News / USA

US Comedians Gaining Political Influence

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

Multimedia

TEXT SIZE - +

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

Abuja Blast Impacts Lives, Livelihoods

Officials say they are looking at ways to help bombing victims and boosting security More

Cambodia Technology Adviser Criticizes Cybercrime Draft Law

Phu Leewood says current criminal code can be used to prosecute offenders and that there is no need for a separate law More

Photogallery A Year Later, Boston Remembers Deadly Marathon Bombings

City pauses to honor victims and salute emergency workers who came to their assistance in frantic moments after blasts 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid