We should always remember that all things that we find humourous is to someone’s or something’s detriment. With that reminder, I’m very interested to see how comedy is being used in current US politics. I admit that I do not watch Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert regularly, though when I do they usually make me laugh at the way they poke fun at many political standard bearers. So, it’s dangerous water to wade in for a politician when he or she accepts an invitation to be on a show with a comedian. We have to remember, too, that humour can often make unpalatable things seem more acceptable, so the comedian–whether as satirist or straight funny person–may be hitting hard but we are so busy laughing that we miss that, at least initially. I heard President Obama talking with Jon Stewart last night, and while I understand the attempt to be more visible with a certain audience, I wonder if it will be another moment comes back to haunt. “Is the president really engaging serious issues when on a comedy show?”, some will ask. “Is he trying to distract from the real issues?”
I think that the president, along with many politicians, has his funny side, and it’s good to seek it being teased out during a show, though I prefer to see it exposed by something spontaneous, such as his dog shredding his briefing book, and his trying to grasp the pooch as it prances across the White House lawn, suggesting ‘now you have it, now you don’t’. Why do we never see the president trip over a piece of unruly White House carpet? He can poke fun at himself, which is a healthy reminder that he is just like most of us. But can we poke fun at him with equal ease? There’s a fine line between good, funny criticism, and irreverence. I think comedians such as Jon Stewart get it about right. Others will differ, especially after Mr. Stewart referred to the president as “dude”. I would be more convinced that he was really being irreverant if I saw him pull out a rubber chicken and flail the president with it. If the president had agreed to be on Monty Python or Saturday Night Live, he could easily have ended up in such a situation.
Will any of this change people’s minds about policies, or about the person? Come the midterm elections the jokes will really start to bite.