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Comedy and politics panel at The New School feat Gregory Brothers, Steve Almond, Dan Powell and me

I was on this panel a few weeks ago at The New School. I've done lots of comedy/satire in politics panels in my three years at The Onion, from the UCB to Google and beyond. I think this is the best one yet. I was honored to share the stage with


  • two of The Gregory Brothers, who are as gracious and thoughtful as they are hilarious and technically talented
  • to my left (in more ways than one) is author Steve Almond. I'd met him years ago at the Somerville Theatre in Massachusetts, and he easily earned the title of "professor" during the 90 minute segment. 
  • to my right is Dan Powell, a former producer from both Colbert and The Daily Show, now currently with Ugly Americans.

We covered a lot of topics including, but not limited to:


  • The role/value/purpose of the Colbert and Stewart rallies on October 30th (I'll be there!)
  • The role of satire as a conveyer of information
  • The history of "the media," and was there ever really a glory day from which we've allegedly fallen?
  • How our work has had an impact overseas
  • Hate mail
  • Does making fun of politics let us off the hook for- or too easily distract us from actually doing political action, and what is the responsibility of the comedian or satirist?
  • More heavy shit like the above but in a completely funny way. really. 


Here's the official description:

Comedy and politics have gone together for a long time, and in this age, political comedy is everywhere. We have reached a point where instead of just mocking the news, the comedian Jon Stewart was ranked as America's most trusted news source by participants in a Time magazine online poll. How does comedy influence politics? Do jokes about politicians create their image, or just reflect what people already believe? Does political comedy lead people to be more critical of politicians or just more cynical? Join us for this conversation about the influence of comedy on politics.

This event will feature The Gregory Brothers, from YouTube and Barely Political fame for their Auto-Tune the News videos; Baratunde, the web editor of The Onion and co-founder of the blog Jack & Jill Politics; Dan Powell from Comedy Central's show Ugly Americans; and Steve Almond, author of My Life in Heavy Metal and Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life. Sponsored by the Graduate Program in International Affairs


 Thanks so much to Lorena Ruiz at The New School for having us!

Just discovered the Armando Iannucci show. Another reason to love British satire

h/t Tricia Wang for a heads up about this.

Armando Ianucci created The Day Today in the early 1990s (considered by some to be a predecessor to The Daily Show), and I'm disappointed I'm just now seeing his work. Check out this 8 minute clip from what I think is a recent show. It's worth the whole look and hilarious. Great writing. Dry tone. Penetrating satire. 

And here's a trailer for the 2009 movie In The Loop which is about the US-UK relationship and the lead-up to the Iraq War, with all the associated miscommunication of government. 

Those of you who love Skins as much as I do will recognize the lead role is played by Peter Capaldi, aka Sid's dad! For more background, check out this Charlie Rose interview with Armando. Also, he is on Twitter.

My Review Of Last Week's News: Blago And Steele (video)

cross posted to jack and jill politics First, I must say "Blago And Steele" has a nice ring to it. It sounds like an old 1980s action series like "Tango And Cash" or something. Anyway, last night I performed at the Sidwell Friends alumni variety show. It was my third year giving my time to this financial aid fundraiser for my alma mater. With so much going on in the country, I changed up my format pretty dramatically and at the very last minute. Here's a quick one minute clip of my news review. Hope ya dig. And no, the Obamas weren't in the house :)

