Grilli: Political comedy shows are leaning too far left without telling enough jokes


For at least the last decade and a half, the genre of explicitly-political late night comedy show has gained increasing prominence. Jon Stewart and Bill Maher seemed to have been some of the earliest comedians to host political talk shows with a satirical twist. Since then, a half dozen shows have cropped up to try to duplicate their success.

Trevor Noah replaced Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show,” and Stephen Colbert rose at Comedy Central to the heights of being promoted to replace David Letterman on CBS. “Daily Show” spin-offs were picked up by TBS, Comedy Central, and HBO with Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal,” the short-lived “Nightly Show” hosted by Larry Wilmore, and John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight,” respectively. Bill Maher has abided this entire course of time moving from “Politically Incorrect,” which began on Comedy Central and moved to ABC; then after Maher called the 9/11 terrorists “warriors,” his show was taken to HBO where the name changed to “Real Time.”

If you are beginning to see a thread running through all of these hosts, that would not surprise me. They’re all of the left. Why is that?

While scrolling through YouTube or any given social media site, it is not difficult to find a clip of any one of the aforementioned names putting forth the usual talking points of the left. Usually, the title of such a clip will have a title like “John Oliver DESTROYS…” “Samantha Bee OBLITERATES…” The evocation of such hyperbolic language is not foreign to the internet but when watching these clips it only takes someone a few seconds to realize that any one of them has very little to do with comedy and very much to do with explicit tendentiousness.

This of course leads to actual political conversation, which is great. But said comedians will usually hide behind their clown nose. When faced with genuine argument to the contrary of the view they put forth, comedians of the political bent will usually say something like—and Jon Stewart was particularly guilty of this—“but I’m just a comedian. I’m not a real journalist. Of course I have some facts wrong.” This seems disingenuous to me, which is disappointing having been a fan of several of these shows in the past; in fact, I saw Jon Stewart’s show live once. The solution I think comes in the way of balancing the playing field. I think it’s time the cable networks hire a conservative or two to keep in discourse with comedians of the other side. Indeed, it surprises me that nothing of this sort has already taken place.

Surely it has nothing to do with a concern regarding a dearth in ratings. According to the Alexa Global Traffic Ranking, conservative-leaning websites make up four out of the top five in terms of traffic with The Blaze, Drudge Report, and NewsMax coming in at 2-4, respectively (The Huffington Post was ranked first). Fox News consistently outperforms the ratings of its competitors CNN and MSNBC.

In light of this information, one could logically assume there is at least an audience for a conservative-leaning comedy show to rival the hosts on the left. Perhaps there are no conservatives funny enough to clear the high benchmark of hosting and maintaining a political satire show. I find this hard to believe as there are litanies of internet personalities who garner hundreds of thousands of views every day doing conservative political satire or interviews. With the saturation of these shows from one side, it seems like the right time to include one from another viewpoint. Without competition from the other side, these shows have grown stale and, honestly, belligerent. Occasionally the hosts, especially Samantha Bee, will let the veil slip a little too far and go on a genuine tirade replete with expletives and without even the slightest hint of a joke.

The introduction of competition could breathe new life into this genre of television, keeping them fresh and funny while simultaneously providing an outlet for comedic discourse without taking the argument into the realm of genuine policy discussion. The rapid cancellation of Larry Wilmore’s show should serve as a warning to network and host alike: it’s time for a change.

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