Chelsea Handler, Seth Meyers, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel. The list goes on and on. These aforementioned people are all wildly successful, make gobs of money, and have a massive influence on the public’s perception and knowledge of politics. For those of you who live under a rock, they also happen to be late night comedians.
In our post-November world, we have seen a huge upshot in politically active comedians. Many lefties are angry and terrified about the world they see today and see late night comedy as an escapist realm where they can shut off their minds for an hour and laugh. Instead of hardcore news-hour, they want someone to make them laugh at a situation rather than rage or cry.
For example, Jimmy Fallon is a notoriously middle-of-the-road guy, more of a song and dance man than a political personality. Pre-November 2016, he was at the top of the charts of late night comedy. But now on the other side of November, according to Nielsen data from May 25 to August 13, Fallon is down about eighteen percent in total viewers. On the other hand, from the same matrix, Stephen Colbert’s audience has grown about six percent in total viewers. I believe those statistics can be accounted for by one simple fact: Colbert is not afraid to engage. He picks a side of the political spectrum and sticks to it, poking fun at leaders from all over the world and in all levels of the American administration. It may not be too bold to say that President Trump’s election helped revive, if not resurrect, comedians such as Colbert.
Chelsea Handler is another such example. Moving her talk show to Netflix for its second season, airing her show on the internet juggernaut allows this comedian some more freedom than regular network would. Handler openly criticizes the agendas of the current administration and invites prominent guests on her show to express their opinions. In a Skype interview on April 20, 2017 I got a firsthand look of what this comedian is like when the cameras aren’t live. Handler vehemently emphasized that “[it’s] really important to be political during this time. If you have a voice I feel like it’s really important to use it.” A person like Handler (or Bee or Kimmel) is privileged to have a platform from which they can have their opinions reach thousands if not millions of people.
It is also important to remember that while people in positions like Handler’s are smart and know their stuff, they are still comedians. Going back to the days of the court jester, a comedian’s job is simple: illuminate the truth by being able to laugh at yourself and your world. Handler notes, “I can be a mess, and that’s the beauty with being a comedian.” There is almost an allure to the slightly crazed life she lives because it seems so distant from many others’. Handler further remarks, “[f]irst and foremost, I’m a comic and want everything to be funny and easily digestible.” The hard issues seem less daunting when people poke holes in the plot and makes you think just for a second at the utter ridiculousness of a statement. It allows people to take a step back and remind themselves that the world is not (completely) spiraling down into a pit of deep, dark despair.
But in addition to being flamboyant and funny, Handler always brings an underlying somberness to the situations that warrant it. Living in present day America, we always have to remember people who came before us, the people who trail blazed first. Handler notes, “You have to constantly keep fighting for the rights that other people left for us.” Our reality does not exist in a vacuum, we are a result of the past. We owe it to Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., Ida B Wells, and countless others to keep on fighting for what we know as right.
Handler, Kimmel, Meyers, Colbert, Bee, Oliver. These people are so monumentally important because they can get the message out to the world. Turning on the TV, viewers watch political comedians and come away with the knowledge that everyone is not content with the new status quo.