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Jon Stewart and a question of 'Sanity': why a comedian is now liberals' No. 1 hero

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As election polls have made clear, “outsiders” have a distinct advantage over establishment “insiders,” making figures like Stewart, who is more beholden to a punch line than a party line, appealing and trustworthy. Stewart also wields a powerful, if underestimated political weapon: comedy.

Comedy is “actually the voice of democracy,” says The New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff. Humor “tells us something’s fishy.”

Humor's three distinct advantages

The humorous approach to politics has three distinct advantages over playing it straight.

The first is that comedy can entice a disengaged audience to partake in a political debate. Stewart’s nightly diatribes against Fox News draw nearly twice as many viewers as MSNBC pundit Keith Olbermann, who does the same thing in his signature monotone.

Second, political humor can hide behind a veneer of entertainment to deflect criticism. Much like the Shakespearian fool, modern-day comics are free to speak common-sense truths under the guise of foolishness. “That, of course, is the great secret of the successful fool – that he is no fool at all,” Isaac Asimov wrote in “Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare.”

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