A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Senate

The Boston Globe takes a look at the comedy sprouting from Scott Brown’s improbably election to the Senate last month. In doing so, they consult the editors of our book, Satire TV.

Jonathan Gray, coauthor of the book, “Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era,’’ said Brown should see his presence in comedy routines as a badge of honor. “At one level, it means he’s arrived,’’ Gray said. “Once you’re being satirized, you’re clearly seen to matter.’’

And Gray’s coauthor, Old Dominion University communications professor Jeffrey P. Jones, said comedians play an important role shaping public perceptions of politicians, especially those who are not well known.

“Comedians, in this day and age, with someone we don’t know a lot about, get to play a large role in writing that person for the public imagination,’’ Jones said.

“To those of us in Virginia and in Texas, what we know about him is being shaped by this third voice, and we’ll see if he’s able to overcome that over time,’’ he said.

Why We Can’t Get Enough of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher

An excerpt from Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era, edited by Jonathan Gray, Jeffrey P. Jones, and Ethan Thompson. Go to Alternet to read the full article.

With All Due Respect: Satirizing Presidents from Saturday Night Live to Lil’ Bush
by Jeffrey P. Jones

Embodying his on-screen persona as a conservative talk show host, faux television pundit Stephen Colbert offered a mouth-dropping satirical performance as the featured speaker at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2006. As is typical in his television parodies on Comedy Central, Colbert proceeded to lambaste both the press and the president, neither of whom seemed to appreciate the effort. Not to make the same mistake twice, the organizers of the 2007 event took a safer route by hiring the crowd-pleasing presidential impersonator Rich Little for the evening’s entertainment. But in reviving the long-since flagged career of the former late-night talk show staple, the event organizers reminded us of just how far television has come in its caricatures of presidents. For also appearing that same week on Comedy Central was the animated series, Lil’ Bush, a portrayal of George W. Bush as a dim-witted and dangerous fifth-grader running amok in the White House and wreaking havoc across the world with his diabolical pals Lil’ Cheney, Lil’ Condi, and Lil’ Rummy. The airing of these two different sets of caricatures demonstrated that the acceptable norms of television’s treatment of the president have certainly changed.

Yet this was not the first time that Comedy Central had produced an entire series dedicated to satirizing President Bush. Beginning in April 2001, the network aired a short-lived series called That’s My Bush!, a show with the announced intention of spoofing the sitcom genre, but also satirizing the current president and his family and staff in the process. In the series, George W. Bush and Laura Bush are portrayed as the typical suburban sitcom couple, yet George is also painted as a simple-minded, lazy, privileged, and easily distracted man. The show’s writers and producers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame, had planned to produce the program irrespective of which presidential candidate won the 2000 election (Bush or Al Gore). But with Bush emerging victorious in the contested election, he became the focus of the show. In turn, the series became the first bold move by the network in satirizing a sitting president in a not-so-flattering manner.

Read More.

How Satire Became Reality (Hint: Jon Stewart, Tina Fey)

The State of Satire, and the Satire of State
By Jonathan Gray, Jeffrey P. Jones, and Ethan Thompson, editors of
Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era

The recent announcement that Peabody Awards have gone to Saturday Night Live for Tina Fey’s brilliant Sarah Palin impressions, and to The Onion News Network (see below) continues a long line of recent victories by satirical programming. South Park, The Simpsons, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and The Colbert Report have all won in past years too.

Old, Grizzled Third-Party Candidate May Steal Support From McCain

Satire TV has quickly become one of the go-to genres for meaningful, thoughtful commentary on all things political, especially to younger generations who have largely been abandoned by regular news’ constant quest to lasso the grumpy old white man demographic. Satire TV often presents itself in a refreshingly vernacular approach.

With the rise of Satire TV, it has become in vogue to see Satire TV as only so much posturing and noise. And yet recent events should give us pause before attacking Satire TV as ineffective: Sarah Palin’s candidacy was undoubtedly savaged by Tina Fey’s impressions, Jon Stewart single-handedly killed CNN’s Crossfire (and may live to kill Rick Santelli, Jim Cramer and CNBC), Stephen Colbert’s White House Press Correspondents Dinner speech offered President George W. Bush some of his only direct dissent (not counting shoe projectiles), and throughout the recent presidential election campaign, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report frequently scooped network and cable news, offering an interview with the current mayor of Wasilla regarding the office’s responsibilities (fast forward to 1.45 in the clip below), for instance, or a lone interview with the actual Socialist Party’s candidate for President when, in the campaign’s closing days, Obama was being labeled a Socialist.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
Understanding Real America in Wasilla
Daily Show Full Episodes Economic Crisis Political Humor

It has also become in vogue to bemoan a world in which young people supposedly get their news “only” from The Daily Show, resulting in a nation of supposedly stupid youth who think they know more than they do, and who are cynically dispossessed of any resolve to change the world. Numerous surveys have questioned such beliefs, however, suggesting, for example, that Daily Show and Colbert Report viewers are more politically knowledgeable than viewers of almost any other news source.

But the effects, power, and workings of Satire TV are more complex than many popular accounts allow, or than many surveys can uncover. With this in mind, we assembled a collection of original essays about various aspects and faces of Satire TV, written by an outstanding group of cultural, media, political, and rhetorical analysts: Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era.