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The Jay Leno Show and the rise of political humor

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Or, if you need a third example of the ubiquity of satire today, consider the evolution of comedians entertaining US troops. As part of his USO tour in 1968, Bob Hope performed at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, accompanied by singer/dancer/heartthrob Ann-Margret, Miss World Penelope Plummer, and the Golddigger Dancers in miniskirts.

Mr. Hope didn't veer much into the politics of the war, in part because he was an ardent supporter of it. But even if his stance would have been different, the war was not a topic you broached blithely at the time: Don't forget that CBS canceled "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" in the late 1960s – when it was the No. 1 show on television – largely for being too critical of Vietnam.

Contrast that with Mr. Colbert's recent trip to Iraq. The war was almost his entire shtick. At one point, he interviewed Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Saleh, onstage. "Bob Hope's material stayed far away from the realities of the Vietnam War," says Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York. "But Stephen Colbert kept it onstage at all times."

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