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Aug 22 2016

Not Going Gently Into That Good Night

Last Thursday night Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” signed off for the final time with its host making the promise that he would be back. The show opened conversations on topics that are rarely discussed on network or cable often making us wince but none the less truthful and important. As the former host of “The Daily Show,” where Wilmore was once a contributor, Jon Stewart said:

You started a conversation that was not on television when you began…And all the people that you worked with are going to take what they learned here, and what they learned from you… and you’re going to start to see them doing things in the business as well. …And you’re going to watch that flourish, and that’s going to have you on it.

It has been pointed out the satire and sarcasm have been a crucial an crucial part of a healthy democracy for centuries, often steeping over the lines drawn by society to point out the foibles of political policy and social norms:

Political satire has been around as long as politics and government. Part entertainment, part statement of beliefs, it always magnifies the wrongs (or perceived wrongs) of government and is found in all manner of media across centuries, from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels to Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.

Although it usually intends to be funny, satire’s main purpose is to launch an attack using the weapon of wit, says Robert Speel. “Political satire is using sarcasm and/or humor to point out the foibles, incompetence, or corruption of political leaders and government actions,” explains the associate professor of political science at Penn State Erie. “Social satire, while often related to political satire, pokes fun at society, daily life, or certain classes of people rather than directly at political leaders and government.”

So how old is political satire? At least 2,400 years old, says Speel. The ancient Greek dramatist Aristophanes, sometimes called the father of comedy, satirized Athenian leaders and their conduct of the Peloponnesian War.

Political satire probably arrived in the United States on the Mayflower, but as the colonies struggled for independence, satire became a form of commentary on British rule.

“Benjamin Franklin was a prolific political satirist, in works such as Rules by Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced to a Small One, written in 1773,” Speel says.

“The Nightly Show” satire was crucial to our current political climate and it spared no one. The excuse for its cancellation was money:

According to network president Kent Alterman, the decision to cancel “The Nightly Show,” hosted by Larry Wilmore, was made because the show failed to attract young adults and had not thrived on social media: “We hold Larry in the highest esteem, personally and professionally. He brought a strong voice and point of view to the late-night landscape,” Alterman told Variety. “Unfortunately it hasn’t resonated with our audience.” [..]

Alterman didn’t have any discussion with Wilmore about other options before deciding to cancel, which suggests that Comedy Central simply didn’t realize what it was losing by ending the show. When we consider that Comedy Central has been “central” in launching some of the most significant comedy shows on television — “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “South Park,” “The Colbert Report” and “Chappelle’s Show,” to name a few — it’s worth wondering if the channel is no longer in the business of developing comedy that both attracts viewers and shapes the genre.

After a booze filled week of goodbyes to the cast, Larry’s final message to his faithful audience was, “I’m not done yet.”

“I always say, ‘Well, I disagree with your premise,’” he replied. “You see, upside down is just an opinion. If you’re floating in space, the Earth can take on any orientation. But as a culture we all agree with the opinion that the world should be seen in a certain way.

“So at ‘The Nightly Show,’ our chief mission was to disagree with that premise, and to see the world in a way that may not make everybody comfortable, and to present it with a cast of people who don’t always get to have a voice on that,” Wilmore continued. “So on that front, I feel that we’ve been very successful and I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve accomplished.”

Keep it 100.