Comedians struggle with finding the humor in this year’s election.
Many know Stephen Colbert from his many years at the helm of “The Colbert Report,” a satire show on Comedy Central where he played a very right-wing, patriotic American character. Now that he has moved on to “The Late Show,” Colbert has tried be less of a caricature and more authentically himself.
Colbert did a live election night special, “Stephen Colbert’s Live Election Night Democracy’s Series Finale,” in which viewers were able to see him at his most authentic yet. Colbert, who expected Hillary Clinton to win, was visibly bothered and definitely not his usual chipper and energetic self as the election results came in during the live show. For a man who is so skilled at playing characters and saving face for the sake of entertainment, even he could not keep his true emotions from peeking through during his “Late Show” special. The results of the election hit him just as hard as they did for many other Americans. What resulted was a TV special that was the opposite of funny. It was sad. At one point in the night, Colbert said, “I think we can agree that this has been an absolutely exhausting, bruising election for everyone, and it has come to an ending that I did not imagine.”
What resulted was a TV special that was the opposite of funny. It was sad.
The Colbert that was on display on election night was a person who was defeated and tired. He tried his best to crack jokes, but his audience was not in the mood for laughter. He became reflective when he told the story of his mother, who was born just two days before women earned the right to vote in America. “I was thinking this was going to be the time that she got what she wanted. She told me, at age 92, right before she died, ‘Oh, I think I would vote for Hillary this time,’” he said.
Colbert was just one of a number of comedians who had the difficult task of navigating comedy during the long, drawn-out American presidential election. Kory Pullam, a local comedian with Blackout Improv has had his own way of dealing with the aftermath from the election. Pullam is no stranger when it comes to talking about Donald Trump. At Blackout Improv, they have a “swag hat” where audience members can submit topics for the comedians to improvise on. Pullam says that the topic of Trump has come up “every single show we’ve had for the past four or five months.”
Before the election, it was easy to joke about Trump and all of the outlandish scandals that were uncovered during the campaign process, Pullam said. However, after the shocking results of the election, getting laughs from audience members became much more difficult. “When we were sitting and talking about it [during our show] there wasn’t much laughing,” said Pullam. Blackout Improv is an all-black improv troupe based in Minneapolis, and the audience members who are regularly at their shows are people who were most likely upset with the results of the election. Pullam said that at their first post-election show, the atmosphere was much different than it had been before. “The reality was that it was a lot heavier. The situation wasn’t a joke anymore,” he said.
“We have to take people seriously who don’t think the same way as we do.”
Still, Pullam believes that talking about the reality of what happened is really important. “We are not afraid to go after the serious stuff at Blackout. You have to be real. Sometimes it’s necessary,” he said. Pullam also thinks that it is valuable to start a conversation with others who have different mindsets. He mentioned a recent interview with Trevor Noah, the host of “The Daily Show,” and conservative political commentator Tomi Lahren. Pullam was impressed with how patient and non-confrontational Noah was, while still “truly engaging” with Lahren, delving into important issues that face our country. Pullam believes that the reason why the election was such a shock was because many liberals casted off conservatives as unintelligent or misinformed. “We have to take people seriously who don’t think the same way as we do,” he said.
With four years of a Trump presidency ahead for the United States, comedians will continue to struggle with creating bits that are funny rather than depressing. However, they should not take their platforms and influence for granted. Pullam applauds television comedy hosts such as Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, and Samantha Bee for talking about issues head-on. Locally, Blackout Improv has always prided itself on taking on hard issues as well, Pullam said. “Now, more than ever, we need comedy and comedians that can step up and speak up to the powerful,” Pullam said.