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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs