Strange Bedfellows: How Late-Night Comedy Turns Democracy into a Joke

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In the bleary late-night haze the twenty-four-hour urgency of CNN, Fox, and MSNBC blurs into the bubbling frivolity of Jay and Dave and The Daily Show in a strangely intimate way. Late-night comedy does more than simply induce apathy and dumb down our discourse. It adds its own dimensions to the interpretation of current events, even as it shuts out others.

From Johnny Carson to Jon Stewart, from Chevy Chase's spoofing of President Ford on Saturday Night Live to Stephen ...

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Strange Bedfellows: How Late-Night Comedy Turns Democracy into a Joke

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Overview

In the bleary late-night haze the twenty-four-hour urgency of CNN, Fox, and MSNBC blurs into the bubbling frivolity of Jay and Dave and The Daily Show in a strangely intimate way. Late-night comedy does more than simply induce apathy and dumb down our discourse. It adds its own dimensions to the interpretation of current events, even as it shuts out others.

From Johnny Carson to Jon Stewart, from Chevy Chase's spoofing of President Ford on Saturday Night Live to Stephen Colbert's roasting of President Bush at the White House Correspondents Dinner, Strange Bedfellows explores what Americans have found so funny about our political institutions and the people who inhabit them, and asks what this says about the health of our democracy. Peterson shows how each brand of satire plays off a different level of Americans' frustrations with politics.

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal

What's so funny about democracy? Here, Peterson (American studies, Univ. of Iowa) takes on the big three late-night comedians-Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Conan O'Brian-and critiques their approach to current American politics. Classifying all three comedians as pseudosatirical and safe, he contrasts their humor with the genuinely satirical, political, edgy brand of cable television's John Stewart, Steven Colbert, and Bill Maher. Although he focuses on the current climate of comedy and politics, Peterson does take a historical approach, introducing us to Artemus Ward and Petroleum V. Nasby, 19th-century pseudonymous print equivalents of Jay Leno and Steven Colbert. This book takes an insightful look at the increasingly complex media landscape, where "legitimate" cable and network journalists, cable-news pundits, and TV comedians all fall under the same category of "infotainment" and political leaders and celebrities alike are both ridiculed and revered. He also raises the question whether late-night comedians have a moral role to play as individuals who reach a mass audience with their jibes. Especially timely now that the election season is underway, this book is strongly recommended for large public and academic libraries.
—Jennifer Zarr Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813542843
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2008
  • Series: NA
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction     1
Losing Our Religion     5
"Showmen Is Devoid of Politics": The Roots of Pseudo-Satire and the Rise of the Comedy-Industrial Complex     21
Film at 11:00, Jokes at 11:30: Topical Comedy and the News     39
The Personal and the Political     62
Pay No Attention to That Man in Front of the Curtain     88
Truth versus Truthiness; or, Looking for Mr. Smith     125
For Whom the Bell Dings     146
Laughing All the Way to the White House     170
Irony Is Dead...Long Live Satire?     194
Acknowledgments     209
Notes     211
Index     245

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