Being funny vs. being political

Jezebel blogger Anna Holmes, who’s apparently getting a lot of opinion-writing gigs these days, offers up a curious assessment of Tina Fey:

Fey takes such careful pains not to commit to a position or offend anyone’s sensibilities that she comes off like one of the politicians she and her colleagues so roundly mock.

Holmes seems to be coming from the point of view that Democrats have been fairly weak in standing up for things in Washington. I’m not doing politics here, so I won’t comment on that.

But the issue here is whether you can expect comedians to pick up the slack for politicians. And the answer is: Not really.

Political comedians generally aren’t funny if they’re one-note partisans. To give the most glaring example: Janeane Garofalo has gone steadily downhill since she fully embraced strident politics. (The garish body art and voice ravaged by years of smoking and other abuse haven’t helped, either.)

The argument about Fey here is the same argument we hear about Jon Stewart. Political advocates often figure that someone who seems to be on their side needs to march right along with them.

But frankly, we don’t need more partisans. We need more Feys and Stewarts.

Comedy is a powerful tool for pointing out dishonesty and irrationality. Slap a party label on comedy, and it loses its honesty and rationality.

Comedy, like a lot of art forms, holds a mirror to the world. Don’t slap shaving cream over half of it and expect to see clearly.

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