Comedians: The Unsung Role Models Of Society

Kaia Wirth, Editor-in-chief

In 2004, British philosopher Alain de Botton published his idea that comedians and comics are integral to the fabric of society, as they utilize a platform that allows for controversial statements and concepts to be shared with a large audience. Live television shows such as SNL, as well as stand-up comedians such as Pete Davidson and Hasan Minhaj, have all used their platforms as a way to spread a message. Botton is correct in his belief that comedians hold a vital place in society because not only are they able to entertain and create laughter, they also have the ability to spread important messages that are oftentimes shied away from in “real life.” 

There is a certain finesse of being able to create a bridge between making an audience laugh and then creating satire out of an event that should be talked about. Hasan Minhaj does this in almost every single one of his sketches or shows. Being a brown man in a very much white world, Hasan uses his experiences with racism to publicize the prejudice that the Asian community receives on a regular basis. A memorable moment out of his sketch “Patriot Act” included a situation in which Minhaj was in high school and wanted to go to prom with a white girl. He had pulled strings with his strict Indian parents and biked to her house in his tuxedo, but when he arrived at her house she was with a different boy-a white boy. It’s realized later that the girl’s parents had made her go with a white boy because they didn’t want their daughter to be seen in pictures with an Indian boy. This anecdote was scattered with humorous tone changes, details, facial expressions, and mimes, all of which contributed to the comedic aspect of the sketch. However, when the audience realizes how heartbroken Minhaj was, all due to his race, there is a collective emotion of injustice and anger towards the girl and her family. Racism is a topic often touched upon in comedy (see Key and Peele sketches and Ali Wong’s “Baby Cobra”), mainly because it’s so controversial to talk about in an everyday setting. Being on-stage creates a disconnect between the audience and performer, which is why a comedian is able to speak in such a way. Minhaj’s sketch is a perfect example of this, as it talks about the microaggressions that the Asian community experiences, something that is rarely spoken about in the conversation of racism. 

Comedians who use their platform as a coping mechanism have a unique position in which they can help themselves as well as others. Pete Davidson’s father was a fireman who died on duty during 9/11. This in itself is a tragic situation, something that most people would never think to joke about or put into a comedy sketch or movie. Not Pete Davidson. There are examples where Davidson makes jokes about his father in his sketches in the context of loss, and it has become more common for people to cope with their grief by cracking jokes and trying to laugh through it. Yet, the most prominent instance in which this is evident is in his movie “King of Staten Island.” Davidson acts in it as the main character, and the movie recounts various aspects of Pete’s early adulthood. It isn’t 100% accurate to his life, but it’s easy to spot the similarities, as the plot illustrates his trauma following his father’s death and how he coped (or failed to cope). This comedy/drama recounts what it’s like to lose a loved one, especially for those who lost a father figure themselves. It connects with a certain demographic, but similarly to Hasan’s commentary on racism, losing a father figure is something not often talked about in typical conversation. For Davidson, he needs his platform as an outlet for his emotions, as men in society aren’t socially “allowed” to express sadness or vulnerability without being mocked or ridiculed. There is power in how this film illustrates grief, as it makes the viewer feel less alone. 

Saturday Night Live has been aired for generations and has since accumulated an enormous audience, leading to it being one of the largest comedic platforms in America. Most well-known for political satire, SNL is the optimal example of how an organization can spread important messages through laughter. The way that the program is laid out means that there are political sketches and references throughout the show, intertwined with non-political and more fluff humor. This ensures that the audience will stay hooked and continue watching the show, even if they disagree with some of the political jokes being made. This is important. Many times, in real life, when politics are brought up in discussion, the participants become heated and passionate, which can lead to arguments. No one listens to an opposing side when they’re angry. SNL allows for political messages and opinions to be spread to their numerous viewers, and because of the seamless transition into a different topic, it means that audience members are more likely to absorb the information, whether they agree or disagree. 

At its essence, comedy is not just a form of entertainment. It is a tool with which messages of racism, grief, and politics can be spread to an audience member. It provides an outlet for many members of society to express topics that are taboo in everyday life without being burned at the stake. Comedians are so important, purely because they have the ability to say what others are unable to.