The Real Deal
Evidently someone agrees with me.
Ever since Stephen Colbert retired his pundit persona and went over to host “The Late Show” on CBS and Jon Stewart passed his job as host of “The Daily Show” to Trevor Noah, we have all wondered who would step up to fill the void.
Stewart and Colbert were arguably the two most important political comedians in our nation’s history. They played a crucial role in helping the U.S. public navigate the post-9/11 meltdown when bluster and hype took over for reason and logic. They offered sharp satire in the face of stupidity and evil.
So we all had reason to worry when they left us as we entered into the current presidential race—a race that continues to astonish and continues to demand the satirical insights of irony, wit, parody and puns. That was at least until Samantha Bee entered the fray. Her new TBS show “Full Frontal” promises to offer the exact sort of political comedy this electoral race demands.
Sure, Colbert has not abandoned his role as a political satirist, offering weekly interventions that are both funny and sharp. And sure we still have “The Daily Show,” but with Trevor Noah at the helm, the best segments have come from the show’s correspondents. And then there’s John Oliver, whose “Last Week Tonight” continues to offer fresh and insightful political comedy.
The finest TV satire thus far this electoral season has come from Larry Wilmore on “The Nightly Show” and Lee Camp on “Redacted Tonight.” They each balance their comedy with well-founded frustration at the political circus and the media spectacle that feeds off of it.
While Wilmore brings much-needed attention to identity politics and Camp underscores the ties between capitalist greed and the U.S. political oligarchy, it is Bee who is offering the edgy, angry, smart satire that is the perfect foil to this election. Bee’s comedy trades in a sharp use of language and a refusal to let the prevailing mainstream narratives hold sway.
Her irony is like a dagger that jabs right into the exact spot we need it most. On her first show she began: “People, I have to be honest with you. We wrote like two hours of jokes about Democrats but we had to throw them all out because then the Republicans laid out a banquet of all-you-can-eat crazy.” The thing is, that sort of statement has been said by plenty of folks –comedians and otherwise. But Bee’s delivery had the right ironic, snarky tone to jolt an audience that had likely become numbed to our political reality.
I’m sorry Bluegrass denizens, that really says it all in two words.
The New Guy
Since Jon Stewart left “The Daily Show,” inheritor Trevor Noah has been both welcomed and criticized. He’s either refreshing or a disappointment, a letdown after Stewart’s edgy reign or just what the show needs to move into the future. Some observers were willing to give Noah some time to settle in: He’s from South Africa, and was bound to take a while to develop a feel for American politics. A new show is scary, and he deserved the chance to get a little seasoning.
Last week’s episodes made something pretty clear: Noah still has some of the best writers in the business. And he’s funny and smart and likable. But despite six months on the job, he’s not growing much.
Noah’s most frustrating quality is that he leans toward being silly – whether pushing a joke too far or laughing at his own lines – in a way that undercuts the seriousness of “The Daily Show’s” main subject, which, at this point, is an election with real consequences. This is, of course, political comedy, and it’s got to balance light with heavy. It can’t be all somber lectures and gloomy analysis. Noah can’t be earnest.
But with “Daily Show” alum John Oliver delivering 20-minute riffs on subjects that should be dull – refugees, tobacco companies — that somehow manage to keep us laughing and thinking at the same time, the bar is being set pretty high these days. Throw in Larry Wilmore, Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee consistently offering dryer, sharper and less self-regarding comedy that Noah, and he’s starting to seem like someone who won’t outgrow his lightweight style.
It’s not that he’s bad. But when correspondents Hasan Minhaj, Roy Wood Jr. and Jordan Klepper are often more pointed, by showing how the same writers’ words can be delivered with more restraint, something’s off.
Third Month Mania
Trevor’s guests this week are-
Larry’s panelists this week are-
- Monday 3/21: Scott Aukerman
- Tuesday 3/22: Jenn McAllister
- Wednesday 3/23: Anthony Hamilton
- Thursday 3/24: Neal Brennan
Stephen is on vacation.