Treading on eggshells: when comedy meets politics

Henrietta Dow suggests a need for Jimmy Fallon to align with the growing political interests of his younger audience base.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The influence of public figures in roles of entertainment is not to be underestimated. From selling products, to interviews, to impassioned social media posts, celebrities can utilize a myriad of ways to share their thoughts and feelings. And so, their audience naturally has the right to respond.
These days, these kinds of statements are increasingly politicized. Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech against Donald Trump and his administration made major waves, and the response was largely positive. Similarly, Tomi Lahren, the conservative host of Fox segment The Blaze, lost her job after expressing support for abortion rights. The public’s demands can make or break careers, now more than ever. Comedy is what many people choose to turn to in the event of particularly troubling or distressing times. Levity is an amazing medicine when things seem grim, and there is no shortage of late night comedy shows on television. The Tonight Show, and The Late Late Show offer comedy and celebrity news. Then there are shows like The Daily Show, Full Frontal, and The Late Show, all broadcasts which use humor as a tool to explore current events. As one might imagine, the latter shows are finding themselves with huge amounts of material to work with, as the world is in a place politically the likes of which was not anticipated. However, this situation has bled into the world of celebrity/comedy shows in an interesting fashion.
To use one of the most successful hosts as a case study, I would look to Jimmy Fallon. He is PG, and his humor banks on non-offensive, non-controversial gags and games. Personally, I have never found him all that entertaining, as his over-the-top slapstick and pandering to his guests (no matter how funny they actually are) rubs me entirely the wrong way.
But I am an exception to a global audience which has shown overwhelming support for his work. Now, the recent US elections could not have separated the public into two more opposite camps. Many people were and are afraid of a Trump presidency. His stances on immigration, religion, the military, and women’s rights are very conservative and, in my opinion, out of date. So when Jimmy Fallon made the decision to have him as a guest on his show, many, including myself were shocked.
Fallon’s act is to endear his guest to the audience, to sell their brand of stardom, and make them into people just like us instead of untouchable. To allow Trump to receive this treatment was shocking to many. Why should a man threatening to do so much damage be allowed the luxury of humor and humanizing conversation?
Fallon has always been careful to skirt the controversial line. Despite having recently jumped on the SNL bandwagon of Trump impersonation, he remains simply a funny-man. And interestingly enough, his viewership has begun to decline.
While he still holds an astonishingly large audience, Variety magazine reported that since November of 2016, his numbers have dropped from 3.5 million to 2.76 million the week of 30 January 2017. That same week, Colbert edged past him in total viewers, a shocking upset. While he has recovered these numbers since January, his ratings in the young adult category have also suffered, which signals the younger generations’ disinterest in non relevant entertainment.
I have chosen to interpret this as a shift in public mood. Young people might have wanted distracting comedy in the past, but their growing political awareness has made them skeptical of media which chooses to ignore issues in favor of laughing at a man lip syncing to Beyoncé. If Fallon wants to stay on top, he would do well to consider this.


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