we may not have been choked up watching fictional patients depart the stage, as McKinnon finished her rendition, neither her nor the studio audience remained untouched. And neither did we.

This time, the song didn’t just underscore what was onscreen. It was the eulogy for our collective hopes, dreams, and faith in our democracy.

On Tuesday, November 8, all of America’s jesters openly wept. The shroud would not be lifting, for our politics were no longer a laughing matter.

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.