Timing is everything when telling a joke. The most effective comedy is relevant, and fortunately for comedians, there is a lot to laugh at these days. Many people think that the dark state of politics should have a sobering effect on anyone who cares about the state of the country. And it should, to an extent. However, a healthy part of processing important topics is joking about them, whether between friends or on more public platforms.
Saturday Night Live, a rather well-known platform, received their highest approval rating in 22 years following their impression-based comedic coverage of the election cycle. However, Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer skit and other political parodies do not always elicit laughter from their audience. Some are genuinely enraged by the flippant portrayal of their favorite political figures and the important topics that they tackle. The controversy over whether comedians should be able to capitalize on disheartening situations rests on the belief that humor degrades the importance of what it mocks. Conversely, both historically and currently, comedy has served just the opposite purpose.
There are certain events that are difficult but necessary to discuss, such as the election of President Trump. Such a shocking result naturally invokes passionate discourse, where both parties are guilty of turning productive debate into malicious spewing. Sometimes it is simply more useful to condense anger into a witty form in order to keep the public's attention. When it becomes too difficult to talk about contentious topics, humor can be employed to counteract the inevitable negativity without degrading an issue's importance. In this way, comedians play an essential role in keeping information relevant and mentionable, when many would rather avoid the topic to evade arguments or verbal attacks.
The public also plays a role in making light of problematic political statements. At the end of the last presidential debate, Trump infamously interrupted Clinton to call her a "nasty woman." Instead of merely dismissing the remark with disgust, many used their outrage to fuel a movement of proud, self-proclaimed Nasty Women, adopting the phrase as an ironic title to assert their unapologetic fortitude. Similarly, those repulsed by Clinton's "basket of deplorables" comment adopted the witty label of "Adorable Deplorables," thus reversing the effect of a harsh statement to create a statement of empowerment. Both of these demonstrate our capacity to reclaim our beliefs through the comic trivialization of hateful expressions.
Armed with the freedom of speech, Americans have both the right and the responsibility to protest the policies we find disagreeable. But protest has never been limited to marches and petitions. Humorous messages reach millions of people over television and social media now—just as satirical pamphlets urging revolution were distributed to the assembled masses in the colonies hundreds of years ago.
Humor is thoughtful, creative civil disobedience. It doesn't make light of frightening situations; it sheds light on how multifaceted every conflict is. It allows us to laugh off the initial horror so that we, as citizens, can redouble our efforts towards instituting positive change. This justifies the fact that certain successful comedians get paid well for broadening the public's awareness. Humor, in its many forms, serves to lighten humanity's heaviest burdens without dismissing their importance and provides an effective mean for protesting injustices.
Entertainment is only part of a comedian's goal; they also strive to ingrain the unspeakable truths of history and the unjust conditions of the present into public consciousness. If it takes Alec Baldwin in a spray tan and blond wig to alert the American public to the current state of politics, is it really the comedians who are the bad guys?