Chris Rock, Colbert, Silverman, Aamer Rahman - 11 More Great Moments in Political Comedy This Year
The headlines in 2014, with rare exceptions, were often heartbreaking or infuriating. In other words, it was a year when we not only wanted, but really needed, comedy to help us cope with the breaking news of the day.
In Part Two of our countdown, we offer 11 more examples of the very best moments in political comedy in 2014. (You can check out Part One here).
1) Zach Galifianakis Talks With President Obama “Between Two Ferns”:
If you’ve followed Zach Galifianakis’s career over the years, from his brilliant and weird stand up days, to his stand-in cameo for Kanye West, to his appearances in “The Hangover” franchise, you probably already know he’s never been cagey about his political leanings. ("I hate the right. I hate them with a passion," he said -- and not as a joke -- between stand up bits in “Live at the Purple Onion.” And in a 2007 interview he said George W. Bush “reminds [him] of every guy [he] hated in high school.”) So it was only a semi-surprise when President Obama showed up as a guest earlier this year on “Between Two Ferns,” Galifianakis’s long-running and Internet-beloved webseries. In keeping with tradition, Galifianakis tossed sarcastic barbs the president’s way (“Where are you planning on building the presidential library? In Hawaii or your home country of Kenya?”), which Obama picked up and deftly lobbed right back. In the end, it was a hilarious and smart way for the president to promote the virtues of the Affordable Care Act to a younger audience.
2) Chris Rock Offers Deep Insights on “Racial Progress” and More:
One of the best political moments in comedy this year didn’t take place in a stand-up club, on social media or in a viral video. Instead, Chris Rock’s Vulture interview with Frank Rich (a pit stop on his press tour for the movie “Top Five”) turned out to be some of the most compelling, engaging, and incisive political reading of the year. Rock’s insights on race, class, “racial progress,” gender, Ferguson, Bill Cosby, parenting, being a black millionaire and Obama’s presidency, to name just a few topics, revealed him to be an incredibly sharp and nuanced thinker. For example: “When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.”
If you still haven’t read the interview in its entirety yet, you should absolutely put aside 15 minutes to do so. Check it out by clicking here.
3) Stephen Colbert on Bill O’Reilly’s Elite Mercenary Strike Force:
When Bill O’Reilly (aka “Papa Bear”) suggested the best way to fight ISIS would be to (wait for it) assemble an international mercenary squad -- a 25,000-strong A-Team, if you will -- “The Colbert Report” wasted no time pointing out just how stupid of an idea it was. (“You know these mercenaries will be good guys because only the best people kill whoever you want for cash,” Colbert suggested). It was a response so perfect that the famously temperamental O’Reilly took to his own show to call Colbert “dumb” and, in what must be the ultimate evidence of his astonishing lack of self-reflection, an “ideologue.” Just one example of the brilliant way that Colbert, for nearly a decade, made the idiocy of the Fox News right-wing propaganda machine obvious -- by pretending to be one of them.
4) Aamer Rahman on “Reverse Racism”:
Although Aahmer Rahman’s “Reverse Racism” bit technically went up on YouTube in late 2013, the video really hit its viral stride this year, racking up more than a million views and earning Rahman fans far beyond his native Australia. Formerly one half of the “Fear of a Brown Planet” comedy duo, Rahman struck out on his own late last year, and was initially unsure if he would stick with comedy. Thankfully, the sudden success of his “Reverse Racism” clip ensured he didn’t go out and find a new day job. Check out the bit, below, in which Rahman performs an exquisite deconstruction of why “reverse racism” doesn’t work as a concept -- at least, not without a time machine and a complete rewriting of history.
5) Sarah Silverman “Talking About Abortion with Jesus”:
In a video sure to rile right wingers from its very inception, Sarah Silverman is visited by a robed, glowing figure who describes himself as “Jesus Fucking Christ.” He then goes on to answer the question of when life begins thusly: “Fertilized eggs aren’t people. People are people.” From there, Silverman checks off various recent ways that church and state have been shoehorned into each other, despite a clear demarcation between the two drawn by the country’s “Founding Fathers.” The rest of the video takes a grim look at how women’s reproductive rights are being eroded in states across America, and suggests ways that viewers can get involved in the fight to preserve those rights. If nothing else, check the video, below, to see how Silverman proposes we equally apply the “life begins at conception” model to men.
