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We used to listen to politicians and laugh at comedians...now what?




Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump references fellow candidate Jeb Bush at a Pearl Harbor Day Rally at the U.S.S. Yorktown December 7, 2015, in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump references fellow candidate Jeb Bush at a Pearl Harbor Day Rally at the U.S.S. Yorktown December 7, 2015, in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

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Presidential elections offer prime material for comedians and satirists who try to sprinkle a little truth-based humor among the sea of political seriousness.

Whether it’s an outlandish statement, a political gaffe made during a stump speech, or an awkward interaction with a reporter or show host, candidates on both sides of the aisle have always been regularly skewered on late night talk shows and political satire programs.

This year, however, there is a marked decrease in the amount of attention comedy and satire programs are paying to the 2016 election.

John Oliver, Host of HBO’s ‘Last Week Tonight,’ has said he has no interest in covering the 2016 election until 2016. In the past, Comedy Central’s ‘The Daily Show’ and ‘The Colbert Report’ have been the beacons of satirical reporting when it comes to presidential elections, but that coverage has decreased with the respective departures of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who built much of their careers off of subtly lambasting presidential candidates when they did or said something truly ridiculous.

Stewart has moved on to filmmaking while Colbert is still hosting television, but even he isn’t able to cover elections the way he could when ‘The Colbert Report’ gave him the platform to be the character Stephen Colbert instead of the actual person Stephen Colbert that he has to be on ‘The Late Show.’ And with some of the characters in the 2016 election, some might wonder if there’s even a need for comedic reporting on politics when the candidates themselves start to seem like comedians.

When did we start laughing at politicians and start listening to comedians when it comes to politics? Is that even a fair assessment of where political comedy is right now? What roles do humor and satire play in covering a presidential election? In covering politics in general?

Guest:

Kliph Nesteroff, comedy historian and author of “The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy” (Grove Press, 2015).