Opinions | Comedians replace news anchors

By Aaron Anastos, Columnist

It’s funny who we trust sometimes. We tend to trust funny people.

The First Amendment is a beautiful thing — but too often, the average American believes that it is being wrecked in the media. If the U.S. got a dollar every time one of its citizens doubted the words of someone behind a news anchor desk, the national debt would evaporate. In the face of such doubt, many Americans turn to an unlikely news source: comedians. 

By design, many famous comedians maintain accessible and relatable platforms, now bolstered by social media. The best comedians say what the audience observes, but never dreamt of vocalizing — and in unsure political times like these, general audiences would rather listen to a down-home joker on a stool than a clown behind a podium or news desk. 

Before hosting “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Stephen Colbert headed “The Colbert Report,” an Emmy-winning satirical program on which he played a comical caricature of an inflammatory conservative news anchor. Despite it airing on Comedy Central, 10% of the show’s solid viewership watched it as a valid news source.

Its counterpart, “The Daily Show,” then hosted by satirist Jon Stewart, also racked up massive numbers on Comedy Central. The show’s loose news format that essentially picked apart and ridiculed the news of the day drew in audiences and became a great success — much to the credit of its host, Stewart (and now, the splendid Trevor Noah). 

Stewart and Noah made their names as comedians, but positive audience reception elevated them to the status of ironic Walter Cronkites

As veteran correspondent of “The Daily Show,” John Oliver perhaps has had the most success as a news source outside of major broadcasting networks. His acclaimed late-night show, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” has racked up 26 Emmys and boasts one of the highest IMDb ratings of any show. 

From the show’s safe harbor on HBO Max, Oliver delivers uncensored and uninhibited monologues from behind his late-night desk that pertain to the most important news stories of the week, ranging from elections to foreign dictators to prison reform. 

Audiences love honesty, and comedians are more than ecstatic to provide it.

However, in a world where too many people trust everything they see on social media, comedians have garnered more responsibility than simply delivering their objective political views in a humorous (or often straight-faced) manner. 

It is an intriguing trend that those whose job it is to make people laugh have taken up the mantle of delivering unbiased facts in the public eye. This isn’t unique to our present day — the great Greek satirist, Aristophanes, made his namepoking fun at major figures like Socrates and commenting scathingly on the social issues of the time.

If the founding father of Western philosophy could take a joke, then so can Congress. 

Satirists precede the first complete and accessible newspaper by nearly a millennium. Perhaps this is why they are so intrinsically trustworthy to the public. Comedians represent the people in their own eyes, more than any elected official or talking head ever could. 

This is not to degrade the hard work of broadcast journalists — only an examination of the fact that the most widely accepted source of unbiased news is someone whose job it is to make us laugh. From Aristophanes to Oliver, comedians have always found political and social shortcomings to criticize, and for better or worse, it’s unlikely they’ll run out of material any time soon. 

 

Aaron is a freshman in DGS.

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