Will Howe '21
Regardless of political affiliation, it is widely accepted that the 2016 election cycle propelled politics into the forefront of the national discussion. Hype around pop culture and new movie releases paled in comparison to the attention garnered by the political landscape. With Donald Trump, a lifetime entertainer, hurling insults (often quite funny ones) at his competition, first in the republican primaries and then in the general election, politics became all the more entertaining for the average American. This new attitude towards politics made it easier for late night comedy hosts like Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel as well as programs like Saturday Night Live to make jokes about politics that appealed to the general population. Pop humor began to take a new form.
When Donald Trump won by a slim margin in 2016, comedians fell silent. “You cannot laugh and be afraid at the same time,” said Stepehn Colbert about the election, representing a vast swath of the American public. Comedians (I use this term broadly to refer to any entertainer who specializes in comedy, not just stand up) had been changed by the elections, and comedy itself would follow. One of the first indicators of this shift came with Kathy Griffin’s now infamous photo holding a bloody replica of Donald Trump’s head. Though some argue the joke was in poor taste, it was clear that there were strong emotions surrounding the piece, illustrating that culture could no longer maintain even a semblance of separation from politics.
Late night hosts stopped exclusively making jokes, and began incorporating jokes into larger political arguments. Comedy became a subset of their political content, whereas politics was once a subset of their comedy. With Donald Trump on the front page of the news nearly every day during his presidency, jokes about his administration and himself personally were accessible to the general public, and thus garnered solid ratings for late night hosts. Comedy became a refuge from Trump’s rhetoric for many, countering his claims while making the audience smile. It was all too easy to make fun of a president who tweeted at 3 a.m. and misspelled words like coffee. For conservatives, this shift in comedy was in itself the source of comedy. Pundits like Steven Crowder often mocked late night hosts for tearing up during their programs, alleging that their emotion was likely scripted. Both sides of the aisle found a new brand of comedy in the post-2016 election cycle world.
Speaking of right-wing humor, the rise of “SJW [Social Justice Warrior] Destroyed Compilations” characterized much of social media in 2016. These videos would compile clips of conservative commentators like Ben Shapiro, Milo Yiannopolous, and the recently pardoned Dinesh D'Souza allegedly “wrecking” leftists on college campuses with “facts and logic.” Trump’s rhetoric in debates feels much like the rhetoric found in these compilations, so it is no wonder that they grew in popularity around the time of his election campaign.
The 2016 election cycle changed the landscape of comedy by making it more politically centered than ever, and as comedy is subjective, only you can decide whether it was for the better.