OK, Obama Needs To Have A Press Conference On All Things Black

cross-posted to Jack & Jill Politics This past week, Obama has faced increasing pressure and media coverage around his stances on "black issues." Recall the following: Obama is going to be asked to comment (as a black man) on every issue possibly related to black folks, and he'll be asked to address (as a black man) all possible stances of black people across the country. He can't avoid it, so I say embrace it. Obama needs to have one marathon press conference in which the conflict-driven media personalities who play journalists on TV can get their ignorance and fears addressed out in the open. Obama needs to have a "Press Conference On All Things Black" What tough questions would the potential first black president of the United States be forced to address? Oh there are so many legitimate concerns out there. Here's a partial list.
  • What do you have to say to the white Senator whose job you took thanks to affirmative action and reverse racism?
  • Do you know what a re-up is?
  • Many black people believe whites are blue-eyed devils. I'll take your silence as agreement.
  • Please complete the following popular music lyrics: "the roof, the roof, the roof is on fire. we don't need no water, let the ______ ______"
  • Have you ever looked at a white woman?
  • The year is 1983. Prince or Michael Jackson?
  • Was justice served in the R. Kelly verdict?
  • Have you ever urinated on a teenage girl and video taped it?
  • Where is the tape, Senator?
  • Senator? The tape.
  • Several prominent African-American leaders are on the record opposing Lunchables. Do you support that position?
  • Can you please share the exact date on which you'll initiate the program of White Slavery? I think the American People deserve to know.
  • Hip Hop artist Nas recently referred to your former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, as a "great f--king coon." How strongly do you agree with this statement?
  • When was the last time you had sex with Lil Kim?
  • Self-described community activist and liberation scholar Baba Chaka Jawanza Afrika has called for the elimination of the white race and the appointment of a black caliphate to govern Earth. Will you return his $7.43 campaign donation and reject and denounce him in person?
  • Jovaunte Stephens of Atlanta, GA is scheduled for a probation hearing tomorrow. He insists he didn't do shit wrong. Did he?
  • How come black people can't swim?
  • Considering your biracial background, is it safe to assume you have an above average length penis for a white man, but a below average length penis for a black man?
  • Where is Tupac? Seriously.
What other newsworthy questions do you think Obama should be forced to answer?

