When comedy becomes an act of rebellion

Humor is sizing up to be a powerful weapon against the Trump Administration

If you are lucky enough to have cable and a TV in your dorm/apartment, last night at the Oscars, you may have seen Jimmy Kimmel blow up Twitter by tweeting directly at President Trump.

It was one of the several jokes Kimmel made about President Trump, a new president who has only been in office for a little over a month. Although what Kimmel did could be seen as disrespectful of the office of the presidency, it’s surely not unprecedented — just look at ASU's campus, either at some table in the MU or on Twitter.

They say that every joke has a hint of truth in it, and I think that is true for the politics of comedy more than anything: Comedy is a weapon, and often times, becomes an act of protest in itself.

And humor through protest is often extremely effective. If it wasn’t, then why would dictators fear it so much

When Melissa McCarthy appeared as Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live, there were jokes about some of Spicer’s more eccentric qualities.

But there wouldn’t be any sketch without a harsh truth: The Trump Administration undoubtedly is antagonistic toward the press, and that antagonism often comes out through Spicer. It even happened a day after Trump was inaugurated.

We can see this kind of satire right here on ASU’s campus, with the various comedy groups that do work here.

For example, Tempe Late Night had a satirical presidential debate between Kanye West and former New Hampshire Governor John Lynch just a day before the election.


Posted by Tempe Late Night on Monday, November 7, 2016

The skit is featured 25 minutes in.

In the skit, West, who is later joined by his wife Kim Kardashian, gives a serious of non-sequitur responses to questions about student loan debt and the economy. While Lynch often attempts to give answers rooted in policy (such as the dangers of automating jobs,) he is often interrupted by his irreverent opponent, who often hurls insults at him.

On its face, it’s a pretty simple sketch, with a lot of humor that is totally non-political. They get a number of Kardashian jokes in there, for example.

But if you want to analyze it through a political lens, it actually makes an interesting point about the absurdity of modern politics. The 2016 presidential election featured Donald Trump, who was often prone to speaking off the cuff and not delving deep into policy, versus Hillary Clinton, a classic politician who was prone to playing by the rules of past elections.

By the end of the skit, West appears to win the debate, besting the well-polished Lynch with behavior that seems more fit for a reality show (kind of like Trump did to Clinton just one day later.)

Did Tempe Improv do that to make some kind of political point or to make their audience laugh using subjects that are generally understandable? Either way, they are engaging in a subtle act of protest against (then-Republican nominee, now President) Donald Trump.

Bambi Haggins is an associate professor of Film and Media Studies at ASU who studies race, class, gender and sexuality in American film and television, with her focus being in comedy. This semester, she is teaching a class called “Comedy as Social Discourse,” which examines comedy as what Haggins calls the use of comedy as an "incredibly powerful socio-political tool.”

"With comedy, when you have their mouths open laughing, you can 'shove the truth in,'” Haggins said. "It's important to understand what a powerful tool comedy is.”

Haggins says that the biggest change that she has seen from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration has been that comedians are far quicker to satirize President Trump.

"There's not the same kind of relationship with comedy and the arts in general,” Haggins said. “I think it's a lot more difficult for the Republican Administration to laugh this off in ways that I think the Obama Administration did."

Whether ASU students realize it or not, every time they joke about Trump they are engaging in an often subtle, but powerful act of protest against the Trump administration.

While Obama was often able to make fun of himself, President Trump seems generally angry about the lampooning of himself and his administration. Is that because he has extremely thin skin? Probably.

But he probably also knows that when people laugh, they also think. And such a thing is frightening when there is so much in this administration to think about.

Reach the columnist at Marinodavidjr@g mail.com or follow @Marinodavidjr on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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