In the Watergate movie All the President's Men, informant "Deep Throat" advises investigative reporters to "follow the money." But as contemporary scandals ensnare the White House, another insider might counsel: "Follow the funny."
"Comedians can say things journalists can't say now," says Palestinian American comic Dean Obeidallah. "They cut right to the chase, tell you what's going on--and make you laugh about it."
Obeidallah, who hosts a daily three-hour radio program on SiriusXM Progress and is a commentator for various news outlets, wrote a piece on this topic for CNN. "In the age of Donald Trump, it's not the Democrats leading the opposition--it's the comedians....[They] are now the ones with a 'bully pulpit' to raise issues in ways that dominate our social media feeds and impact the larger political conversation."
Radio host Stephanie Miller proclaims, "Now every comedian is pressed into service. Whether it's Saturday Night Live, SNL's Kate McKinnon, Stephen Colbert, or Samantha Bee, comedians really are leading the resistance, because they're speaking truth to power."
Why are comics in the anti-Trump vanguard? Freud wrote that "humor is not resigned; it is rebellious." That's why conservative comedy rarely succeeds--there's nothing funny about defending the status quo and picking on the powerless--while deflating authority figures is usually funny.
"People really need comedy, it's empowering, it's helping people to not feel afraid," insists Miller, whose daily three-hour drive-time show is available on terrestrial stations, SiriusXM Progress, Free Speech TV, and podcasts.
Bassem Youssef--fans call him "Jon Stewart of Egypt"--expresses similar sentiments. "I came from a country where authority is not just respected, it's feared." Youssef tells The Progressive. "Comedy takes away that fake respect authoritarian regimes surround themselves with. [It makes it so] people aren't afraid of authority; authority is afraid of them."
"Comedy is a shrinking ray," adds standup Rick Overton, whose credits include Bill Murray's 1993 Groundhog Day, HBO's Veep, and Showtime's I'm Dying Up Here, a drama about standup comedy. "It aims at something that's big and scary and goes 'zap.' Every time it hits it, the target gets a little smaller."
Mirth and mockery can boost morale. It can right wrong. It can even, perhaps, bring down a bully like Donald Trump.
Throughout history--as far back as the Greek and Roman playwrights Aristophanes and Plautus--humorists have played the unique role of speaking jokes to power. Europe's medieval court jesters had South Pacific counterparts called fale aitu (house of spirits) in Samoa, who performed social critiques disguised as comic antics.
"Shakespeare used the fool as a literary device," observes Obeidallah. "Famously, in King Lear, the fool had the freedom to say things to the king no one else dared to, but he'd say it in jest."
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