My Take on the New Yorker Joint w/ Brian Lehrer Show Audio

cross-posted to Jack & Jill Politics My people, it has been a while. Apparently a brotha cannot take a vacation without major ish going down! Jesse Jackson is crazy. Tony Snow is dead. Phil Gramm let slip McCain's true economic idiocy. And the New Yorker has generated more comments on Jack and Jill Politics than any other post. The first media request I got upon my return was to join fellow (black) comic Jordan Carlos (known for playing the role of Colbert's black friend and writing this Washington Post op ed about the lack of black comedy writers) on WNYC's Brian Lehrer show yesterday. I had been so cut off from media and cell phones that I missed the initial heat and played catch up late into the night reading over 300 comments here and articles elsewhere across the web. Here's the audio of our appearance. It's about 30 minutes, and former New Yorker cartoonist Art Spiegelman joined midway through. I have mixed feelings on the cover, but I basically come down in defense of it. You should listen to the entire show to hear the range of opinion, including my full explanation of my own, but here are the highlights. I don't believe the cartoonist or editors of the New Yorker are out to get the Obamas. Their intention, to satirize the conspiracy theories about the Obamas by combining all in one, seems clear to me even though it is not clear to all. We should, however, distinguish between what PowerLine might mean by the same image vs. The New Yorker. Satire does not have to be funny to be effective. Many criticisms I've read say "That didn't make me laugh." If you're looking for a "joke," this certainly isn't it. But if you're looking for a provocative piece of art that shines a light on something previously below the surface, this is that. Satire is hard and could always be clearer after the fact. Universal acceptance of any piece of art (and I'm sticking to "art" rather than "comedy" or "humor" intentionally) means the piece probably isn't saying much. I'm generally defensive of the artist, being one myself and having had my own satire royally misinterpreted. Years ago, I posted what I thought was an objectively funny piece about the Rapture over on dKos under the title "A Final Solution For The Religious Right." (the point was all the crazy right wing evangelicals getting beamed up by Jesus was a good thing cause they would leave us alone). Most people didn't get it and focused on the "final solution" in the headline and ripped me for making a joke "about the Holocaust." I later updated the headline to "A Final Solution For the Religious Right, But Not In A Holocaust-y Way." Similarly, the idea that this magazine cover could/should have been framed in a Karl Rovian thought bubble might have made it clearer to some, but the essential nature of the piece would be the same. I don't think this cover gives any addional "permission" to the Right. Much of the criticism focused on the hypothetical abuse of the image by the right wing. Given the poisoned environment around race and Obama's politics specifically, I understand this concern, but I would just say that I don't think Fox News needs any help from the New Yorker in the offensiveness department. We've talked about this before in terms of political positioning. The Right is going to attack Obama on patriotism regardless of how he votes or speaks or acts, so he might as well do the principled thing. So goes the argument. A similar logic applies here. Those who already believe every one of those images will see what they already believe. This cover doesn't turn new people against Obama, and the editors There is a challenge of knowing who the audience is. So much of the criticism I've read says "Well I get it, but they won't." I made this point in the show after Jordan said the New Yorker needs to "know its audience." That's a nice idea whose time has past. In the age of the Internet and low-analysis cable news, every public expression can reach every person nearly instantly. There is no "audience" because the audience is everyone. Dave Chappelle found this out when he saw some white people laughing at black people through his show rather than at the absurd jokes he was making. He decided to end the show because his real audience was getting things not meant for his intended audience. Obama and Bill Clinton found this out when Mayhill Fowler aired their semi-private statements for all the world to see. This is a tough reality for anyone expressing an idea in public, whether a magazine, comedian or politician. I understand and think the criticism is valid, however. I'm not saying that people upset by the cover are wrong or "don't get it." I've learned from my own past experience and from this campaign just how deeply frustration over an image or statement can run. Beyond the Obamas, there are those who abuse the idea of art/comedy/free speech as a cover for their own racism and hate. The white comic who uses the N word because he just wants to but excuses it as an act of artistic defiance is not the same as the artist trying to make a poignant social point. Michael Richards is not Bill Hicks. Many of us are worn down by the ignorance spewed on a regular basis about the Obamas. We've seen official debates in which his love for America is questioned. We've seen a simple cultural expression (the pound) foolishly referred to as terrorism. We've seen the contradictory fears of his Muslimness promoted at the same time as his membership in a crazy America-hating Christian church. We've seen Michelle Obama villified for things she never even said about "whitey." We will see more. When Malia and Sasha get cornrows, this country will lose its ever-lovin mind and ask, "Are the Obama children gang bangers??" In this environment, any expression that seems to add to the incessantly rising tide of stupidity and distraction will be greated with skepticism and frustration and anger. I get that, and so I don't flippantly dismiss those of you/us who are enraged. But I hope we can also see the value and acknowledge the intention behind this work and not just focus on the hypothetical interpretation and abuse by "others." I hope we can distinguish between friends and true enemies. I hope we can see the good that may yet come of this incident. The controversy and conversation is a very good thing for the real problem: the hard-to-combat whisper campaign around the Obama's patriotism. It's hard to fight rumors. Directly denying them often validates the position of those who believe in them. John Kerry will never be a war hero again to many folks. He'll be an elite, out of touch, self-aggrandizing windsurfer for the rest of his days. If the world of artists can overexpose these rumors, by the time we get to November, it really will be played out and hack. The fact that the "terrorist fist jab" is ridiculed in almost every pop-cultural outlet is a good thing. It won't change the mind of those who actually believe Obama is a terrorist, but nothing will ever satisfy that minority. They are lost to reason and should not be used as a basis for judgment. So what if Fox uses this magazine cover!. They are beyond redemption and don't really need to. They could just darken Obama's skin, broaden his nose and thicken his lips as their own track record shows them capable of such acts. The person sitting on the fence, however, will see that such beliefs are being ridiculed en masse by the popular culture and may dismiss them as they should. The fact that many in the country have been talking about this cover is ultimately a good thing (even if you think the cover itself was bad) because it brings into the light the shady theories and lets us show them for the foolishness they are.