Changing the Face of Political Satire

By Caroline Havens

Jon Stewart announced his decision to leave The Daily Show in mid-February. Immediately, news outlets and blogs began the discussion of “Who will be next?” It even trended on Facebook. My request is simple: give us a hilariously qualified lady in his place. They are out there and some of them are already on the show. Jessica Williams, Samantha Bee, and Kristen Shaal would all make great replacements. Political satire needs a prominent female voice to discuss the women’s issues that are so prevalent in today’s political discourse.

Satire is an important part of our political experience. The humorous nature of satire makes serious issues more accessible to the audience. Too often political news stories only inspire anger. This anger further separates two political parties that are already miles apart. Tackling issues with humor has the potential to create understanding because of its nonthreatening presentation. Democrats aren’t going to listen to anything Fox News has to say and Republicans aren’t going to listen to anything MSNBC has to say, but both might listen to a satire presentation of the same ideas and see the potential flaws in their actions or ideas. Diversity is important in political satire because a balanced argument, funny or not, is a successful one—something politics seldom sees.

When Larry Wilmore replaced Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central made a step in the right direction. The Nightly Show has confronted racial issues in America like no other show has been able to.  News shows will talk about race and bring one or two African Americans on to discuss their point of view. The Nightly Show brings on a diverse panel of comedians, professors, actors, scientists, and writers with differing political opinions to discuss issues. This has resulted in discussions that are grounded in personal experience as well as intellectual perspective.

Replacing Jon Stewart with a woman could provide the similar discussion of women’s issues in a way that hasn’t been heard on television before, due to the overwhelming male presence. Women’s issues need to be discussed more and they would be best discussed by women themselves. Choosing a woman to take Jon Stewart’s place on The Daily Show would allow for that.

UPDATE

Trevor Noah has been announced this week as Jon Stewart’s successor on “The Daily Show.” As one of the most popular and successful comedians in South Africa who has already hosted a successful late night comedy show, there is little doubt that Noah will excel behind his new desk at Comedy Central. However, my call for a female voice went unanswered. Why aren’t there any female leaders in political satire? Or late night television in general? The finale of Chelsea Lately back in August marked the return of late night television to the good old boys club.

In the past couple of years Jay Leno, Craig Ferguson, and David Letterman have left their late night desks. Each were replaced with men. In comedy television Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, and now Jon Stewart have handed over their jester hats to more men. Cecily Strong was unceremoniously kicked out of her spot on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update and replaced with a duo of men that has yet to find their voice or chemistry. A segment that used to be the comedy highlight of an unreliably funny show has dulled in the wake of Meyer’s exit and Strong’s replacement.

Why is all of this opportunity for female representation repeatedly passed up? Are people still under the delusion that women aren’t funny? Is there some fear of women sitting behind desks? Or is it simply that our culture is still uncomfortable with seeing a woman in a leadership position?