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Meet the Comedians Around the World Who Challenge Government Orthodoxy

Jon Stewart may be the premier political satirist of his generation, but these gadflies from around the world give him a run for his money.

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Russia

Victor Shenderovich has been a thorn in the side of Russian governments going back to the Yeltsin period. From 1994 to 2002, he was the mastermind behindKukly – or “dolls” – which was the Russian version of the British political satireSpitting Images. In both shows, puppets represented prominent political figures.

The government of Vladimir Putin didn’t take to Shenderovich’s satire and shut the show down. Shenderovich went on to host several other TV programs before ending up as a columnist for the liberal newspaper The New Times. He was a prominent backer of the anti-Putin rallies that mobilized tens of thousands of people in Moscow last year. When Putin said that he would send a representative to debate his political opponents, Shenderovich  quipped that such a strategy was comparable to asking a friend to fulfill your marital duties with your wife. Ironically, Shenderovich was caught in a sex sting rumored to have been set up by the Kremlin, an embarrassment that  ultimately did little to tarnish his reputation.

South Africa

South Africa has recently produced a number of comedians, but the comedic duo of Nik Rabinowitz and Tats Nkonzo stands out with its blend of risqué banter and hilarious musical numbers. Together, their performance is both hysterical and healing for the country. The two artfully maintain a connection with their audiences through their jokes and music while tackling the kinks of post-apartheid racial tensions and stereotypes. Rabinowitz and Nkonzo  see themselves, according to a profile in Digital Journal, “as the watchdogs of society in South Africa, pointing fingers and exposing the absurdity of the rigid mindset.”

South Korea

In Teletubbies of Yeoido, a recurring segment on Saturday Night Live Korea, four characters resembling the Teletubbies stand in for different political factions: the president, the conservative party, the liberal party, and a character that changes every week. Up in the sky, instead of a baby’s face, the sun features the image of President Lee Myung Bak. The characters often use direct quotes from political events. Yeoido is where the Korean parliament meets, and these political Teletubbies are constantly in conflict, fighting with one another and whining about everything.

Tunisia

In the days of the revolution, at the height of protests in Tunisia, an iconic photograph showed a man single-handedly defying anti-riot police with a baguette held like a machine gun. This image inspired a new Tunisian character, Captain Khobza (bread, in Arabic). Captain Khobza wears the traditional fez hat, a red superman cape, and a mask. He has a cigarette dangling from his lips and carries a French baguette everywhere he goes.

Captain Khobza's appearance is cartoonish, but his French baguette strikes a deep chord in the country's popular and political culture — he has already attracted some 200,000 Facebook followers. In a series of YouTube videos, Captain Khobza injects political satire into Tunisian press. He pokes fun at members of government and other powerful people in the country. There was no place for satire in the old dictatorship. The emergence of Captain Khobza’s satiric humor is symbolic of a changing society that no longer fears to let its voice be heard. 

United Kingdom

A graduate of Cambridge, Mark Watson rose to stardom in 2001 after wowing audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Although not technically Welsh (Watson was born in Bristol to Welsh parents), Watson is known for adopting a Welsh accent in many of his skits, as the comedian has stated that he is “more comfortable talking in a voice that I don’t recognize as my own.” Watson has appeared on numerous radio shows, including the BBC Radio 4, has written three novels, and is the star of Mark Watson Live, a DVD collection of his most popular stand-ups. He has also performed at the Apollo.