Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Sociopolitical Comedians And Some Blogger's Thoughts On Them

It seems like everyone nowadays has missed seeing Jon Stewart on at night, making witty comments about the madness that is American society and it's political scene. Considering the circumstances of this year, it's even moreso felt as we feel that his absence has left some sort of hole in the commentary that has been thrown out. Though it's pertinent to note that Jon isn't the first to make jokes about sociopolitical issues. Many of the comedians out there, both present and past, thrive on making these topics part of their routine. There are many out there who take what go on in the world and give us some food for thought as well as something to laugh at. However, what has made Jon Stewart so known and what has made his tenure on The Daily Show so great is that he gave it a journalistic bent and dove deeper than your standard stand up. Now, I can go on and on about what made Jon Stewart so great, but I missed my chance to do a big piece on the man leaving when he left so I'm not going to bother with that. Instead, I'm going to focus on comedians who nowadays serve to somewhat fill the void that Jon has left, and I'm going to give you my opinions on their work.

Stephen Colbert

While it's true that Colbert is no longer Colbert since he moved on to the Late Show, it's not right to say that there still isn't some Colbert still within him. The Colbert Report's main draw was just how in-character Colbert was and just how he could use that character to make fun of conservatives, pundits and conservative pundits. While it's very fun to see what sort of absurdities that would come out of him, the format certainly could be restraining for him. That's not to say he couldn't be authentic when he wanted to be, but it makes sense that he wouldn't want to be stuck in it for the rest of his life. So, the Late Show has provided Colbert the opportunity to show who he really is and in turn allow his comedy to expand better.

Now, his new gig might not be as high-brow or intellectual as his fans would like it, but whenever he gets to the point of talking politics, he's very much still got some of the edge with him. With the character dropped, there's an ability for him to be more direct or creative with his approach. His Hungry For Power recurring segment has been quite a ride in him being able to quickly summarize the candidate and their shortcomings to being the nominee. Not to mention any time the T with the P is mentioned, Colbert is quick to make note of the complete bullshit that is coming out of him. Particularly notable was the debate where he had the orange cotton candy go against the raggedy-mop-on-top-of-a-suit and point out the contradictions that one man has. Certainly he has leaned a lot more to ragging on the Republicans, though when he can, he'll make a comment towards the left. Is it anything as sharp as back when he was a character? Probably not. But he's able to provide a more politically conscious tone to his role as a late-night comedian and host, and that serves well in its own small way, as a reminder of what has come throughout the day.

Seth Meyers

It's a bit iffy for Meyers to be on this list as he's not Daily Show alumni, but he did serve as a fake anchor on SNL's Weekend Update. That, and while he is more at home being just a standard comedian than the rest of the people on this list, that's not to say that he hasn't had some part in at least providing some perspective to what has come. Seth's main way of tackling the hot-button political topics comes from his A Closer Look segment, which could be a standard news bulletin with some zingers thrown into the mix, were it not for the time constraints and the omitting of details that wouldn't work into the bit. But, we can't get too hung up with those details, at least not with Seth.

My point was more that it does conduct itself very much like how a correspondent doing a piece would. It's interesting seeing how Seth goes about these bits because he has a relaxed demeanor but when he wants to really make his point about the issue at hand, he can provide the right amount of authority and sternness to make it clear. Seth knows how to put in the energy of an anchor into his late-night comic routine. Like Colbert, there's nothing truly searing about what he's saying, but he serves well to add context and perspective to the events of the world. Though Seth seems to push more when it comes to his actual thoughts and what people should reflect on. Which is fine, since he's able to not be too imposing with how he phrases it.

Trevor Noah

Alright, so getting the two late-night hosts that sort of have their foot in the door on sociopolitical comedy out of the way, let's actually get to someone more to the tune of what Jon Stewart does. Like, why don't we focus on the guy who replaced him? Trevor Noah, the South African comedian that barely anyone heard about in America. Well, that's not entirely fair, he had some exposure, but he definitely had more exposure in Africa than in North America taking the position. It was definitely a confusing and bold move to have Noah replace Stewart, but I think part of the idea was to get someone that mirrored Jon in a way, someone who has politically minded humor and is not that well known to let him show his true potential. Besides, funny is funny, no matter where it comes from.

So how does he fair? Well, he's still trying to figure his way through it to be unique. There certainly hasn't be as much of that buzz and intrigue that has come from his comments that came from Jon Stewart, save for perhaps that great bit about Von Clownstick being akin to an African dictator. He certainly feels at times like Diet Stewart, staying in a safe area. He certainly can be funny when he wants to be, and still having correspondents like Hasan Minhaj, Jessica Williams and bringing Lewis Black from time to time certainly is nice with the new folks like Ronny Chieng, Desi Lydic and Roy Wood Jr., who are doing well to bring something else to the cast. It at least distracts from Klepper's irritating bit.

When it comes to establishing his own identity or voice, I think the timing kind of worked against him, since it's gravitating towards the election and there's some crazy characters you just can't help but make some quick jokes about. Still, he's working well with what he's got. Once it all blows over, it would be nice to see him tackle international issues. You know, perhaps bring in more of that worldly perspective and sort of let America in on more of what's going on outside it from time to time. I kind of saw a little bit of that in what he's done so far, it'd be nice to see that be explored further.

