Imagine a world where one can’t seek relief from an abysmal state of affairs. Affairs that invite fury – towards unscrupulous politicians, ridicule – towards politicians who lack a basic knowledge of current affairs (think Gary Johnson), and of course the out of-the-blue condemnation of hotdogs to the gates of ‘haram’ hell. How does one cope with all this? Maybe by not bothering to cope at all. On a more personal level, your life may not be so abysmal (hopefully), but you may still yearn for an explanation for the mundane daily routines (if you’re curious enough) such as being forced to conjure up small talk with a neighbour you’ve just bumped into so as to combat an atmosphere of awkwardness.
Comedy is indeed a panacea for all these issues, trivial or not. In a simple line, comedy adds a humorous touch to our otherwise daily mundane activities. It can also serve as crude humour or a form of critique against phenomena that impacts us deeply. The genres of comedy are endless, and a whole book can be written on them. Today, political satire seems to be a dominant genre of comedy, aimed at providing pseudo political commentary on a country’s affairs or even international affairs. Just take The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for example. Succeeding Jon Stewart, Trevor Noah elicits laughter from his viewers as he deconstructs social issues facing American society such as police discrimination against minorities and the absences of leadership to govern the country. Mocking problems in American society is his way of dealing with these problems. It is also a counter against the same negative news periodically dished out by news networks in America about how police brutality is continuing unabated or how there is always a controversy engulfing Donald Trump. During one segment, he made fun of Trump’s small hands, which have been the subject of much ridicule in other satirical shows. In the context of the presidential election, this mockery is hard-hitting, suggesting that Trump is not fit to be president when he doesn’t even have normal-sized hands (wonder how he’ll open the doors of the White House).
Political satire is more than just crude humour though. It is meant to show just how sad a state of affairs is. More importantly, this state of affairs can’t continue if a country is to prosper, if it’s people are to to feel safe and content. One can say that satire stops short of constituting a revolution. It does not necessarily incite citizens to go out on the streets and protest against racial, gender and age discrimination. Perhaps it merely incites a revolution in the mind of one.
An equally popular genre of comedy is observational comedy. As the word suggests, observational comedy is a type of comedy where humorous observations are given to everyday phenomena such as daily commute to work. Stand-up comedians frequently make use of this genre for their material. However, observational comedy can also be included in television sitcoms. Louis C.K. comes to mind as someone who does stand-up comedy and also acts in his sitcom Louie, an autobiographical comedy-drama series that depicts his mundane life in deadpan form of manner. Suffice to say, his jokes are not for the faint-hearted. Sexist jokes with a twist of vulgarity is a common theme in his stand-up material. Even worse, during his monologue on the opening of Saturday Night Life, he told a joke about molestation, saying how molesters are very tenacious in committing their crime despite knowing that they will be dealt with severely by the law. He jokingly remarked that that would be his last time hosting Saturday Night Life being fully aware of his remarks about child molestors.
Ironically enough, comedy can be funny simply because it is uncomfortable. The only way to react to an outrageous joke is to laugh out in disbelief. Then there are jokes that, even in the spirit of comedy, are taken too far. Louis C.K. was criticized by social commentators the following weeks about his insensitivity towards molestation victims. Yes, i don’t blame them but a bigger worry issue is when does comedy not become funny anymore? The truth is comedians will always tap into the existence of social problems for their material. It is an effective way to engage the audience, especially if the segment involves the presidential elections where everyone’s future is placed in the lives of two or more candidates. Should boundaries be drawn between what is funny and what is inhumane?