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Election mockery fuels comedy

Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012

Updated: Sunday, October 7, 2012 23:10

Big Bird


SNL invited Big Bird to weigh in on Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s plan to cut funding to PBS

Every four years, the writers of politically charged comedy shows such as Saturday Night Live (SNL), The Colbert Report and The Daily Show are blessed with manna from heaven: the presidential election.

The election season brings material ripe for mocking. From President Barack Obama’s “jive talk” videos, in which he changes his speech to pander to black audiences, to former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” quote blunder, 2012’s election season of political comedy is off to a fast start.

The Colbert Report, originally formatted as a spin-off of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, has started off the debate season with comments comical even to people who know next to nothing about politics.

“It’s like Obama wasn’t even there,” Stephen Colbert said on his post-debate recap show. “He hasn’t done this poorly since he debated Clint Eastwood.”

This line is classic Colbert — he provides his viewers with an accessibility and familiarity that has the ability to resonate with everyone from a “Toddlers and Tiaras” family to a doctoral student at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Colbert has wielded his own niche as a master of satire, and his staff of writers combined with his witty delivery has secured his place in the cannon of political folly during the past several years.

Another reason for The Colbert Report’s mass appeal is that Colbert has a policy of equal opportunity ridicule for both the Republican and Democratic parties, which serves well in cementing his position as the go-to funny man for supporters of both parties.

The same can be said of NBC’s long-running sketch comedy program SNL, which has become an American institution since it first aired in 1975. Over the course of SNL’s history, icons were made out of political parodies, from Dana Carvey as George H.W. Bush to Tina Fey’s pitch-perfect portrayal of Sarah Palin.

SNL’s episode on Saturday unveiled fresh political fodder, with Jay Pharoah as Obama and Jason Sudeikis as Romney in parody of Wednesday’s presidential debate, featuring Chris Parnell in the role of an obnoxious Jim Lehrer moderator. Big Bird made an appearance on the popular SNL segment “Weekend Update” to address Romney’s scathing remarks toward cutting the PBS budget, in spite of it being “seven hours past (his) bedtime.”

Election season is where SNL shines, and fans of the show as well as those who proclaim “SNL hasn’t been funny for years” come together to enjoy the excellent political parodies that have served to maintain the show’s position in the spotlight of American humor.

The Daily Show continued its election season mockery on Saturday with an online “rumble” between Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and Daily Show host Jon Stewart. This “rumble” ran the gamut from funny to fierce, with O’Reilly’s droll observation: “They advertise on the radio for food stamps!” to Stewart’s pensive reply: “Why is it that if you take advantage of a tax break and you’re a corporation you’re a smart businessman, but if you take advantage of something that you need to not be hungry, you’re a moocher?”

The Daily Show maintains its popularity the same way The O’Reilly Factor does: it caters to a certain audience exclusively — in this case, a younger, more liberal faction of the population. Stewart’s use of humor is delivered as tongue-in-cheek, but the undertone of his jokes is ultimately serious.

The popularity of The Daily Show, which debuted in 1996, is dependent upon a youthful understanding of irony and how this satirical approach can be used as a subtle, clever tool in getting across opinions that would otherwise be polarizing.

For example, when Stewart dubbed Mitt Romney “the Millionaire Gaffemaker” after Romney’s notorious “47 percent” comment, viewers were more likely to put aside their political views in favor of enjoying Stewart’s humor. There will be more mockery of Romney’s shortcomings over the course of this election season, but with Stewart at the helm, viewers can rest assured that this teasing is meant to be funny as opposed to downright cruel.

Come Nov. 6, the humorous well of Democratic and Republican comedy will be narrowed to the elected party. However, this does not mean the laughter will come to an end. When the election is over, the
reigning kings and queens of political folly will have the opportunity to focus on the victorious candidate. The jokes will be more tapered and more refined, allowing for a chance to perfect the political humor of these shows. Should viewers still be watching? In the words of Tina Fey’s impression of Sarah Palin, “You betcha.”

Click a show for its full episode: Colbert Report, SNL, and Bill O' Reilly

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