13 comedians who lead the way on politics
Cutting through all the murk with laughter.
It seemed like a joke when the Guatemalan comedian Jimmy Morales threw his name in the ring for the snap presidential election following a huge corruption scandal that toppled the sitting president, Otto Perez Molina.
But Guatemalans were sick of corruption. They had no faith in establishment figures. Stealing from public funds, colluding with cartels and hijacking industry contracts were routine and ruining the country.
So the people wanted someone with no ties to the corrupt elite--enter a controversial TV comedian.
He was such an outsider that he was, by default, better than anyone else running.
His campaign slogan was, “not corrupt, not a thief.” In a country desperate for integrity, that’s all it took to win in a landslide.
Now Morales faces the tough task of governing, something he has little experience in.
It’s stunning that Morales is now the president, but it’s not so surprising to see comedy and politics merge. Comedians often find themselves at the forefront of a social issue, partly because of the unifying effect of comedy and partly because of a comedian’s ability to provoke and galvanize.
Here’s a sample (there’s so many!) of 12 other comedians who (sometimes) have political streaks:
1/ Amy Schumer, US
The biggest issue that Amy Schumer addresses in her stand-up and TV Show Inside Amy Schumer is gender inequality and its many, many forms.
One skit reenacts the movie “12 Angry Men,” except instead of 12 jury members deciding the guilt of a murder suspect, the men are deciding whether or not Schumer is attractive enough to be on TV.
It gets pretty absurd and raunchy, but it’s hilarious and skewers the sexist standards and behavior that have pervaded Hollywood since its beginning.
Now Schumer is fearlessly going after the rampant gun violence in America--easily one of the most contentious issues in America. Along with her cousin, the US Senator from New York, Chuck Schumer, she is calling for stronger gun control in the US and is receiving death threats in response.
In this short skit she goes after both sexism and gun obsession.
SPOT. ON.Posted by NARAL Pro-Choice America on Monday, May 4, 2015
2/ Russell Brand, UK
Who hasn’t seen Russell Brand rant about inequality and corruption?
He’s become one of the most outspoken critics of the vast gulf that separates the world’s wealthy--the 1 percent--and everyone else.
He’s by no means the only person tackling this subject, but he’s one of the most interesting to listen to, and he has a big fan base.
Brand gets outraged. He likes to shout and do impressions. But he’s also eloquent and his passion carries him through when giving interviews, posting Youtube videos, leading rallies or moving around on the stage.
This video might be what launched awareness of his politics:
3/ Josie Long, UK
Josie Long became a popular UK political comedian following the 2010 election when she argued against the Conservative Party because of anticipated cuts to social spending.
Since then she has co-founded the charity Arts Emergency and has been involved in the anti-spending cuts charity: UK Uncut.
She also regularly talks about the political power of creativity in her work.
Josie Long told the Irish Times, “For me, DIY culture is political. Talking about lifelong learning and creativity, I saw that as political, because it’s about living your life in a more creative and challenging way. Any sort of creative addition to your life: I see that as quite rebellious and quite defiant in a lot of ways.”
4/ Zhou Libo, China
Political comedy takes a lot of bravery in countries that crack down on dissent. But despite repressive speech restrictions in China, Zhou Libo has been relatively free-wheeling in his comedy.
He hosts a talk-show and does stand-up. He mainly focuses on the trivial grievances of daily life and issues that are fine with the ruling party. But Zhou has also been known to criticize Chinese labor laws, overly centralized economic planning and other topics that aren't openly talked about.
5/ Bassem Youssef, Egypt
A former cardiothoracic surgeon, Bassem Youssef started a popular political satire program--modeled on The Daily Show--in the heat of the Arab Spring.
As his popularity boomed, so did the lawsuits. Youssef’s bold criticisms of religion, powerful figures and cultural mores angered a lot of people and led to the eventual downfall of his show when Former President Morsi took offense.
6/ Ikenna Azuike, Nigeria/UK
Ikenna Azuike is part of the Nigerian diaspora, but he does not let the distance weaken the relevance of his message to sub-saharan Africa. Much of his material comes from political policies and cultural views in Nigeria and elsewhere that he deems confusing.
Attitudes towards sex, for instance.
Like any effective comedian, he knows how to expose the absurdity in a situation without alienating his audience.
7 & 8/ Nik Rabinowitz and Tats Nkonzo, South Africa
These two comedians see themselves as “watchdogs” in South African society as they confront racial and cultural tensions through goofy satire and song.
9/ Michael Mittermeier, Germany
Michael Mittermeier believes in a world without extreme poverty. He co-hosted Global Citizen’s “Against Poverty” event in Germany earlier this year and has been applauded for “demolish[ing] cultural stereotypes.”
Seen on Fahlo:Usher at the Global Citizen/G7 event in Munich with comedian Michael Mittermeier! pic.twitter.com/kAqY2H9jBH— Justin Bieber (@AureRaquiel) June 23, 2015
He campaigns for human rights around the world, including advocating for an imprisoned comedian in Burma.
10, 11 & 12/ Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, US/UK
I can’t not include these guys, even if they’re a given. For many US citizens (and increasingly global audiences with John Oliver), Jon, Stephen and John have been the most trustworthy and illuminating political commentators for more than a decade.
They use satire to clarify slanted media representations, expose corruption among the powerful and skewer all shades of bigotry. They’re forces for good. And Stephen hosted the 2015 Global Citizen Festival.
I'll leave you with Stephen Colbert's epic parody of anti-immigration proponents in the US.
Politics are often the best material for comedy. All the influence held by politicians and all the doublespeak (saying one thing, but doing the opposite) that goes on, makes it ripe for ridicule.
And it’s very funny, cathartic and insightful for the public.
But many comedians also see a deeper purpose in politics and actively seek to make the world a better place through their comedy and activism.
Do you have any favorite political comedians I should add to this list? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do a follow up piece with your suggestions.