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Four Myths About Politics and Comedy

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It's an election year, which means two things: there's a lot of politics news, and there's a lot of politics news to mock. Before we get too deep into the silly season, let me clear up a few of the most common myths about politics and comedy.

Making fun of politics undermines American democracy.
People really say this, with straight faces. If it happens in a social setting, I chuckle and excuse myself for a drink. If it happens at a public event or panel discussion, I say something like, "American democracy is a centuries-old institution that has withstood seismic changes of the economic, political and sociocultural varieties, not to mention more than 12,000 members of Congress. No amount of joking could put a crack in its foundation, not even this ridiculous mashup of political leaders and Game of Thrones." Then I excuse myself for a drink.

When we make fun of people in power, when we talk about corrupt or malfunctioning institutions but refuse to "take them seriously," we're strengthening the American political organism. In its mildest forms, comedy adds to the national conversation, perhaps broadens it. In its strongest, most scathing forms, comedy focuses attention and forces reaction. Whether that reaction is outrage or an eye-roll, it's important. American democracy gets weak when we forget that it's there, it's flawed and it's ours to improve.

People who mock the news are hurting journalism.
You know what's hurting journalism? Bad journalism. Also not helping: business decisions stemming from the (entirely mistaken!) belief that journalism is not and never can be a viable business, which leaves newsrooms starved of the resources they need to produce good journalism, which leads to more bad journalism -- or good journalism that can't reach an audience that might sustain it. "Mocking the news" might mean mocking the substance of the news, not the reporting of it -- or it might mean mocking the reporting itself, if it is laughably bad, in which case see above.

People who do political comedy do it because they're not smart enough to do real news/People who read, watch or listen to political comedy are getting a dumbed-down version of real news.
Writing a 3,000-word feature on campaign spending is hard. Writing ten funny jokes about campaign spending is also hard. Some people are good at the former, some people are good at the latter and some people are good at both, but those people are unicorns.

And we are not the ones who've dumbed down real news. We are not the ones who used Weebles to explain how a caucus works.

Conservatives aren't funny.
It's funny (ha): Liberals seem to be the people who are most concerned about the lack of conservatives in comedy, perhaps because liberals know their side is great at comedy, and they don't like to win if it's not a sporting contest. (This is why they hate fox hunting.)

Saying conservatives aren't funny is like saying women aren't funny, or rich people aren't funny, or Asians aren't funny -- it's a silly false construct in which entire groups are excluded from the realm of humor, which is one of the most subjective things there is. If a conservative joke falls in the liberal woods, does anyone laugh?

Speaking of rich people, some say you need an underdog POV to be funny, and that conservatives tend to hold positions of power. Perhaps, but Democrats are in power right now, even if they're sort of blowing it, and I think we can agree that there are many hilarious non-conservative people in very powerful positions in the media generally, and comedy specifically.

Bottom line: good comedy requires intelligence, imagination and perspective. That's it. Partisan material can deliver huge laughs, but if your perspective turns into tunnel vision, the funny dries up fast. This is true whether you're a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, a libertarian, a socialist, a Tea Partier or a member of the Green Party, although if you are a member of the Green Party, you don't need me to tell you about comedy -- you're the ones who ran Cynthia McKinney in 2008.

Mary Phillips-Sandy is the editorial producer of Comedy Central's Indecision.