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April 20, 2007

Panelists ponder comedy’s political impact

Whatever life throws at you, there’s always FOX News, Andy Borowitz told a packed audience Tuesday evening at Ida Noyes Hall. Addressing the role of comedy in political discourse, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air creator presented humor as therapeutic in times of duress but said it is anything but a real solution.

Borowitz’s jibe was a defining statement at “LOL 101: Comedy as Commentary,” a panel discussion presented by Chicago Society that featured discussion on everything from the value of comedy in social and political debates to World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz’s (Ph.D. ’72) sex appeal.

The panel consisted of Borowitz; Jordan Carlos, best known as Stephen Colbert’s “black friend” on The Colbert Report; co-creator of The Daily Show Lizz Winstead; and Simpsons producer Mike Reiss, with U of C philosophy professor Ted Cohen serving as moderator. Chicago Society president fourth-year Dan Michaeli and event chair third-year Jen Glickel spoke briefly before the panel discussion began.

The panel centered on the role of comedy in society, touching on corporate censorship and the demise of Saturday Night Live. Borowitz seized on Dick Cheney’s hunting escapades as an example of comedy coverage helping turn the tide of public opinion.

“That was the moment the White House jumped the shark,” Borowitz said. “If you’re reading that in TV Guide, you’re just like, ‘Man, they’re running out of ideas!’”

Reiss took a similar stance but emphasized the frustrating limits of comedy when “some monkey with a hand grenade” has the final say.

“It’s very hard to change when there’s just some obstinate jerk up there in the White House,” Reiss said.

Winstead and Carlos both took more optimistic approaches to the topic, viewing The Daily Show’s coverage of political events as a useful tool. Both cited the 2004 election as a prime example, with Winstead partially attributing John Kerry’s high vote total (relative to previous elections) to efforts from entertainers-turned-commentators.

Unable to attend the event in person due to last-minute conflicts with his work schedule, Carlos appeared larger than life via webcam on a projector at the edge of the stage. Throughout the affair, the physical detachment from his colleagues and audio issues combined to make the young comic a bit of a non-factor in most discussions—something he was not afraid to acknowledge, commenting at one point that he felt like he was stuck in Tikrit. His comments were frequently rendered irrelevant (and inaudible) as he moved them to the backburner in search of a salvaging laugh.