Last week, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah ran a segment in which host Trevor Noah complained that there was simply too much negative political news for him to cover it all. The news had just broken that Russia had successfully penetrated the voter logs in multiple U.S. states, while at the same time, White House aide Rob Porter had just resigned after two of his ex-wives alleged that he had physically abused them.
Both stories are indeed alarming, but while the former concerns a very real breach of U.S. national security, potentially with very real consequences for the upcoming midterm elections, the latter is more of a scandal which reflects poorly on the character of the administration but is unlikely to have lasting effects on the political affairs of the nation.
Despite this, the Daily Show’s writers chose to focus on the story of abuse because it is more scandalous, and, frankly, because it’s easier for comedians to make fun of Donald Trump’s administration than it is for them to comment on serious issues.
Trevor Noah presented disturbing information about how much White House officials knew about Rob Porter’s crimes, then commented on the heightening level of disgust he holds for the current administration. The fact that Daily Show writers (and those from most other late night shows) largely ignored the Russia story and instead took shots at Trump is part of a worrying trend in comedy under the current administration.
When Trump was first inaugurated, late night shows which focused on political humor, such as the Daily Show and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert saw surges in their ratings. Colbert even managed to take over the top of the late night ratings board for a time as he rode a wave of hilarious Trump jokes.
Prior to the inauguration, the Daily Show and the Late Show covered a diverse spectrum of political topics (even if their stance on these topics was consistently left of center). Once Trump took office, however, these shows saw in the political circus that ensued an opportunity for easy jokes that their core audiences would love.
A full year in, however, these shows continue to focus the majority of their airtime on jokes at the expense of the Trump administration, and, frankly, it is starting to grow dull.
What’s more, these shows are passing up opportunities to comment on truly important political issues, opting instead for cheap Trump impersonations and jokes about the “pee-pee tape.”
While tied up talking about scandals and rumors about Trump’s mental fitness, comedians have largely failed to comment on Trump’s decision to block the release of the Democratic rebuttal to the Nunes memo, a story which significantly impacts the public’s knowledge of Mueller’s Russia investigation.
The result is that much of late night television is now both dull and uninformative.
When John Stewart brought political satire into the modern era with his tenure on the Daily Show, he built his following by covering a broad spectrum of stories. When he did cover serious stories which were in the popular media, he did so with a comedic freedom which allowed him to parody clips taken directly from CNN, and, more frequently, Fox.
Making light of dark issues in this manner has long been the overall goal of comedy. Comedians are meant to take things which are not funny on their own and make light of them. This may be the true problem with comedy under the Trump administration: we are surrounded by things which — viewed objectively — are funny or at least absurd.
It should be the job of the comedians to cut through this low-hanging fruit and finwd the topics which are serious and which need to be covered accessibly.