Will Rogers, a cowboy and beloved American humorist, once said, "Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke." The irony is that he made this comment in the early 20th century, during the height of America's humorist period, but it seems to be truer now than ever before. Along with Rogers, the wit and satirical commentary on all subjects, specifically politics and politicians, by iconic humorists, such as Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde, entertained and informed Americans for the early part of the 20th century. These literary gods set the precedent for publicly criticizing and mocking politicians (which included the President of the United States or, as he is known today, the "POTUS") in such clever and witty ways that they were more well received than most supposed news outlets of the time. Rogers, Twain, Wilde and even Ambrose Bierce paved the way for their contemporaries such as Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, the late George Carlin, and even Jimmy Fallon.
Most Americans tend to have love-hate relationships with politics and politicians. As Americans, we desperately want to believe that our politicians are ethical public servants who have the public in mind while they are in office. In reality, we know that this is far from the truth, and that politicians tend to act on behalf of their own interests and the interests of their corporate donors, and not in the interest of the public who voted them into office. This distrust of politicians and office holders is not new and is, in fact, as American as the Founding Fathers themselves.
Therefore, humor has always been the best way to swallow and accept the obvious exploitation of political office and the misbehavior of politicians.
With his comment, "Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself," Mark Twain made it clear that no one, not even the highest ranking politicians, are off-limits or beyond the reach of criticism and wit. The fact that one of America's most clever and beloved authors cleverly criticized the government couldn't have sat well with Washington's elite, but there was nothing they could do but chuckle along with their fellow Americans. In the present, where nearly 1.6 million viewers tune into The Daily Show for their news, it is a clear sign that, as Americans, we have more faith in our comedians to deliver the news than we do in our news networks such as FOX, CNN and MSNBC, which all tend skew the facts to support their own political agendas and do not provide the "fair and balanced" news as they claim. The fact that the major news networks often call shows that poke fun at both sides of the political spectrum "liberal" (while finding humor in both political parties and even the particular stances of the news networks themselves) is beyond comical and ironic itself, since they may be the only programs that feature news in neutral and bipartisan manners.
Unlike their supposed legitimate counterparts, hosts such as Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon provide the satire and humor that is obviously present in nearly every political decision and event. They are merely carrying on the tradition that was founded by revered icons, such as Twain and Rogers, whose routines would literally consist of their commentary and opinions of the current news and political scenarios of the day. With more and more Americans choosing to get their fill of news and politics from comedians instead of "legitimate and reputable" news anchors, it is becoming quite obvious that bad news is much easier to bear when it is delivered with wit and humor. Additionally, since politics seem to consist of nothing but bad news recently, Americans continue to rely on our modern-day humorists rather than our political analysts and anchors.
During the recent White House Correspondent's Dinner, host Jimmy Kimmel said, "[President Obama,] I know you won't be able to laugh at my jokes about the Secret Service. Please cover your ears, if that's physically possible." After making fun of the President, he wasn't shot, attacked or reprimanded, but was applauded. I have to believe that, if Jimmy Kimmel would have made a similar comment 30 years earlier to President Richard Nixon, he might have disappeared or would have received all the attention and resources the FBI had to offer. Jimmy Kimmel went on to criticize America's obesity epidemic when he said, "We used to march. Now we occupy." As an educator, I know without a doubt that information is received and embraced when it is delivered with a little humor and showmanship, and it is often not what you say, but how you say it.