6) Jimmy Fallon and Bruce Springsteen Sing “Governor Christie Traffic Jam”:
Jimmy Fallon and Chris Christie’s idol, Bruce Springsteen, took to the “Late Night” stage together to perform the only song by The Boss that the New Jersey governor probably won’t be adding to his collection. “Governor Christie Traffic Jam” -- set to the tune of “Born to Run” -- parodies not only the Bridgegate scandal itself, but Christie’s unbelievable denials of involvement in the whole debacle. Identically decked out in Springsteen’s ‘80s look, Fallon and Springsteen sing from a revised lyric sheet that echoes the thoughts of frustrated motorists stuck on the George Washington Bridge that infamous day. “You've got Wall Street masters stuck cheek-to-cheek with blue collar truckers, and man, I really gotta take a leak,” Springsteen sings in his signature rasp. “But I can't. I'm stuck in Governor Chris Christie's Fort Lee, New Jersey, traffic jam.” Christie, who claims to have seen Springsteen live 129 times (!), had no direct response.
7) Paul F. Tompkins Discusses the Death Penalty on “No, You Shut Up”:
Paul F. Tompkins has been involved with some of the most notable moments in comedy, from the hilarious and groundbreaking “Mr. Show,” to his own podcast, to his endless appearances on “Comedy Bang! Bang!” He currently hosts “No, You Shut Up,” a political panel show that upends the genre by using Jim Henson Company puppets as the opinionated and politically diverse group of talking heads. In the linked clip, the group debates the death penalty until, as in every episode, “it gets too angry to discuss [it] any further.” (You might also want to watch the show’s State of the Union episode, which featured the panel -- including a right-wing evangelical squirrel and a pompous, poop-obsessed ape -- live commenting on the proceedings.)
8) Bill Maher Discusses Anti-Black Police Bias, Islam with Panelists:
For those who have trouble with Bill Maher on any number of issues -- and there plenty of hot spots to get into, but that’s another essay for another day -- what keeps his show so utterly watchable is his invited panel of guests. That was evident several times this year, though two incidents in particular stand out. In the first example, below, Wendell Pierce, formerly of “The Wire” and “Treme,” handily deconstructed America’s long history of white racist violence, stereotypes about black manhood and police brutality. The second followed Maher’s indictment -- far from his first -- of Islam as “the only religion that acts like the mafia that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book.” Journalist Rula Jebreal, who identifies as a secular Muslim, patiently attempted to correct Maher’s indiscriminate (and out-of-bounds, totally offensive) stereotyping of all Muslims. While it’s difficult to win the point against Maher on his home court, Jebreal at least helped bring some perspective to Maher’s incredibly specious argument.
9) Rob Delaney, Comedy King of Twitter:
There are a lot of comedians who use Twitter to tell jokes and build up their following, but Rob Delaney is widely recognized as one of the platform’s earliest adopters and most masterful users. In addition to being both very funny and astoundingly prolific on social media, Delaney is always forthcoming about his thoughts on politics. In 2012, his preponderance of antagonistic tweets toward Mitt Romney prompted Business Week to label him the Republican’s “Twitter Nemesis,” a title Delaney had more than earned. In recent months, he’s used his account to poke fun at conservative attitudes about immigration, the Ku Klux Klan, the NRA, FOX News, the GOP, Dick Cheney’s torture fetish, and Donald Trump (referring to the billionaire as an, ahem, “squinting rectum”).
10) Aziz Ansari Says on Letterman That He’s a Feminist -- and You Are, Too:
In a year when “feminism” was so widely discussed and fiercely debated -- down to the very definition of what the word means -- Aziz Ansari’s announcement that he’s on board with the movement wasn’t exactly earth-shattering. And yet, the comedian still had to whip out analogies he’d prepared to help resistant Letterman audience members understand why feminism might be a concept they could safely agree with. “You’re a feminist if you go to a Jay-Z and Beyonce concert, and you’re not like, ‘Mmmm...I feel like Beyonce should get 23 percent less money than Jay-Z...and shouldn’t she make Jay a steak?” The comedian then went on to discuss his parents’ decision to immigrate from India to South Carolina, a place that “combined racism and horrible public schools.”
11) Michael Ian Black Tweets Political Truths:
It’s funny -- not ha, ha, but interesting -- how Twitter allows some comic performers to get beyond humor and express more serious thoughts. That seems, at least, to be the case with Michael Ian Black, who you probably know as one third of the trio from the visionary show “Stella,” or “Wet Hot American Summer,” or even McSweeney’s -- but not as “that political stand-up guy.” This year, Black has used Twitter not just to crack sarcastic 140 character one-liners (though he’s awesome at that, too), but to tweet out political opinions on torture, Ferguson, police brutality and in one very clever tweet, how the U.S. policy on torture is akin to the policy abuse at the roots of what’s happening in Ferguson. His most popular 2014 tweet, below -- which was retweeted more than 7,000 times -- became a go-to reference on the rules of how we characterize shooters based on racial stereotypes.