Remember the line,”I can see Russia from my house”? Who said that? Chances are you said Sarah Palin; most people do. Yet, most people get it wrong. It was Tina Fey, caricaturing Palin on “Saturday Night Live.” The comedian’s impression of the vice-presidential candidate went viral and became almost better known than the candidate herself. It’s not an overstatement to say that political satire may have contributed to her defeat.
With so many candidates this year, comedians are having a field day. Donald Trump in particular likes to be outrageous — it boosts his poll numbers. His uniquely strange thatch, the pouting contortions of his mouth and the flamboyant extravagance of his implausible claims give comics a wealth of material. Jimmy Fallon played Trump interviewing the real Trump in the mirror. SNL chose him for its season opener. They pounced on his unwillingness (or inability) to give details on policy, his megalomania (he knows what’s wrong and can fix everything) and his narcissism (“I’m very smart” and “I’m very rich”).
Seeing candidates on television is nothing new, except that they used to be interviewed by “serious” newspeople, whereas now they are found on late-night shows attempting to improve their images by trading wisecracks (when they can) with their comic hosts. Appearing with Stephen Colbert or Jimmy Fallon or until recently, with John Stewart, is a double-edged sword: the candidates get a lot of exposure to a demographic that may have no other other opportunity to see them, but they also risk being lampooned and put on the hotspot. Late-night hosts are much less deferential than the mainstream media.
Everybody wins: the big-name politicians pull in a large audience and raise the ratings, making sponsors and producers happy. The audience is entertained and, even if only subliminally, educated.