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How comedy in the Trump era is complicit in administration's rise and rhetoric

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THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0534 -- Pictured: (l-r) Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on September 15, 2016 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)


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NOVEMBER 07, 2017

Since Jimmy Fallon tousled Donald Trump’s hair on television, the question of the role of comedy in the election has been contentious. The role of comedy in politics (and more importantly, the influence of comedy over politics) is not new.

Politics are a product of a society, and comedy (especially satire) is often one of the clearest indicators of the state of society.

In an interview in October 2015, John Oliver shared his thoughts on Trump coverage by late night correspondents, saying he “could not give less of a shit.” Stephen Colbert (the interviewer) cracked a joke about Trump’s hair later on. And here, arguably, is the first hint of what was ultimately the great failure in Trump’s coverage.

Trump was a joke — an incredibly popular one.

He’s an easy punchline. He is a ridiculous-looking man. He lacks basic vocabulary. Most importantly, he is a celebrity who became a celebrity by making a big deal over how much of a celebrity he is.

It feels like we have been hearing about him forever because we have. From the first moment of his grandiose descent on the escalator to announce his candidacy, the punchline was set — look at this man, who would give him the time of day?

Except that is exactly what happened: He was given the time of day.

Did comedians’ obsession with Trump cause him to be elected? Maybe partially, but it was not the driving force.

Trump mocking a differently abled reporter was not enough to change people’s perspective. Getting a rousing laugh out of Billy Bush in response to promoting what is literally sexual assault was not enough. The unfortunate, hard truth is that Trump is an embodiment of things that have existed and festered in America since its founding. Much of the response post-election was, “How could this happen?” When faced with this question we have to admit that the dye had been cast and the board set long before Nov. 8.

That being said, comedians are not entirely free of blame.

Yes, a literal caricature runs this country and fodder for jokes is plentiful, but just because a joke is easy does not mean it is best. This is not a joke. Laughter and comedy in times like these are important to remind us of how absurd these people are. But that realization should lead to action — it should not lead to the feeling that we’re sharing an inside joke before all going back to our separate lives, where we know things are wrong and hope someone else will fix them.

Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of Sean Spicer was hilarious and ridiculous — the decision to bring out the actual Spicer at the 2017 Emmys was anything but.

Let’s do a quick recap of the terrible things Spicer did as press secretary. Spicer supported so many of Trump’s lies that there is legitimately not enough space to list them all, so here are a few: Millions illegally voted in the election (not true), Trump’s inauguration audience was the largest in history (false) and Trump recorded his meetings with Comey (he didn’t).

Spicer was also capable of saying his own terrible and untrue things — for example, that Adolf Hitler was not as bad as Bashar al-Assad because Hitler “didn’t sink to using chemical weapons” (this is so incredibly, unbelievably false and disgusting).

Then, Spicer was ousted as press secretary. He was offered a role on “Dancing with the Stars.” Colbert had the idea to bring him out onto the Emmys stage to a round of laughter and applause. Celebrities posed for photos with him. James Corden kissed him on the cheek. The role of the press secretary is absolutely vital, and a press secretary that actively lies and pushes propaganda should be very worrying.

Spicer is an adult man, if he wants his image redeemed, he should consider trying to be an actual semi-decent, humane person. For now, as Jason Isaacs so eloquently said, he’s a “giant festering abscess” — and he will remain so no matter how many jokes are made.

For better or worse, late night correspondents are the main source of news for much of a certain demographic. Jimmy Kimmel’s monologues about health care and the Las Vegas shooting made headlines and, in the case of health care, led to huge push backs against the congressman he named.

Comedians and satirists drive the conversation points of our society, and right now, the most important point was best expressed by Oliver in his first post-election show: “A Klan-backed misogynist internet troll is going to be delivering the next State of the Union address. And that is not normal. It is fucked up.”

Contact Danielle Hilborn at [email protected].

NOVEMBER 07, 2017

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