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The Day Comedians became News Anchors

Comediens
By martin.frenette

That would be November 8th 2016, when Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Up until then, journalists and news anchors would inform while comedians provided laughter. Each had a role with specific duties. A few weeks into this new presidency however, as American audiences started complaining about late-night shows constantly joking about the President and stand-up comedians focused on the hilarity in the White House, lines were blurred.

As comedians started regularly including politics in their monologues, these late night hosts evolved into news anchors and comedians began to play an important part in how the population sees and learns about their government. Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, and Seth Meyers gained new popularity heights by pushing audiences to reflect on what they were told, and to look twice at the news before forming an opinion. Those “clowns” showed that they could entertain and do great journalistic work at the same time.

Unlike in traditional stand-up where performers draw their inspiration from anecdotes and observations, political satire’s main inspirations are the events and quotes of the day. Those become laughable when delivered with a different tone or taken out of context, but remain true nevertheless. Since they most often come with a line and a punch, Samantha Bee and her peers have realized over time that reporting Trump’s claims as they are, provides more laughter than any written joke could.

Recent studies have shown that many people now list Facebook as their main source of news, so the fact that they also rely on comedians rather than actual reporters to be informed isn’t that surprising.

News anchors not only take the news seriously but report them seriously. In this quest for the audience’s attention, covering and debating on Donald Trump by stating facts has been a challenge for them, especially against their late-night colleagues’ approach of highlighting what’s laughable and wrong about the same facts. Journalists investigate, inform, debate, and even argue with their peers, which can put their audience in an awkward place. Meanwhile, comedians appearing on that same channel invite spectators in on the joke and can afford to have a rather low tolerance to absurdity as no one expects them to simply share the information as it is. It is one’s delivery of a quote that has earned them broader audiences and more relevance in the Trump’s Era.

By broadcasting both “real news coverage” and one man’s tweets without separating them, news programs find themselves with less time to focus on stories that directly affect people’s lives. As a result, those same people ultimately choose to laugh it off and to be informed through political satire.

Such form of comedy is powerful as it pushes one to be critical towards politicians’ behavior and trains its audience to be skeptical instead of taking every piece of information as accurate.

Interestingly enough, despite the fact that this satirical journalism has been reaching international audiences via social media and other websites, such scenarios where traditional news anchors are losing relevance and attraction to so-called “entertainers” could never occur across the Atlantic. A British law states that Parliament cannot be broadcast in satire, comedy programmes or anywhere that might cast doubt upon the “dignity of the House.” Similar rules also apply to royal matters and had the BBC order foreign broadcasters to censure comedians that make use of their coverage of the Royals.

Since such law does not exist in North America, American and Canadian politicians get plenty of air time, a reality that political analysts are concerned about when asked about this form of “infotainment”. On one hand, they  don’t agree with news reporters’ choice of constantly showing what is believed to be false affirmations and speculations on air and fear that such exposure and repetitions can lead to people buying into it. On the other hand, there is concern regarding comedians who use politicians’ each and every word, sometimes in a “copy-paste” fashion like Tina Fey as Sarah Palin interviewed by Katie Couric in 2009 or Alec Baldwin’s recent re-enactment of Trump’s press conference on SNL.

“Political satire can make voters smarter new consumers to a certain point. Comedians know when to and aren’t afraid to call government official’s nonsense, but they need to do so by giving it their own take and humorous signature. There otherwise is no more ‘satire’ in ‘political satire’ and they end up doing the same thing as journalists reading quotes on cards.”

At the end of the day, it almost doesn’t matter if the person delivering the news majored in journalism in college. Especially now that opinion journalism is prevalent and news anchors have begun to share their personal feelings on situations or people they are covering. A quote remains a quote, regardless if it makes an audience frown or laugh, as long as it makes them think. Then they have been informed and both the comedian and news anchor can say “mission accomplished.”

Also by Martin Frenette:

Diving into the Performing Arts Industry in 2019

Composing Music: A Life of Laughter and Inspiration

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