Comedy and journalism tie the knot – and what it means for all of us

The marriage of comedy and journalism is relatively new. Hold your pitchforks: I don’t mean that satire is, by any means, a new concept. But the melding of the two worlds has confused and beleaguered journalists: the world of the flippant comedian, poking fun at anything and everything, and the world of the stone-faced, grim and objective (or so you are constantly told) journalist.

This unlikely union has managed to carve out a space right in the middle for itself, nestling somewhat comfortably within the confines of mainstream media. More and more, young people especially are looking to this middle ground for news.

Time and time again, we have heard of satirical political shows becoming the beacon of news for young people. A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center pointed out that 39 per cent of the Daily Show’s regular viewers were under 30. People under 30 make up only 23 per cent of the public.

Many news stories questioned where “young liberals” would get their news after Jon Stewart’s surprise retirement. The more important question is this: why are people looking to comedy shows for news?

This hybrid often falls under the category of satire, an ancient form of expression that seeks to speak truth to power. It pokes, prods and needles an authority figure, all the while aiming for laughs at the figurehead’s expense.

Sophia McClennen, a professor of Comparative Literature and International Affair at Penn State University, has written many books about satire. They include Is Satire Saving Our Nation? Mockery and American Politics with Remy Maisel, published in 2014.

“We don’t have any evidence of cave dwellings, or at least I don’t, but I’m sure there are cave paintings that are satirical,” says McClennen. “Because that’s what human beings do when someone who has power over them is acting like an idiot – that’s what human beings have always done.”

Laughs based in research

This kneejerk reaction to abuse of power is now anchored in investigative research. It has, somewhat unwillingly, becomes the palatable news source that young’uns have apparently been thirsting for.

Continue reading this story on the University of King’s College’s The Signal, where it was originally published.