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The Jay Leno Show and the rise of political humor

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"It's being normalized, bringing not just punch lines or gags, but true political satire into the mainstream of American comedy," says John Morreall, a humor expert at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

Behind the shift is a combination of timing, talent, and technology. Experts attribute the rise to the emergence of some gifted comedians (led by political satirists Mr. Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher), alongside an administration that Hollywood considered ripe for skewering (Bush/Cheney), coinciding with a younger generation that is turning away from newspapers to comedians for news.

At the same time, broadband has given the masses the ability to swap their favorite video clips of everything from late-night monologues to local comedy acts. This has fueled the rapid expansion of Internet comedy sites such as YouTube and FunnyOrDie.com and a hunger for immediacy. The 24-hour news cycle provides the perfect pantry from which to feed this voracious appetite.

"Modern America can't escape the news – it's even on a digital readout while you're standing in line at the bank," says Nina Tassler, head of programming at CBS. "It's only natural that entertainment would reflect and comment on that."

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