The presidential seal of the United States flashes up on the screen, and for a second, it seems like an official message from the White House. We forget for a moment that it’s 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday night, and let our imaginations run wild. Melissa McCarthy walks out in a big suit and hairpiece, yelling angrily for everyone to be quiet. The crowd roars. And for the next five minutes, we see “Sean Spicer” shout and slam her way through this White House press briefing, as she belittles reporters and asserts her “dominance.” Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!
Behind the humorous portrayals and funny accents, SNL does something every Saturday that makes us laugh and think critically about our society. Through such a topical and vocal use of satire, the show uses comedy to send a message. In these times, with a federal government that is entering more and more uncertain waters, it is these uses of comedy that cut through the falsehoods of politics to give us a more truthful look at our world.
It’s often easy to put comedy in a box. We tend to only think of it as blockbuster movies or late-night talk shows, failing to respect it as the impactful, influential art form that it truly is.
We could look to the city of Chicago for inspiration, as it is a historic hotbed of comedy, and the birthplace of improvisational comedy. The Chicago style of comedy maintains the notion that there is always truth in comedy. It’s the idea that holds empathy, relatability, and human connection in tandem with ridiculous bits, wacky acts, and unmerited silliness in a comedy act. Comedy should, in Chicago’s eyes, keep this grounding with the audience, this sort of tethering to the truths of everyday life that makes a good joke impactful and ultimately hilarious.
Taking this notion to heart, we can look at comedy in a completely new light. Comedy can cut through falsehoods and clearly critique society. Thus, we can appreciate comedy as something more than jokes and laughs and bits; rather, it’s a tool to dispense truth in an often untruthful world. This way, comedy becomes something more powerful, something more impactful than what it’s made out to be. It sends a message. This form of comedy opens the door for the possibility and potential to analyze, critique, and lambast some of the biggest flaws in our world.
On campus, as a member of the improvisational comedy group Quipfire!, I can definitely identify with this reliance on truth in comedy. Although we don’t always craft scenes that depict deep societal issues or critique modern political issues, we nevertheless try to create a dynamic that relates to the audience. We want to put on a scene that the audience can feel, empathize with, and ultimately understand on a human level. So in this way, when you watch an improv show, you’re watching something that really resonates with you, however ridiculous, wacky, or hectic it may be.
In times like these, with a political and social climate so volatile and riddled with bias, falsehood, and sensationalized drama, our necessity for truth and clarity becomes excessively clear. Objective truth is the backbone of sound analysis and involvement; without it, nothing functions. Now more than ever, we demand an avenue to cut through the haze. We demand art that neglects society’s fog and seeks truth through and through.
Comedy isn’t just about getting laughs. While we always hope that something will be funny, I think that the truth behind comedy is endlessly important and essential for any sort of act. In this way, we can use this art form to really say something about the society and the world around us, something that shuts down falsehood and confirms our perception of the truth around us, something that gives it to us straight. At the end of the day, comedy should make us laugh and smile, but it should also make us think.
Kaveh Badrei is a freshman from Houston, Texas. He can be reached at email@example.com.