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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid