Ambiguously Satire: Stephen Colbert the Satirist in the Newsroom

Ryan Hendricks

Satire is often a part of a comedic routine. However, due to the increasing convergence of media, satire has been making its way into broadcast journalism. “I often get my news from The Stephen Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, to be honest,” said Sean Hendricks, an 18 year-old college freshman. The Pew Research Center found that only 11% of those ages 18 to 29 regularly watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. This begs the question: what is the impact of satirical news on the youth population?

Stephen Colbert is a well known comedian who currently is the host of The Stephen Colbert Report, which is a show airing from Monday through Friday on Comedy Central. Mr. Colbert’s big break came when Saturday Night Live bought his satirical comedy sketch called The Ambiguously Gay Duo. This sketch pokes fun at homosexual superhero’s named Ace and Gary. Mr. Colbert played the voice of Ace throughout the entire series. His next big break came in 1997 when he was asked to play a part-time role on The Daily Show. His success on The Daily Show eventually earned him his own show called The Stephen Colbert Report, which has been running on Comedy Central Since 2005.

On television Mr. Colbert plays the role of a right-wing cable news personality. This character role allows Mr. Colbert to poke fun at many of the day’s major news stories. Colbert uses satire to show all shades of the political spectrum; through playing a right-wing personality he is able to give the one side of the story, and by then using satirical comedy he is able to show how the left views this issue. However, Jon Stewart and his colleague Stephen Colbert are far from journalists, and do not place the same emphasis on objectivity. Through making fun the right-wing Mr. Colbert seems to marginalize the conservative viewpoint for the sake of satire.

However, to his credit Mr. Colbert is often the media personality that most effectively performs the essential media function of government watchdog. Using satire as a cover, he is able to shed light on issues that other more formal journalist refuse to touch. This was most evident during the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in which Mr. Colbert used satire to make important political statements. While most journalist were praising the President, Colbert used his satirical routine to attack President George W. Bush for leading the country in a direction that was at odds with the will of the American people, and he also attacked the media for not shedding a light on President Bush’s dastardly deeds. By watching The Stephen Colbert Report citizens often get to see a part of the story that would otherwise go unreported by the mainstream media.

Mr. Colbert has successfully used a form of ambiguous satire to successfully shed light on important issues. Some other journalists have seen the success of The Stephen Colbert Report and have copied his technique; most notably Keith Olbermann host of MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann who each night airs a segment called “The Worst Person in the World”. Keith Olbermann like many others in the business have realized that comedy can play an important role in how we get our news. Apparently, 11% of our 18-29 year-old population has already discovered the importance of satire in the newsroom. Through realizing the importance that satire plays in exposing unsavory activities, the youth have opened themselves up to another stream of consciousness that allows them to make more informed decisions.

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