Vail Daily column: Finding a new face for satire
July 27, 2015
I have always been a fan of comedy and satire.
Growing up with Johnny Carson on TV and George Carlin on vinyl, I was convinced early of humor being the best way to handle all the bad stuff happening in the world.
If a situation was too sad or depressing to see or even think about, squeeze a twist of funny wit in the mix and it suddenly became bearable, at least long enough to perhaps understand it, even if only just a little.
Surrounding myself with funny people helped, like having one of my college roommates turn a creative stand-up act into a 14-year career as the voice of Dale Gribble on "King of the Hill."
I never equated it too much on a political level, but around the turn of the century, and especially by 9/11, I learned the true value of processing ones emotions through humor, and nobody was doing it better at that point than Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show."
Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh ruled the airwaves at the time, but it was Stewart who controlled the eye of the national storm, especially as cable and satellite TV were busy exploding from a few dozen channels to hundreds, along with the advent of broadband Internet.
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He not only found himself as the voice of a new generation, but quickly evolved into a top news source for millions, regardless of age, income or political status, in spite of Stewart's attempts to sell it as "fake news."
Yet the "news" was delivered with enough sophomoric humor and fart jokes to somehow make the satire appear relevant, and before long his caustic wit and biting sarcasm was carrying much more weight than Stewart himself could have ever dreamed.
"I hit a nerve," he said once to his audience back in 2001, not realizing then how his inspirational rants about unconceivable tragedies would help shape critical thinking nationwide.
And although stereotyped as a purely liberal mouthpiece, actual viewers have seen and enjoyed him skewering Obama policies just as often as Bush's, with each side's condemnation enough to make him even more popular and bring in even more viewers.
Spinoffs from his set have brought us Stephen Colbert (Letterman's replacement for "Late Night"), John Oliver ("Last Week Tonight" on HBO), Larry Wilmore ("Nightly Show" on Comedy Central) and of course the acting skills of Steve Carell, Ed Helms, Rob Corddry, Rob Riggle and many others.
Love him or hate him, it is impossible to deny his influence over these last 16 years, his abilities to point out absurd statements and flagrant hypocrisy from politicians four days a week unmatched (Bill Maher's only once a week).
From 9/11 to every election season to the affairs of veterans and the racial issues of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, etc., Stewart has been able to inform and entertain millions of viewers, all the while proving satire can have a major impact on national opinions and, in times of extreme strife, help make the nasty medicine go down a little easier.
With only a handful of shows remaining before his departure on Aug. 6, conservatives and liberals alike need to pay attention — somebody will be taking Stewart's place in the national consciousness, and if it's not Trevor Noah (his replacement on "The Daily Show"), most can only hope he/she will be on their side.
Either way, humor and satire will continue to play a large role on the stage of my life, and hopefully yours as well.
Richard Carnes, of Edwards writes weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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