John Oliver

Speaking of people who replaced Jon Stewart, John Oliver. Oliver only had a couple of months to himself on The Daily Show when Stewart went to make Rosewater, but his tenure managed to get him a gig on HBO doing Last Week Tonight. On that show, he picks a few oddball stories here and there and then centers the show around a main topic, all the while spouting jokes and statistics and showing creative comedic graphics. There's not many recurring segments he has, with perhaps his most notable being Why Is This Still A Thing and Other Countries' Presidents Of The United States (which by the way, when are you gonna make a new one about Angela Merkel?), he's more focused on educating and entertaining on a particular subject.

When it comes to laughing at the show, it can vary from episode to episode. Sometimes the metaphors and the absurdities that emerge gel together to make a very solid episode, other times it certainly can feel like he's being preachy but hiding it with the comedian get-up. Oliver has certainly stirred more of that negative emotion I've felt with Stewart or Colbert at times where they are playing the same manipulative game as the journalists they critique or overriding their bias on a subject. They then try to act all innocent with the whole argument about them being comedians first (which it's not to say that it isn't true, it's more that there's clearly more to what's going on that simply the comedic aspect).

It mostly comes down to the format. The Daily Show was structured in a way that it was clear that it was intended to be a satire of the news networks. Last Week Tonight is much more centered on Oliver and his point of view on a matter, so it's much more direct. Which means that the structure isn't so much meant to be taken as a farce more than it is a way to sugarcoat his perspective. It's not to say that he doesn't make some good points, it just means that he shouldn't necessarily fall back on those points.

Larry Wilmore

Wilmore didn't replace Stewart at any point, but he did take up Colbert's time slot for his Nightly Show. This show certainly had some promise to it, since it would focus on minority issues in specific, with obvious and heavier emphasis on the black experience in the US. There would be round-tables at the end of the show he and a panel of some of his crew and a guest would talk about some hot-button issue and at the end of it all they play a game to keep it 100% real for a chance to get a sticker.  It's all in good fun. Except he's not really all that funny. At least not lately.

It's kind of dicey going into Wilmore because certainly the topics are important for someone to bring them up, and it's hard to make heavy material funny. And the material certainly can get pretty heavy. I mean, he spent a good chunk of time making Bill Cosby jokes, which ranged from the emotional spectrum of  "take that, you horrible human being!" to "uhhh...yeah...that wasn't funny...". Wilmore managed well for the first little while but then it seemed like he wasn't really picking up or plateauing on that momentum. He doesn't really work well as a host, though I suppose that could better with time. He is pretty much in the same spot as Trevor Noah. With that said though, I think Wilmore has come of more corny, stiff and artificial as the show goes by.

I mostly find myself more interested in the rest of the cast than him on the Nightly Show. I definitely like Mike Yard. He could do better as the host; he has more of the confidence, the energy and the sharpness that is befitting of the topics at hand. Though, I have to say him having Ricky Velez is insulting to me. That guy not only isn't funny but he doesn't really feel like he truly adds or contributes substantially. Plus, for a show that wants to get into minority issues, they didn't really give him much to work with on making important points about the Latino plight. Not that he'd really handle them with much nuance but still.

The only other thing I really have to say regarding Larry Wilmore, aside from definitely needing to improve significantly is that his White House Correspondents Dinner was weak. Especially the way it ended, that was just eye-rolling.

Samantha Bee

Finally, let's talk about the only woman on this section, Samantha Bee. Personally, I didn't really find Bee that funny on The Daily Show. She could be from time to time, but she wasn't really a favorite of mine. Upon seeing that she has her own political show, Full Frontal, I figured I'd give it a try, making a considerable effort to remove that stigma from her. While I'm not necessarily laughing that much, I did find some of what she has to say humorous and certainly the topics are interesting. She's essentially providing the female perspective on the fuckery that ensues, which definitely is a void in sociopolitical comedy, especially on TV. I mean, to be honest I can't think of one female comedian that has that Carlinesque or Hicks-like quality to them off the top of my head. And I'll bet you can't either. Or maybe you can and I'm the asshole here. Whatever.

Whether or not I'm having a fit of laughter watching her, I certainly feel engaged in the show. Which is more than I can say for some other shows. She is definitely a lot more opinionated and much more up-front about it, at least in delivery. I would make a remark that her approach can be quite aggressive and that can be off-putting but perhaps that would be an unfair comment to make. Particulary because she was always playing up the level of outrage in a story, and she tends to tackle very outrageous stories and mostly because saying a woman is too aggressive might just mean I'm getting into some double-standard. Either way, while it could maybe go beyond where it needs to be, it's not a valid criticism. Neither is saying that she's just shilling for Hilary because then who looks like the Berniebro tool? Though, one thing I will remark on is that she can get awfully smug, notably with her videos on midterm elections. It just combined the liberal elitism of Bill Maher with the moral superiority of Canadians. Still, it could fair well as it goes along. If nothing else, it's a start to opening some doors.

The Malaise Of A Sophomore