News / USA

US Comedians Gaining Political Influence

Comedian Jon Stewart (2009 file photo)
Comedian Jon Stewart (2009 file photo)

Multimedia

With the U.S. midterm elections less than a week away, many comedians are getting involved in the political process.  Two of the nation's best-known comics are organizing a political rally this weekend on the National Mall in Washington.  But not everyone thinks it is a laughing matter.

Standup comic Lewis Black has drawn a sellout crowd at Washington's Warner Theater.

And at least one person in the audience thinks very highly of him.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: "Black for President!"

BLACK: "No, I do not want to run for president.  I do not want to live here."

Lewis Black has gained popularity by his regular appearances on a mock TV news program called The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. 

Stewart's show ridicules politicians and the media and is a huge hit.  

Black's segment on the program is called "Back in Black."

The comic says he uses it to expose dishonest politicians.

"I think you constantly have to remind people that these idiots are not wearing clothes [are telling lies]," he said.

Black's comedic character is angry and perplexed by politics and the way it is portrayed on television news.

"Seriously, what kind of idiot just walks into the school and says, 'I am totally unqualified!'"'

"I represent on stage someone who is actually trying to figure this out, and is confused and frustrated that I do not have an answer.  And when I do have an answer, it is so over the top psychotic - and sometimes it is just so honest."

Comedians like Black appear to be shaping public opinion in the United States like never before.  Surveys show young Americans, in particular, increasingly watch comedy shows as their main source of news.

Many say comedians give them a chance to relax from their hurried lives while helping to make sense of a complex world.

Colette Fozard was in the audience for Lewis Black's recent performance in Washington.

"He can sort of point out the hypocrisy in a lot what is going on," said Colette Fozard. "And for me, it helps.  It kind of makes me start to think about it."

Comedians have long poked fun at politicians, and not just in America.  But here, their shows are now becoming a forum for serious policy issues.

President Barack Obama has appeared on The Daily Show several times.

He has also appeared on late-night comedy shows.  And last month, comedian Stephen Colbert was invited to testify about migrant workers before a Congressional committee.

"I am happy to use my celebrity to draw attention to this complicated issue," said Colbert.

Media analysts say the influence of comedians is growing at a time when traditional news outlets are losing audiences.

Marvin Kalb spent 30 years as a reporter for CBS and NBC News during the heyday of network TV news.  Back then, Americans held broadcasters like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite in high esteem.

Kalb says comics like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are filling a void.

"The problem becomes, are they the principle source of information for the country?  Do they begin to move in and occupy the place that Walter Cronkite occupied or Edward R. Murrow occupied?  The unfortunate answer now is 'Yes,' they are occupying that space," said Kalb. "The danger there is that people begin to take it too seriously and they begin to think that the joke is the reality."

Meanwhile, critics say news is becoming little more than entertainment.  Kalb says there is still an audience for serious journalism.

"I also see the evidence, however, that in the United States there is also a market, which is currently being exploited to downgrade everything, and to make it all one big joke," he said. "As though climate change is a joke, as though the rise of the Tea Party movement in America is a joke."

This weekend Stewart and Colbert are scheduled to go a step further in blurring the line between comedy and news.  They have asked their nationwide audiences to come to the National Mall in Washington for what Stewart calls a "Rally to Restore Sanity" in American politics.

Analysts say the gathering will gauge how much influence jokesters have on governance in the United States, and that is no joke.   


Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid