Washington, Mar 16 : Stand-up comedians have always targeted politicians to generate good humour in their shows. However, University of Iowa professor, Russell Peterson, a former stand-up comedian and political cartoonist has insisted that such pot shots at politicians might cause more damage than one might imagine.
In his new book, titled "Strange Bedfellows: How Late-Night Comedy Turns Democracy Into a Joke," published by Rutgers University Press, Peterson says that late-night comedians strive to be "equal opportunity offenders."
This implies that if they say something bad about one politician, they try to also say something bad about the others.
Peterson said that in order to be even-handed in their insults, they highlight the notion that all politicians are inherently awful, furthering Americans' deep-rooted cynicism toward government and the Democratic process.
"The jokes play into the public perception of politics -- that every candidate in every party is, has been, and always will be the same: corrupt, inadequate or self-interested. They turn political engagement into a joke by implying that it's futile. The take-home message is that politics is just a silly game, and if you care too much, you're silly, too. In fact, we Americans should take our politics seriously because it's extremely important who gets elected and what decisions they make," said Peterson.
He also said that the traditional late-night comedy defines politicians as characters, ignoring notable differences in their records, ideas or qualifications.
"The media is criticized for concentrating on politicians' individual quirks, but traditional late-night humor as practiced by Leno and Letterman has encouraged that tendency. The jokes paint Hillary Clinton's character as cold and calculating; George W. Bush's character as stupid, lazy and unable to say big words; Bill Clinton is defined as a full-time philanderer and so on. These portrayals leave out any conversation of substantive differences in their political beliefs, governing philosophies or competence to hold office," Peterson said.
He added that the comedians just focus on superficial distinctions and strive to be equal opportunity offenders for two reasons. Firstly, because the network comedy shows reach varied audiences of 5 to 7 million viewers per night, hosts play safe by not favouring a particular candidate or party in order to alienate the viewers. Secondly, the format of the shows, a short monologue with a handful of quick-hitting jokes, requires them to hit the punch line in just a few seconds.
Peterson further mentioned in the book that being funny isn't as easy as it looks, as no every politician can handle humour well.
"Politicians assume it's easy, and many have been proven wrong in a spectacular way, when they fall on their faces by trying to be funny and not pulling it off. John Kerry, for example, did not come across well in these types of appearances. Comedy show appearances helped Mike Huckabee. He's really quite funny. Bill Clinton's appearance on 'The Arsenio Hall Show' in the early 1990s was very well received, and it helped him reach out to African-American and young viewers. But most politicians really aren't that funny," said Peterson.