Category Archives: Comedy
With the recent crediting of Jon Stewart as helping to move along the 9/11 First Responders bill by dedicating an entire show to its passage, he may have made important strides beyond “advocacy satire” and into a realm some journalists have rightly, and often wrongly, traversed: advocacy journalism.
I like the first term because it gives satire its due credence that is often discounted as non-serious or not to be taken as such. Much of this blog is reflective of my academic interests, most of which have sought to figure humor and satire’s current place in our culture. In the last few months I finally feel like im getting close. I recently received my first revise and resubmit notice from the journal of Journalism: Theory and Practice on an essay I wrote last spring on Stewart and Colbert as public journalists that tried to tackle this idea. They want me to go further.
Which is what Stewart and Colbert are doing. A major component to public journalism as outlined by Jay Rosen and Davis “Buzz” Merritt is that taking matters of public importance into account is a much needed journalistic practice. But they are also quick to warn that it is not the same as journalists advocating for specific positions, a consideration I went to great lengths to illustrate Stewart and Colbert were taking.
All of that seems to have been thrown out the window in the past few months. The much hyped and misunderstood, rallies to restore both sanity and/or fear were met with much criticism in the mainstream press for the two comedians overstepping their bounds and creating their own spectacle. Colbert’s testimony in front of Congress on the plight of migrant workers in light of a recent farm bill was soundly discarded.
But lo did Stewart bounce back with an actual legislative win! The 9/11 First responders bill special marked a significant point where Stewart was rightly credited and praised for raising a significant issue, in his own way, while acknowledging that he was right in skewering those he thought were responsible for its blockage. Republicans. Allowing NY firefighters and police to come on the show and state their case, while hearing their voices shaken by the ravages of cancer from Ground Zero, became un-debatable. And as the NY Times pointed out Stewart may be actually moving into the role of satire advocate journalist with this episode, comparing him to Edward R. Murrow in the process. Take that Keith Olbermann!
In light of this, I do not feel that Stewart and Colbert have wholly abandoned the notion of public journalism in the sense laid out by either Rosen or Merritt. In order to understand the influence of Stewart and Colbert I think it is helpful to create an ironic understanding of their intellectual and journalistic posturing. That is, they are “Ironic Intellectuals”: their authority stems from the very disavowal of any serious authority. Their humor and absurdity are precisely what give them a sobering sincerity so badly needed.
It is also what enables us to understand their straddling of journalist/comedian. They can be both and we can understand them as both. I’ll be playing with this idea more in the coming months as comprehensive exams and dissertations loom on the horizon. In the meantime watch Stewart’s speech and offer some thoughts on the matter.
The first time I ever did stand up comedy was also the first time I ever wore drag. Dressed in streetwalker makeup and leopard print everything, I took the stage at Moorpark College’s Improv Comedy Showcase and delivered my monologue about all the cats I owned, their crazy names, and how I could not live without Siegfried and Roy.
I was 18.
I was playing my Grandmother. She was in the audience that night and thought the show was “fabulous!” (Her words, not mine).**
She came to LA in the early 1950s from Wheeling, WV, a town that I’m pretty sure just installed their 4th traffic light.
My grandmother always knew she was obsessed with show business and has done everything she can to stay on top… the gossip. The only person I’ve ever met who has an actual subscription to the National Enquirer, she still knows more about what’s going on with Lindsay Lohan than you. Yes you. Also she just purchased an iPad. What other family you know where the grandmother is the tech savvy person?And she likes cats, lots of them, and Las Vegas. Due to health problems she was unable to make her annual pilgrimage to the Mecca of Vegas-obsessed cat ladies: Siegfried and Roy at the Mirage. Roy was then mauled by a Tiger. She has never lived it down. We went to console her in the hospital but she wouldn’t let us see her without makeup.
So imagine my surprise when I went to my local arthouse (read: on campus) theater the other day to watch Joan Rivers swear. Alot.
Joan Rivers won’t let anyone see her until she’s put her face on. She doesn’t want to see HERSELF before putting her makeup on. She wears a lot of gawdy clothes. She is completely obsessed with celebrities. She sounds like she uses the word “fabulous” alot. And most importantly she lives how she wants.
Joan Rivers always knew she would be in show business and has done everything she can to stay on top and relevant.
You guys. Joan Rivers is my Grandmother.
Both have taught me important lessons in comedy. Sometimes your best bet is to be outrageous and not give a shit what others think. Wear what you want. Say what you want. And whatever you do, do NOT leave the house without first putting on your face.
**Yes, I am aware of what rumors this undoubtedly brings. Story of my life.
A loft of my friends hate America. “I don’t support Empires. I root for the underdogs and hope they take the U.S. out.”
Seems to be a popular refrain among the critical scholars in my intellectual circle. “Let’s root for Ghana over the U.S.!” Because doing so sends an important message in stark defiance of U.S. foreign and economic policy. That’ll show em!
Not that everyone here HAS to root for the US. They don’t. There are plenty of reasons to root for other countries. Maybe it’s part of your ancestry, or you think the Spanish team all look like supermodels (they do), or you are just a fan of Brazillian soccer. I mean who isn’t. They are practically doing it on the field.
At the same time openly booing the US Soccer team and cheering for other teams because it somehow symbolically shows your disgust for bad things the U.S. does is annoying. Even as someone who traffics in the study of symbolism and a huge proponent of the idea that words matter, I think it’s an empty gesture, more about the person making the statement than anything else.
Am I an apologist for the U.S.? Not exactly. I mean duh, we have done and continue to do all kinds of shitty things around the world, especially against many of the countries currently playing in the World Cup. It’s true that much of the world views our entrance into the world soccer stage as laughable and probably like to hold it over our heads that we have sucked at it for so long.
But seriously, no one gives a shit about your protesting the U.S. by rooting for another team.
If anything we need the U.S. to be better at international soccer. Americans love sports, particularly ones we are good at. What better way to get us to engage the world on a more international stage? And this time it does NOT involve tanks and bombs and hating brown people.
This all coinciding with the 4th of July strikes me as an intersting coincidence. There is so much pressure to be pro-Murka during this time. People want to celebrate while also being ever mindful of the scarier things in America’s closet. It’s complex and we should always remember that.
I’m just gonna say it: humor is patriotic. Lenny Bruce said “when you take away the right to say fuck, eventually take away the right to say fuck the government.” The Onion’s dos and dont’s on what to say on the 4th embrace all the complexities of how we celebrate. And the New York Times gives a pretty good quiz as well. Some view it as trivial or just as cynical. But those people are not funny. I will always err on the side of cracking jokes in these situations. Which is why I have no problem making fun of my friends for rooting against the U.S., as if anyone cares.
Either way, the U.S. lost to Ghana. I’m going to go drink German Bier and blow up Chinese Fireworks.
From day one I treated graduate school as a joke. Before I even arrived in the Arizona desert to begin my Master’s program at ASU I knew I wanted to write my thesis on The Colbert Report. I spent the next year and a half figuring out what it would look like. As I put the final touches and prepared to graduate I also knew I wanted to send it to him. I actually told my graduate committee that my ultimate plan for this 120 page masterpiece was not to get it published but to get on the show. It was definitely quite a thing to say during my defense, “sorry to break it to you all but this was just an elaborate plan to get on TV.”
A thesis about a comedy show, especially one that rhetorically analyzes it, should have some jokes in for good measure. I had to take the writing somewhat seriously on account of the whole “they are going to give me a graduate degree for this” and all. So I opted to save it for the dedication page. Which reads as such:
This thesis is dedicated to Stephen Colbert, an American hero who truthily “gets it.” Thanks for agreeing to have me on your show.
This project has now been in the making longer than my Master’s program. In the two years since my thesis defense my friends and I have come with some great ideas. I’ve got the cover letter ready and a series of photoshopped images of Colbert reading my thesis, as I am sure he is dying to do. The one at the right is one of my faves.
Too good to pass up right?
Obviously I’ve already run into a few roadblocks, namely that I can’t get anyone at Comedy Central to return my emails. Minor details. I think the next step is to clearly send it anyway and see what happens. Maybe if I tape one of the images to the outside of the package they’ll have to take it. I mean look at the craftsmanship on that Photoshop!
When I first started getting this going my friend Lydia suggested I write about the process of sending my thesis to The Colbert Report. So this is my initial chronicling of a journey that I am certain will only end with immense fame and fortune. Or a thank you note. I’d take that too.
What this all boils down to is this: The only thing read by less people than my thesis is this blog. I’m hoping to change both of those.
Al Franken keeps it the realest. Of course I could be referring to his epic skewering of Rush Limbaugh, or to his similarly epic nailing of the far right. To be fair, each of those is baller. But what I think is the most baller is that he has actually turned it into a pretty solid career as an actual U.S. Senator.
Check out this dismantling of a couple of Halliburton Arbitration Lawyers. These corporate jackass apologists were given the soul crushing job of denying a female employee her day in court after she was sexually assaulted by other Halliburton employees on assignment in Iraq. The corporate-government complex was definitely in need of a good balling up. And Franken was just the person to give it to them.
No doubt because of Jon Stewart’s popularity and Stephen Colbert’s actual campaign for President in 2008, there seems to be a growing obsession with comedians throwing their hat in the political ring.
Now Iceland’s got one Comedian Jon Gnarr was recently elected mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland, a city that has now apparently seen four mayors in as many years. This one seems more Colbert and less Franken. Except for the fact that it worked and his absurd campaign promises, promising Kindergartners to build a Disneyland at the airport, were enough for the good people of Reykjavik.
Absurd? Probably. Actually I think it makes pretty good sense. The things comedians say onstage, or “promise” during their campaigns are no less absurd than what politicians actually promise to constituents. Plus neither one of them gets any of these promises fulfilled anyway. As Jon Stewart told Jim Cramer “There is a certain sense that we are both snake oil salesman, only we admit we are selling snake oil.”
Here are a few more reasons why we should let comedians ball up politics:
1. Comedians understand society and how things work. That’s why they can make the observations they do.
2. Comedians are smart and ballsy. The same human qualities it takes to get someone to want to run for public office/service is remarkably similar to the type of person it takes to get up in front of a group of people and say what they think. People already accuse politicians of pandering in order to win votes. Comedians pander to audiences as well, but in most cases in a way that is brutally honest and insightful. At the very least they acknowledge their pandering.
4. Comedians have slightly less shame than politicians.
3. They’re baller.
I mean it could be worse. Remember, Minnesota also elected former pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura in 1998. And my own home state of California has elected not one, but TWO Hollywood elites, as Republicans, as Governor. For now I’ll put my money on the funny people.
For the very few who wonder what it must be like to be either a professional student or an amateur comic, let alone both; allow me to share one of my favorite lines told onstage.
Being a grad student is a lot like being a comedian. Now I have two jobs that don’t really pay anything.
Having the day job to support one’s comedy habit is akin to the common refrain budding PhD student’s face from their families, “so what ARE you going to do with that?”
After four years of graduate school and stand up comedy I still have no idea. One advances while the other stagnates and vice versa. The key is to find a job that allows for a bit of both. And at least for right now I think I’ve found it. Christopher Beam over at Slate offers a glimpse .
Also it would be nice if using humor was part of the job description as well. By this point it is commonplace to assume that Jon Stewart occupies not only the coolest job but also one of the most important cultural positions today. We here in the departments of communication studies, media studies, and journalism have been writing ad nauseum of the existence and impact of this position but suffice it to say that Stewart is the dominant satirist of our time. And this is a position to be venerated. Stewart is the H. L. Mencken or Mark Twain of our generation , a sentiment echoed not only by various academics but also by the likes of Kurt Vonnegut whose praise of Stewart strikes me as perhaps the utmost compliment anyone can bestow on a humorist.
I’m not saying I want to be the next Jon Stewart. I’m not so naive as to think I have even an ounce of his talent and charisma. In fact I don’t think we should have more people like him and Stephen Colbert. We should just bask in the brilliance they create. But I do think those of us who have been fans since the beginning and have gone to great lengths to illustrate the significance of what is going on at Comedy Central should be able to take their lead and find newer and more interesting ways to offer our ideas to the world. In many ways Jon Stewart does not do anything different than many academics interested in the current state of the world. It’s just that his method is, and it’s working.
Which is why, as a longtime fan of the show, as well as a practicing humorist, I was inspired by the Slate article previously mentioned. Commentary on current events, in a public format, with small doses of reasoned criticism gleaned from one’s academic training of choice, with some jokes thrown in, is something that I really think I could do. In fact it IS what I do. Can someone start posting those jobs on Monster? And then tell me about it on LinkedIn? And then show me how to use Monster and LinkedIn?