The Comedy Defense

Google Now suggested that I look at Adam Ruins Everything, now a television series based on a prior web video series produced by CollegeHumor. In this show common notions are debunked and uncomfortable facts revealed about common elements of culture and society. According to Google Now, it suggested specifically the Special Election Edition on the basis that I’ve shown interest in the general election. The video was a snippet of the 1-hour episode with an advertisement to see the rest on television.

Curiously, ARE is yet another show that combines comedy with education or news. It reminds me somewhat of Penn and Teller‘s Bullshit which wasn’t called comedy, but really didn’t have much less humor than ARE.

Google may have picked up that I follow cracked.com which seems to have very little relationship to Cracked magazine, but also produces educational comedy, including coverage of some really terrible things.

Things like: being a sex slave, living in a cult, living on an indian reservation, working for Wells Fargo during the recent bank fraud racket, being attacked by the alt-right, being a woman in Saudi Arabia, working at a psych ward, being a veteran male rape survivor…

Comedy.

Which gets me to the thing I’m inferring. Is comedy changing from being about humor and more a thing about talking about real crap going on in the real world?

What we call news was once supposed to do that and has ceased. Rather the biases in self-identified news agencies have revealed themselves. Fox News probably only highlighted matters of bias in news entertainment by providing an obvious visible example. Seeing Fox, we investigated further, examining all of our news sources for veracity, for slant, for omitted details, or for omitted stories entirely. Indeed, we’ve found not only bias, but different kinds. We found out some bias was inevitable even by those agencies determined to be impartial. We found out the strange and spurious logics that informed editor policy, often creating unintentional bias, or merely the appearance of non-bias. And we discovered the many, many ways that journalistic speech is chilled in what is supposed to be a free-press society.

In 2016, mainstream news agencies in the United States dispense pure propaganda (in the information-intended-to-manipulate sense, not necessarily in the lies-and-half-truths sense) and while we are more capable than ever of fact-checking, news programs are more comfortable than ever of telling blatant untruths.

And then it’s comedy shows that defy that. The Daily Show particularly during John Stewart‘s tenure presented itself as a spoof on news, but provided better news content than similar shows proclaiming to be about news. It became regarded as a reputable news show even though when criticized when it didn’t behave as a news agency (often refusing to toeing the news correspondent line to gain access to inside scoops) Jon and his associates would argue we’re just a comedy show.

The show that comes on after mine has puppets making crank phone calls.

I considered this era might be an echo of the political court jester, but that is a romanticized notion. Jesters in aristocracy were merely entertainers, and it was not always his day job to perform, rather a bit of extra to do for the lord than (say) house knight or yeoman, especially if working the main hall was easier than walking the snowy ramparts or charging on the front line with a stick. On rare occasion, yes, a jester would be left to break bad news to the lord, but there was never any assurance that the lord wouldn’t retaliate against the messenger. It was regarded as criminal (or at least very bad form) for the lord to murder the court jester only in that it was frowned upon for the lord to murder any of the house staff.

The comedy defense has since been used by John Oliver regarding statements made on Last Week Tonight.

Steven Colbert‘s shows, The Colbert Report and The Late Show, both include satirical news editorials (including The Werd feature segment when the intro stand-up segment isn’t enough). Colbert’s approach has been to respond to criticism of his satire with more satire.

Samantha Bee is also continuing news comedy on her show Full Frontal, focusing on investigative reports. If she’s responded to criticism about her content, I’ve yet to hear it.

So… this is a thing now, and when I find bits that are allegedly comedy pieces, but have very little that’s actually funny and a whole lot that is not, I find it easy to infer we’re changing the definition of what is comedy.

We’re certainly changing the definition of what is news.

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