On Stage: Political Humor

Mar 13, 2017

Credit nbc.com

Since antiquity, we have negotiated the power structure with comedy—from Aristophanes up to the present day. Aristophanes, considered the Father of Comedy, mocked Athenian government and society without mercy.  

In the United States, perhaps one of the best known political humorists of all time was Will Rogers. His affable, just-folks demeanor allowed him to use the keen point of humor with such ease and accuracy, while still maintaining his easy-going manner. Among his best witticisms are “Diplomacy is the art of saying 'Nice doggie' until you can find a rock” and “A fool and his money are soon elected.”

Mark Twain was another humorist who kept a gimlet eye on the government. Best known for his novels Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Twain once wrote “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” He also observed, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

And then there is Saturday Night Live. Since its debut in 1975, the live sketch comedy show has always been at its best when the political satire is sharp. Impressions of presidents, from Gerald Ford on down to the present administration, have been a staple of the show. On the air for more than 40 years, the show is currently enjoying some of its highest ratings in two decades.

There is no doubt that humor, and the comedians who wield it, play an important part in the shaping of our society. That's no joke.