A Republic Too Fractured to Be Funny
The White House Correspondents’ Dinner suggests that stand-up joke telling is an art form whose moment has passed, Andrew Ferguson argued this week.
American stand-up is thriving, evolving, fresh, and still quite funny—just not on late-night shows. Most late-night shows—Trevor Noah’s, John Oliver’s, Samantha Bee’s, Stephen Colbert’s—are no longer primarily about comedy. Rather, they are cocoons for a particular section of the population to find reassurance and a sense of kinship that its political and social views are correct. Whether this is therapeutic or overall harmful for the individual is debatable. But the comforting echo chamber the shows provide is certainly fulfilling a strong need in a time marked by violent public discourse and fractured society.
Non-politicized stand-up and observational comedy is very much thriving. Look no further than the stand-up specials of new stars such as Tig Notaro and Nate Bargatze, or comeback stars such as Dave Chappelle.
On a related note, the internet has given rise to new, decentralized forms of comedy that are a whole other ball game—entirely context-based, constantly evolving, completely bizarre to those not in the know, and instantly consumable in five seconds or less. A meme (same image, new caption) is either ouch-my-sides hilarious or utter gibberish, depending on whether you have seen and laughed at the dozen other memes it is referencing.