We all know Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart (and Co.?) are funny guys. (“Way to start a PopWatch post on a strong, totally groundbreaking note, Sandra,” I can hear you saying.) But stay with me here.
As the stench of the election-season shenanigans begins assaulting our senses once again, it is often the quips and bold actions of these two men that get me through the season. And this is coming from someone who considers herself largely non-political – a spineless, “everyone has a good point” middle-roader who would sooner rip my tongue out than get in the middle of two people of opposite views battling at the dinner table. (And yes, this attitude stems from deeper childhood trauma, in case you’re wondering. I digress.)
But as much as I’ve enjoyed the comedy to be had from political proceedings, recent events are leading me to wonder: When does a comedian get too involved in politics? When are laughs no longer the goal?
Exhibit A: Yesterday, Florida Governor Rick Scott was asked by a Daily Show correspondent whether he’d be “willing to pee into [a] cup to prove to Florida taxpayers you’re not on drugs.” Scott, who is in favor of drug testing for state employees and welfare applicants, seemed annoyed but responded quickly, “I’ve done it plenty of times.” The correspondent, actor and comedian Aasif Mandvi, then told Scott the room would “turn around” to give him privacy. Funny – but as a journalist who formerly spent some time running around The Hill, I can’t help but think it felt a tad inappropriate. Am I wrong in feeling that there is a time and place for comedy/satire and a time for more important matters? I’m aware that sounds like your mother’s argument – “there’s a time and place for Tom Foolery!” But the fact is, Scott was at said press conference to talk about a state budget for next year that would boost public school spending by $1 billion and significantly cut the money given to hospitals to treat patients in the Medicaid program. Sort of important, don’t you think?
Then there’s Colbert’s recently revealed negotiations with South Carolina’s GOP that would have given him “naming rights” to the state’s upcoming Republican party contest in exchange for a large donation that would help fund their upcoming presidential primary. (His suggestion? “The Colbert Nation Super PAC Presidential Primary”) They, naturally, rejected his proposal but went back to the drawing board, and again, in exchange for money, said they’d let him add a question to the 2012 primary ballot. His proposed question asked whether voters in the state believe “corporations are people” or “only people are people.” (A nod to Mitt Romney’s “corporations are people” statement last summer, no doubt.) It was again rejected, but the mere idea of the state’s GOP party inviting Colbert’s involvement prompted negative responses aplenty, many saying it made a mockery of the process. “Oh, you curmudgeons,” others responded. But to the curmudgeons have a point?
Like I said, these stunts by both The Daily Show and Colbert are nothing new. (Colbert himself tried to get on the ballot last election and recently announced he’d host a Republican debate in South Carolina.) But when you consider the seriousness of the issues that face governments on every level, is there a line that these comedians/social commentators have to acknowledge? At some point, do they have to realize that they’re not doing their job (which is to entertain, as I see it) but instead impeding the process? Or have they re-defined their purpose so much (because, let’s face it, they’re much more than comedians at this point) that this kind of behavior is permissible?
I invite all your thoughts, PopWatchers. But let’s try to keep this is a place of mature discussion. Deal?