Television personalities are still using comedic platforms to both disseminate information and discuss complex political issues. Jon Stewart — during his long run on “The Daily Show” from 1999–2015 — was one of the first majorly successful ones. He combined his stand-up comedy prowess with his love of politics to create an experience that was truly unique at the time. Nowadays, conveying the news through a comedic lens is far more prevalent. From Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show,” to John Oliver on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” to the current iteration of “The Daily Show” with Trevor Noah — the comedy/news fusion is insanely lucrative.
Is this problematic? At the end of the day, “The Daily Show” is not actually a news show. This was made abundantly clear across countless interviews with Jon Stewart. He considered himself a comedian, not a journalist. However, as the biography “Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon Stewart” expresses: Younger generations, especially college students, have a tendency to turn to shows like “The Daily Show” as a primary news source. Furthermore, channels like Fox News have consistently treated “The Daily Show” as direct competition. This raises another serious issue: Channels that are supposed to deliver legitimate news view comedians as rival journalists. This led to one of Jon Stewart’s most infamous moments. When he was a guest on CNN’s show “Crossfire,” he called out hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala for using “The Daily Show” as something to compare themselves to for journalistic integrity. That segment heavily influenced CNN’s decision to axe “Crossfire.”
With all of these problems in mind, I think it’s important to express that comedians should not be held responsible for this at all. They have one job: telling jokes. News stations need to step up their game and deliver the news with integrity. Furthermore, if some people decide to only draw knowledge of news topics from a comedy show, that responsibility falls squarely upon them. Just as news stations are responsible for the way they give the news, so too are citizens responsible for informing themselves politically to the best of their capabilities. Comedians aren’t journalists. They aren’t social studies teachers either. They are performers and entertainers. If they lose the ability to make people laugh, then they should be judged on that merit.