The coverage of politics in late-night television has long offered Americans a source of comedic relief as they navigate the week’s news. But after House Democrats announced a formal impeachment inquiry last month, some late-night comedians have been using their platforms not just to entertain, but also inform the public about the impeachment process.
On ABC, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel poked fun at President Trump for his responses to a Fox News news poll last week, which showed that 51 percent of Americans favor impeachment.
“I would have loved to be there when he saw this,” Kimmel said, “I bet he spit his McFlurry all over the room.”
— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) October 11, 2019
Meanwhile, The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah created a satirical “Perfect Trump Hotline” on Twitter with the hashtag #TrumpPerfectCallHotline, which allowed viewers to dial in and have a ‘perfect call’ with Trump—a reference to Trump’s controversial July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Jealous of the Ukrainian president’s “perfect call” with Trump? You, too, can have a “perfect call” with the president with The Daily Show's Donald J. Trump Perfect Call Hotline.
Call +1 (954) 44-TRUMP now! The president is standing by… pic.twitter.com/g4VWNxOvG9
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) October 10, 2019
Earlier this year, Trump tweeted his distaste for late-night shows, calling them “very boring,” and saying that the “hatred” on the programs was “unwatchable.”
These past three weeks have proven to be stressful for Republicans, who have had their share of defending Trump’s actions, as seen in this clip of CNN’s Anderson Cooper challenging CNN commentator Rick Santorum over his interpretation of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky.
“Why is he bringing up Biden if it’s not a favor?” Cooper asked. “Because the Ukrainian president brought it up,” Santorum said. “Oh come on,” Cooper replied.
More prevalent in today’s political pop culture than in previous administrations, political satire is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to the mainstream media. But even within the realm of late night comedy, there are further distinctions to be made.
In an email to MediaFile, Sophia McClennen, an author, writer and professor at Penn State University said, “satire is always better than mockery—so the work of comedians like [Stephen] Colbert, [Trevor] Noah, [John] Oliver and [Samantha] Bee is better at encouraging critical thinking than [Jimmy] Fallon.”
In a recent article in Salon, McClennen reviewed coverage of impeachment throughout the comedic landscape, writing that there has been a rise in the role that satirical news plays in informing the public about politics and the government. Late-night shows have served to keep the executive branch in check and hold truth to power in a way that is both entertaining and informative.
So how will comedy play a role in the 2020 election?
According to McClennen, satire “will frame opinion and affect voters.” “Because satire takes aim at faulty logic and flawed reason,” she says, “it is well-positioned to mock false binaries, hypocrisy and inflammatory policy ideas.”