Comedy and politics: the cursed connection

By Tyrone Barrozo, Columnist

Hasan Minhaj, comedian and host of the ongoing Netflix series, “Patriot Act”, recently spoke to Congress about the student loan crisis. And, according to NBC news, the folks at Capitol Hill were having a good ole’ laugh about the financial tumor plaguing many American millennials’ lives. Of course, Congress were in the right to laugh. What would a lowly comic know about the inner workings of government bureaucracy and compromised morality?

Well, it’s funny that that’s mentioned because here’s an idea: comedians actually play an integral role in society as being both the representative for the majority of America as well as its voice of reason in times of struggle.

The relationship between comedy and politics is an interesting one—certainly interesting enough for some mad lads (and lassies) in higher academia to teach a course in political comedy in the early 2010s. What’s most interesting about the relationship between the two is that, unlike the most outspoken grassroots protest leader, comedians have the power to rally an audience for change but with an audience that a protest leader could only dream of acquiring. Because of that, political comedians allow us to do many things such as keep tabs on crooks in Washington who are actively trying to screw people over.

For instance, earlier this year, the former host of “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart, rightfully lambasted the shameless negligence from a nearly empty congressional panel in regard to the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. Footage of the testimony went viral on the Internet and following Stewart’s emotional speech, a bill was passed and successfully went through the House and the Senate to ensure that 9/11 victims will never run out of money for healthcare. Now that’s fine and dandy, but it should be noted that there are a couple points that should be brought up with this particular situation. 

Prior to the testimony, Stewart was very much an outspoken voice for the Zadroga Act, a bill meant to set up a 9/11 victim healthcare fund, since 2010 and even dedicated an entire episode of “The Daily Show” to highlight and expose the bill to the masses. Then, Stewart popped up again as a guest on “The Daily Show” in 2015 to shame politicians before the Zadroga Act neared its deadline for renewal because the act only guaranteed funding for five years. The 2019 testimony was just the icing on the cake, and with sheer luck and maybe the grace of a benevolent god, he was finally able to shame the higher-ups enough so that they would finally do their job and help out dying heroes and heroines.

Stewart is just one example of comics using their platform for good, but he wasn’t alone. Long before he became a broken record of bad Trump impressions, Stephen Colbert, former host of “The Colbert Report” testified before Congress—albeit, in character as a well-intentioned conservative buffoon—to address the lack of support for migrant agricultural workers despite the US’ dependency on their labor.

Now, just to be clear, the conflict between Stewart and Congress isn’t a partisan issue for reds and blues to hiss about at each other—it’s a common sense issue. Once the public realized that, all that was left was to identify those on the wrong side of history which, in politics, is usually present.

Luckily, these comics are really good at doing their research, finding the facts, and making complicated concepts digestible to a [liberal] simpleton like myself so that we can focus on what is simply wrong and what we can do to maybe fix on certain issues. I mention that now because I want to transition to the part of this piece where I start talking about John Oliver and Hasan Minhaj. There’s a reason why I don’t get paid for this.

Aside from raising awareness and pushing for action, political comedians also use their platforms to educate people on well-known and obscure issues alike. The best examples for this discussion would probably be the host of “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver, and the aforementioned Minhaj.

For over five years now, Oliver has done an extraordinary job at covering numerous issues from capital punishment, net neutrality (unrelated side note: go screw yourself, Ajit Pai), and LGBT+ rights. For example, Oliver spent an entire show focusing on the National Rifle Association (the original Bullet Club) and how their aggressive campaigning efforts have essentially impeded much needed change for firearm legislation (specifically universal background checks and getting rid of that pesky gun show loophole from current legislation).

Then there’s Minhaj, who’s covering both international and national topics like Oliver, aside from the fact that he’s always rocking fresh J’s. As previously mentioned, Minhaj has used his platform to talk about public transportation, fentanyl, and, of course, the student loan crisis from paragraph one.

Now, at this point, a few people may be wondering why much of the same is being brought up. “Comedians talk about issues in a way that we can laugh about them—so what?” People might be like, “They don’t really do anything, they just make money talking like any other celebrity,” or better yet, they might be like, “These comics don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, they’re all bleeding heart idiots.”

In response to the first half of those hypothetical statements, might I remind them of Google searching all of the aforementioned names and their involvement in politics as per this op-ed.

For those who believe that comics are simply unqualified, too sardonic, or generally too dumb to know what they’re saying on the air, allow me to rebut by stating, “You’re wrong—and here’s why.”

Not only have comedians recently been stepping up their game on researched topics but they’ve also been able to stand up to their news contemporaries. Of course, I could always pick on Stewart being an outspoken opponent to news outlets who are heavily associated with dividing the nation using politics (i.e., Stewart single-handedly terminating Paul Begala and Tucker Carlsen’s show, “Crossfire”) and being more than ready to enter discourse with pundits (Chris Wallace; Bill O’Reilly) from Fox News to directly address his qualms and urge for change, but I think that it’s important to note that even if Oliver, Minhaj, or Colbert aren’t able to stand up alongside their real-life journalistic foils, then there’s a problem. 

I repeat, even if comedians cannot hold their own in current discourse with actual journalists and pundits, then there is a serious issue here because it means that the American people have decided that news outlets have become so unreliable in terms of remaining impartial that they’ve decided to trust jokers.

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