Set Up, Punch:
How Satirical Comedy Connects with Audiences and Influences Popular Culture
In order to understand the world around them people often look to others to interpret it for them. In our culture today, comedians serve as analysts of societal trends and current events. As Paul Sturges of Loughbourough University states comedy, “begins with personal reflections on the oddities and anomalies of life in which any individual indulges, but it takes on a broader, and even universal, significance when a writer, performer or visual artist structures that reflection into a comic form.”(2) In modern media, comedy, in its many forms, utilizes this model to interpret current events and ...view middle of the document...
Stewart takes a more subtle approach to interpreting news, and the news media, employing sarcasm and one liners to poke at the audience’s funny bone, while also forcing them to reflect upon the news being presented. The two shows, though very different, both claim to make an effort to be “political without being partisan” ( Poniewozik, 92).
The popularity of The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report are undeniable. A recent study conducted by The Pew Research Centre concluded that in the United States, “21% of 18-29 year olds regularly turn to satirical public affairs television to obtain information about presidential politics” (Holbert et al. 20). With such a huge influence on an important demographic, the question is; how do these shows use comedy to engage people in current events?
The Daily Show and The Colbert Report utilise their influence to criticise not only politics and politicians, but also the media. They do so in a conscious effort to encourage the audience to question the political landscape and to persuade journalists to hold themselves to “higher standards than chasing ratings” ( Poniewozik, 92) These types of programs serve as media watchdogs, holding the media accountable for its actions. In this respect comedy can be seen as a way that audiences gain a different perspective on the world around them, but also a way for the news media to be held accountable for the biases they present and the tactics they employ to reach more viewers. This provokes people to demand a higher quality of content from the media and provides them with some of the tools to properly assess what they consume (Friend, 34).
However, as the media landscape changes so too does the way that satire influences people. In the days of Walter Cronkite and Johnny Carson, comedy’s influence on society was only measured by large viewing numbers. However, even though the days of large audiences are mostly in the past, the influence held by satirical shows such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report hold stems from a “limited, deeply interested fan base” (Poniewozik, 93). However, this small, young, fan base proves to be, as confirmed by a Pew Research poll, “more knowledgeable about the news than any other major audience is” (Poniewozik, 93). This is due to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report’s ability to draw people who consider themselves political outsiders into consuming political media. By drawing these people who feel alienated by politics into the political discourse, they become more engaged in pursuing a greater depth of knowledge with regard to politics.
A study conducted by the Journal of Broadcasting and electronic media, found that those who watched an episode of The Daily Show prior to watching the CNN coverage of the same day retained more interest in the news than those who did not. This exemplifies that comedy’s ability to adapt to ever changing society and to hold a lasting impression its consumers make it a strong force in shaping...