Why Satire Isn’t Funny

It’s often promulgated that satire is the great weapon of the powerless against the powerful. Nothing can send the unhinged megalomaniac or deranged despot faster into a toddler tantrum than simply being laughed at.

Yet there is growing criticism that today’s mainstream political satire serves to promote rather than undermine the establishment and extremist politicians. By providing the likes of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg a platform to sit on comedy panel shows and project a “down to earth” persona, willing to “have a laugh” often at their own expense, the viewer (voter) is more likely to associate that politician with the entertaining likable character from TV as opposed to the extremist politician who wants to take away their healthcare or reproductive rights.

Author and scriptwriter James O’Farrell argues that politicians are actually desperate to be satirized as they know it elevates their profile and popularity. He is scathing of the smug, condescending, supposed “satire” of Donald Trump on shows such as SNL, arguing that there is rarely any meaningful or constructive purpose to sketches but that they merely exemplify the arrogant, dismissive attitude of America’s elite toward a serious threat to the future of democracy and global power dynamics.

“At times where there ought to be outrage, comedy substitutes it with ironic acceptance”

The countless number of comedians who masquerade as political commentators see Trump as a goldmine, an endless supply of gags. But is this laughter helpful? Or is it emblematic of the same ignorance The New York Times editor Dean Baquet acknowledged when saying  “we missed it” in relation to the paper’s failure to chronicle the rise and genuine appeal of Donald Trump in a grossly divided, unequal society before it was too late.

Satire can be a brilliant means of entertainment but is it the politicians who are getting the last laugh?

13 thoughts on “Why Satire Isn’t Funny

  1. It depends on the satire. If it it light, wink-wink nudge-nudge stuff (such as Saturday Night Live), it often makes the politician in question seem more ‘human’ and can detract from criticism. On the other hand, the really savage Juvenalian satire (rarely seen at all in this politically-correct age) can be absolutely devastating; however it can be so uncomfortable and verging on slander that most broadcasters shy away from it.

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  2. I would argue (as a solely satirist blogger) that satire is still one of the most powerful tools to expose problems in society. How many people don’t watch or read the news daily, go out of their way to avoid it even, but watch SNL highlights for a laugh. Sean Spicer is an excellent example of a political figure who was taken down by satire. Melissa McCarthy’s impression did the same thing Tina Fey did to Sarah Palin (who is also not been elevated since that satirical portrayal). We must be careful of our point of view when inviting guests and “having a laugh”, but satire done correctly still has huge influence on millions of people daily.

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  3. Great argument. I too believe there is a very real danger in normalizing bad guys. Furthermore, a lot of the “satire” mentioned (lookin at you, SNL) does feel hollow. That being said, I think @masercot makes an excellent distinction. The only thing I would add to their comment would be that parody can be powerful if it’s outrageous enough to cause an anger that stirs the reader to action or changes the way they think.

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    1. I agree Allison – and would add if we are to draw distinction between satire and parody (often difficult) then we must at least acknowledge that there is a severe satire deficit and must ask why parody dominates the airwaves at the expense of constructive, hard hitting satire?


      1. Excellent question. I would say that parody is easy, usually results in instant gratification (e.g., jokes giving the audience a laugh), and is more suited to today’s society. Satire is harder, subtler, and isn’t always funny in obvious ways. Reading Animal Farm is a commitment, whereas watching a skit is quick entertainment. Overall, parody is more marketable and accessible.

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  4. Good observations. Satire has become very safe. Jeremy Corbyn being treated as a radical (when, in reality, he’s basically left of centre) is further evidence of this. The centre ground is being reinforced and people outside are being increasingly portrayed as extremists.

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  5. Even back in the days of kings, the court jester was the only one who could speak the truth. The people would hear it, and have a laugh. What happened after that is the big question. Did they think about it further? Did they do anything after that?

    Today we have satire, and a variety of comedians and artists, who speak what could be called the truth, or their perception of it. I can see how it helps, as well as how it hurts matters.

    What is the alternative? They could be quiet. Would serious discussions arise? Some people have serious discussions, but it’s too few. Today, it’s team against team, where people dogmatically support their team no matter what, with the end-game being that their team win. It’s mindless and upsetting.

    If we have a few serious discussions peppered in with a bunch of tribalistic squabbling, and news organizations printing their stories with click-bait headlines, how long will it be before people give up and check out?

    For the most part, I have check out. All of the above have become exhausting and demoralizing for me. I feel like there’s nothing I can do about it. And if I want to have a serious discussion with anyone about it, the chances that I’ll find anyone to have that discussion with is very small. After that, the chance that anything good will come of it is even smaller.

    I can only get outraged so many times. No doubt, it’s something to give serious thought.

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    1. The Memes as we call them have become the satirical cartoons of the past. It is not just the live SNL’s and other comedians lashing out the satire. Very brainwashing and damaging when people actually do not understand the intent of the Meme…especially the social media crowds.


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