A few years ago, I started watching late night shows (online, mind you; a teacher can’t stay up that late). I think it was around a time I was preparing to move, and they were good background while I sorted and packed. I stumbled across a funny clip of Stephen Colbert, and started watching full episodes. If you’re not familiar with Colbert, his show is a satirical caricature of the pundit-driven 24-hour news networks. I quickly discovered that his smart, clever, and sometimes silly brand of humor literally made me laugh out loud, regardless of how preoccupied or overwhelmed I’d felt moments before.
The next few years were trying in a multitude of ways, and I looked forward to the moments I could “check in” (and check out) with Colbert. It wasn’t just that his humor was a distraction, though it certainly was at times. The show’s unique humorous way of addressing news stories helped me laugh at how ridiculous it all can be. (Sometimes, I’ve thought God must look down on us, shake His head, and say, “You guys are SO weird!”) Often, it’s not laughing at the issues themselves, but at the way we fumble around in trying to deal with them (for example, watch this clip of Colbert addressing the New York Post’s erroneous identification of persons of interest in the Boston marathon bombing: Colbert Report 4/18/2013).
At the same time, the humorous way the show frames serious issues highlights a surprisingly hopeful aspect. This particularly comes across in the conversations Colbert has with guests. Just last week, he interviewed Ishmael Beah, former child soldier of Sierra Leone and author of A Long Way Gone and Radiance of Tomorrow (click here to watch: Colbert Report 1/8/2013). How can a title like “Radiance of Tomorrow” not invoke hope, especially considering it was written by a person forced into military service as child? Similarly, when Jon Stewart’s interviewed Malala Yousafzai (advocate for girls’ education in Pakistan) on The Daily Show, the interview went viral not (only) because it was funny, but because it was incredibly inspiring (The Daily Show 10/8/2013).
Although The Colbert Report’s unique premise is especially conducive to these two aspects of humor–laughing at humanity’s inadequacy and highlighting hope amidst humor–these two aspects are not unique to Colbert (or The Daily Show, for that matter). The more late night shows and comedians I’ve watched, the more I realize the importance of the craft of making people laugh. When you have a few minutes, watch a few clips of Jerry Seinfeld’s internet series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. It never fails to surprise me when moments of depth permeate these quip-dominated conversation. That’s a balance we seriously need.