It’s late at night and you naturally collapse on your couch, adjusting your weary body for maximum comfort. You settle in as your aching muscles relax and you turn on the television for some light-hearted, good-humored comedy that is guaranteed to provide you with your daily dose of happiness in one sitting.
If you are in America, chances are very high that you will be tuned into one of many late-night talk shows hosted by individuals such as Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, and many more. You might be subject to a casual back-and-forth between Stephen Colbert and President Barack Obama or a bemused Jimmy Fallon messing up Republican nominee Donald Trump’s hair. But you can be sure that on any one of these shows on any given day, there will be a lengthy criticism of policies, speeches, and political events such as national conventions. Stephen Colbert even temporarily moved to the location of each of the parties’ national conventions this year to host his late-night show. So how did politics become an integral part of comedy? In 1992, Jay Leno, as the host of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, did something that was never done before in the history of late-night; he invited politicians on the show and was the first to have a sitting President of the United States of America on a talk show. It was an immense success as the individuals who ran the country became accessible to the public. From then on, most, if not all of the preceding talk-show hosts, have heavily incorporated politics into their late-night content.
But the issue isn’t that politics got into the mix of late-night talk. The issue is that the politics done on late-night is incredibly partisan. The material usually pokes fun at those “traditionally Republican values” such as pro-gun-rights, anti-abortion, etc. Former shows such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report primarily focused on lampooning Republicans and Republican-driven news broadcasts. Some talk-show hosts such as Bill Maher are not shy about labelling themselves as a staunch liberal and actively supporting certain left-leaning politicians on their shows. The overwhelming criticism of one major political party by those individuals whose jobs are to provide mass entertainment to the general public is an issue we have to address. This also ties into the fact that the Democratic Party is on track to set a historical record to win six out of the last seven popular votes for the Presidency of the US. Yet, across the US, we are seeing the highest number of and longest running Republican-run states. The negatives of this trend can clearly be seen in this year’s election as nation-wide polling reports the highest cultural, racial, and political divisions amongst Americans than ever before.
However, the blame of this great divide is not entirely on the shoulders of late-night shows. It is also on the American audience. We must not only enjoy and laugh at the flaws of the other side but also look at our own party and consider laughing at ourselves before casting the vote. In this era of politicized talk-shows where partisan perspectives hide in plain sight in the form of satire and comedy, we must be wary of our increasingly heightened exposure to late-night politics and their voices telling us to vote one way through the tantalizing language of laughter.