Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Truth to power, with dick jokes

I've been watching The Daily Show, on and off, since about 2004.

I'd like to follow it through official channels, but as much as I love Jon Stewart's work I don't think I could justify upgrading our entire TV package to get the Comedy Central sub-channel that airs it in the UK. Can't watch it on the US website either, and the UK site doesn't have entire episodes.

The show was at its peak in the Bush years, with Stephen Colbert's frankly astonishing testicular fortitude when facing interview subjects1. I'm not entirely sure when I stopped watching regularly, but it's only in the last year or so - mostly due to the John Oliver co-hosted Bugle podcast - that I've started putting in the effort to keep on top of it.

I've mentioned before that I find anger amusing, but the kind of directed frustration in the best Daily Show pieces is different. When I lose my temper at something, I wish I had half the righteous fury and elegant expression that Stewart gets to deploy.

That same anger - part rage, part disbelief, part disappointment - is the driving force of all my favourite satire; The Onion's 6 Best Dresses At The Golden Globes is so close to the bone that it couldn't have been anything but the product of frustration with the world.

It's debatable how much of an impact something like satire has in the real world, though; in the UK, Have I Got News For You is probably more noted by politicians than The Daily Show is likely to be in America, mostly by virtue of how many politicians appear on it, but there are regular polls that trumpet the importance of Jon Stewart's output on the way young people in the US get their news. Stewart himself is more trusted as a news source than a lot of "real" new anchors.

It's kind of a shame that a lot of it gets dismissed - even by Stewart himself - as "just comedy", as if telling a joke about something automatically means it's not important any more. The best comedy lowers your defences with a laugh just enough to let the truth get in.

1 I've never been as big a fan of Colbert's spin-off show; I don't think his character works as well in a longer form. But his speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner - a hilarious condemnation of George W. Bush's policies delivered fewer than twenty feet from the man himself - is probably the best example of his style.

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