As the country became more polarized, we undervalued his nonpolitical comedy.
"Jesus, NPR: Can’t you just enjoy something? Does every single aspect of our lives need to be a statement about social justice?"
In case you missed it: https://taibbi.substack.com/p/nprs-brilliant-self-own
This was fantastic, and followed my trajectory almost to a tee. I became obsessed with Jon Stewart in my 20s, to the point where for ten years I would watch it every morning over breakfast. I also loved, for a time, John Oliver and Samantha Bee. Maybe it was the times, maybe it was getting older and realizing the world is complicated, or maybe it was that political comedy became more rigidly partisan post-Daily Show (anyone remember Stewart's frenemy relationship with Bill O'Reilly, or John McCain? Or the numerous Republican politicians he had on?), but I started to reject the shows I once loved. John Oliver was great for a few seasons, but post-Trump he started to feel predictable, righteous, and simplistic. Discovering Conan's podcast was like, "Wow, I can laugh out loud and it's not at some public figure's expense? Who knew?!"
Great article! People love to blame Twitter, and social media more broadly, for political polarization but I’ve long suspected the political comedy shows paved the way.
They were the first in selling confirmation bias to their audience, as indicated in this article as well. Much of their success was due to exactly the same dynamics that are so exaggerated today by social media: they served biased news to the in-group and presented the out-group as stupid or evil, with the thin veneer of comedy being used for plausible deniability.
Excellent! I probably disagree with you on most subjects, but this is so good.
Great read. Thank you. There are at least 18 political-comedy late night shows since 2014 if the Fox News "Gutfeld!" show is included in the mix.
This article accords closely with my view of the regression of comedy in the Trump era, and how many of us fell for it: I was all in for Stewart, and later Colbert, with regrettable dalliances in the Keith Olbermann sphere (His "Special Comment" performance-art segment can rightly be seen in hindsight as a form of comedy). Then John Oliver kind of took over as the perceived savior — everyone I knew agreed. At that time, Vox (before I realized how annoying they are) had that article about how late-night comedians were nailing their reactions to Trump, as though they were magic nonsense detectors that were somehow above scrutiny because they were doing the Lord's work. But by 2017, Oliver began to rest on a single, predictable formula: (1) foment outrage about a topic framed as though there could only be one perspective to it, then having provided sufficient backstory (2) exclaim "Holy shit!" to everyone's delight.
My wife got into Sam Bee for a bit, and I needed the dopamine of it, like Bill Hicks' guy with a toothache who can't stop touching it. Seth Meyers also contributed to the erosion, but he behaved less like an activist and I was on board for his "A Closer Look" segment, and to his credit, he always at least had a smile on his face. Then it all came crashing down in 2017 when I realized in an instant just what unfunny, hack bullshit it all was, of which I would rate Bee the worst scores. Hannah Gadsby was the cherry on top, but it was too late; if she had come out with Nanette 2 years earlier, I might have sat there in sympathetic tears, fully behind the whole stunning-and-brave reaction to it, but when it hit, too many of us were waking up from the fever dream. I like my comedy funny. I'm grateful someone noted this phenomenon about Conan, it needed to be recognized. God bless his cotton socks.
I miss Colin Quinn’s Tough Crowd, a decidedly non-political show where comedians addressed current events and skewered any partisan malarkey by anyone on the panel.
Nice. I never watched anybody after Johnny Carson, so I can't comment on O'brien's humor, but I share your attitude as you described it. (And I hope you left Oliver before his contemptible take on the recent Israel/Gaza fighting.)