The 2016 presidential election may seem like something out of a Saturday Night Live skit, but it’s all too real. However, shows like Saturday Night Live, Last Week Tonight, and other late night shows are having a blast mocking the current party nominees. While most of America is enjoying this humorous take on a grim election, one person is not.
Last week, Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, tweeted complaints about the impression of him on Saturday Night Live, claiming that the media is rigging the election. His complaints will likely only add more fuel to the fire for comedy shows, but his grievances bring a bigger issue to light.
Comedy and politics go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly. Ever since the beginning of American government, there have been political cartoons, articles, and now television satirizing politicians. When a politician gives a speech, comedians are there to parody it. This aspect of the political process is incredibly important. First of all, it allows a certain amount of humor and light to come to a situation that might otherwise seem serious and dark. When people are depressed about the economy, or sick of hearing about the TPP, they can always look towards late night television to lighten the mood.
Not only that, but comedy raises awareness of important issues and points in politics. Take for example, John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight.” During each episode Oliver finds an issue, typically a political one, to make fun of. He then spends 20 to 30 minutes pointing out all of the flaws and humorous qualities of current issues. Shows like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” serve to highlight these daily absurdities. Their function, while entertaining, is also to engage the public in ideas they may not otherwise be interested in or even aware of. By using comedy to explain issues, politics suddenly becomes entertaining. It is no longer boring to watch the news; people can learn new information, while also finding humor in the situation.
However, Trump’s complaints are not problematic simply because they mock comedy shows. In reality, complaining about comedy in politics undermines an institution critical to the political process: our First Amendment rights. Consistently throughout this election, Trump has shown that he is not okay with criticism. When the Washington Post wrote an article creating a negative image of him, Trump banned its reporters from his news conferences.
While comedy shows sometimes serve to educate, in the case of shows like SNL, they serve to criticize our political leaders and policymakers. Criticism is protected under freedom of speech and for a potential leader of the free world to take issue with it leads to dangerous implication. It implies that said leader cannot handle criticism, as well as not tolerating criticism of their actions. A world leader that cannot handle criticism, might often lead to restricting the amount of criticism that is allowed, or simply restricting speech. To do so would be a direct infringement upon the First Amendment rights of American citizens, a complete and utter erosion of American principles.
When it comes to a person like Trump, who has shown repeatedly his inability to handle criticism, it is important to keep this in mind. But it’s not only Trump who can’t handle criticism — some of his supporters can’t either. According to a New York Times article, around 200 people walked out of an Amy Schumer show when she began making fun of the candidate.
The apparent lack of tolerance among Trump and his supporters demonstrates once again a refusal to tolerate certain rights and privileges granted to American citizens. It creates a hostile and unsafe environment for Americans to say what they think, and can lead to the restriction of rights.
As long as there is free speech, there will be comedy. It is a natural consequence of the political process, and can sometimes go beyond entertaining to be educational and thought provoking. As he inches closer and closer to the White House, Trump must learn to handle criticism, or the American people will have to learn to tread carefully before speaking their mind.