Home2017-2018The political division of late night comedy

The political division of late night comedy

By Joe Linebarger
Contributor

It’s no big secret that today’s late night comedy shows have a left-wing bias. The liberal domination of show business has existed for some time, but it’s more evident than ever since comedy shows have drifted from being entertainment for general audiences to being hyper-political and clearly one-sided. Some of the increased focus on politics in comedy can be attributed to the influence of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. Prominent hosts Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee and John Oliver have all worked for Jon Stewart. His influence has rubbed off on them as well as the late night comedy business overall, for better or worse.

However, some of the political focus in comedy may be a symptom of politics becoming more sensational and divisive. With scrutinizing media coverage, people are more aware of political matters while their relationships to friends, family and co-workers are impacted by the growing political divide and the inability to see the other side as reasonable. Politics plays a larger role in people’s lives than it has in previous years so it’s not unthinkable that it should play a bigger role in comedy as well. The pressures of this phenomenon are even reaching late night comedians who are not typically political.

Jimmy Kimmel was compelled to take a stand against the repeal of the Obamacare after his son was born with a heart condition, and more recently he advocated for stricter gun regulation after the Las Vegas shooting. This of course, alienated many conservatives from Kimmel’s show once he used his platform a political agenda. Kimmel has claimed to be no one’s moral arbiter, asserting that if people didn’t like what he had to say, they don’t have to watch. In addition to Kimmel, other shows are leaving behind general audiences for more opportunity to speak their mind politically. Given the left-wing nature of most show hosts, this naturally creates a predominantly left-wing audience.

Late night hosts seem comfortable with having politically homogenized audiences, and they are discovering a niche in political discord. Hosts like Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers thrive by being very critical of the Trump administration while  being supportive of Democratic policies. By making strong left-wing political stands, they may alienate conservatives from their shows, but they effectively rally liberals and progressives who are hungry for ideological affirmation in a time of deep political division. As mainstream comedy shows go further left, right-wingers are finding solace in their own outlets of political insight. The power of Youtube has mediated the one-sidedness of political entertainment on TV by giving rise to a diverse range of online political content creators, popular on the right and left.

The freedom to consume whatever show or podcast that best aligns with your views is satisfying and affirms your ideological position. However, with politically decentralized media it is difficult to make a common appeal. The influence of a late night show’s message or a Youtube creator’s commentary is often limited to its audience. Therefore, they may carry weight on the left or the right, but it’s unlikely a message intended for a specific audience will span across the current political divide.

Despite being mainstream programming, late night comedy shows are increasingly being seen as a left-wing platform, not intended for all audiences. Right-wingers have little reason to watch shows like Saturday Night Live, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Late Night with Seth Meyers or The Late Show with Stephen Colbert because the jokes weren’t written for them. Late night shows losing right-wing audiences is a symptom of the political divide between left and right, between show hosts and general audiences, between big coastal cities and middle America.

As individuals, we are lucky to choose shows that align with our ideals. However, as a society we are losing something that once had value. The common ground on which we all could stand is rapidly decaying. The divergence of opinions, values and sources of information amongst the population has made it difficult to locate the center of commonality. The surge of political material in comedy shows is merely a symptom of an overarching phenomenon. I’m not saying that people can’t enjoy these shows, but don’t expect a host’s opinion to matter to anyone who thinks differently than they.

 

jrlinebarger@willamette.edu

 

Read another opinion on politics and comedy from this issue here.

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