Let me take you back in time to the early aughts. Cheery pop music and Clintonian prosperity had given way to a dumb hick and an Batman villain running our country with policies from outside the "reality based community." And all we could do was laugh. Boy did liberals love comedy then - think of how much fanfare at the arrival of The Colbert Report and Team America: World Police or what a hero/martyr Bill Maher was after his sacking from network TV for exercising free speech.
They were important and beloved because they filled a vacuum. The Right had developed an impressive media machine. A machine that understood catchphrases, repetition, lockstep talking points and especially outrage are the way to win hearts and minds. The Left had nothing like it and things like Air America and Rachel Maddow could never gain the traction and following that someone like Rush Limbaugh had.
So comedy stepped in. Not because comedy is inherently left-leaning, but because it's inherently progressive. "Progressive" in the sense of questioning everything around it, of pointing out absurdity that's often rooted in inequality and corruption. And because comedy is the jester who's allowed to tell the emperor he's butt nekkid.
Fast forward to today, when The Left finally has their own grasp of many of the media tactics that were once reserved for Fox News. Salon.com went from a remarkable independent news source to something a step below The Drudge Report and the blogosphere serves to echo and amplify a simplistic message better than any catch phrase printed a hundred times on a backdrop at a press conference could now. The Right used this power to win hearts and minds to enter into a made up war while The Left seems to be mostly using it win eyeballs and page clicks to try and get fake news anchors fired.
And now these former allies are enemies, but only one side is really lobbing any missiles. For their part, comedians are continuing to be comedians - questioning everything and helping the cause just as much as ever, with or without your appreciation.
But it should be appreciated, so here are five great examples of how comedy is doing better than MSNBC at helping the liberal cause.
1. Larry Wilmore and John Oliver
Tina Fey got shit for putting the funny over a lockstep feminist message and Jon Stewart gets harangued for not presenting "liberal enough" stories on his fake news show. But with The Nightly Show and Last Week Tonight, the left finally has what it always wanted - mouthpieces that are also very funny.
The difference is these shows are not satire, their aim is to be actually informative while they entertain. And while they aren't on some Democratic leash, they happen to lean left most of the time.
Wilmore's coverage of the Baltimore protests and riots has been reasonable, balanced and more nuanced than any actual news sources I've seen on TV. While Oliver got Americans to actually CARE about the opaque and wonky intricacies of Net Neutrality. Bravo, fellas (and your incredible writing staffs)
2. Amy Schumer/Women in Entertainment
Bridesmaids was supposed to usher in a new era of amazing roles for women in Hollywood, but so far only comedy has stepped up and actually delivered. In particular, I love Amy Schumer's Trainwreck for about a thousand reasons.
Not only is it a woman-helmed film being given the same attention as whatever tripe Adam Sandler is shilling this year, but check out the subject matter! It's about an actual woman, who has a real job and drinks and has sex! Sure, she Gets The Guy in the end, but it's not shaming her for being a "slut" it's just full throttle going after all the insanity that is modern dating.
3. We nailed a rapist.
Hannibal wasn't trying to start a revolution, he was just working out some things that were on his mind. He may never have intended to perform the bit on TV or a special, but it's not like you get leaked footage of news anchors or lawmakers discussing rapists that got away with it (unless it's in a super gross high five kinda way).
4. Defending Free Speech/Changing Minds
Remember when we were all on the same team back in the Bush days? That's because the Left were the ones being shouted down as "unpatriotic" every time we tried to use our brains to ask "Why?" or "is that really right?" or even "Can you explain this to me a little more?"
Guess what? Comedians are still doing it, and now you're doing the exact same thing with every knee jerk cry of "that's transphobic" or "misogynist!!"
Sure, not every comedian is going to walk out and say the perfect Utopian egalitarian line - because we don't live in that world yet. But comedy is one of the few places people can openly push at the awkward corners of our ever evolving society and I've seen more minds changed (or at least nudged) about gay marriage, sexual harassment, racial stereotypes and gender identity via laughs than I any preaching to the choir angry blog post.
The pendulum will swing back, and as liberal ideals get suppressed again, you'll see we've been on the same team the whole time. You just got confused for a minute.