Article by Ann Manser, September 23, 2016 -- (See the entire conversation here.)
wonder if comedy really has a place in the world of serious political
discussion are missing the lessons of history, comedian and writer
Ashley Black told an audience at the University of Delaware.
“Comedy has always been about politics [and] it still serves a
political function,” said Black, a writer for the political satire
television show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
Dating back to the “Old Comedy” style of ancient Greece, which was
based on ridiculing politicians and public affairs, that role for comedy
has continued through the centuries, she said. The only difference, she
noted, is whether the political aspects of a particular comedy piece
are relatively hidden or explicit.
Black spoke on Wednesday, Sept. 21, at UD’s Mitchell Hall as part of
the National Agenda speaker series, which this semester focuses on the
presidential elections. Her talk included video clips from the Second
City comedy club — where she appears regularly — and episodes of Full Frontal,
taking on issues from abortion legislation to the nationwide problem of
rape kits languishing, untested, in police evidence rooms.
Viewers often complain online about the show’s “bias,” she said, which demonstrates their lack of understanding of the genre. Full Frontal, she pointed out, is satire, not news, and so of course its pieces show a point of view and an opinion on the issues.
“We get accused of bias from the right and the left, so we’re doing
something right,” Black said. “I think that we’re biased toward the
She expressed doubt that political satire has much influence on voting behavior or public policy, although she said shows like Full Frontal can
serve a fact-checking function. Journalists are often criticized for
not aggressively challenging a person they are interviewing about false
statements, and Black said that Bee, for example, can more easily take
on that role.
“We do it because someone has to do it [but] it shouldn’t be a comedian’s job,” she said.
During a question-and-answer session after the talk, Black was asked
about the relative lack of diversity in late night talk shows. Full Frontal
has attracted a lot of attention for the number of women and people of
color on its writing staff, and Black, as an African American woman,
noted how exceptional the show’s diversity is.
The problem, she said, begins when shows solicit applications from
comedy writers by working through agents and managers, who generally
don’t have a diverse list of clients. Black called that “the bottleneck”
in the process that results in most applicants for writing jobs being
She urged a change in the process: “The audience is diverse, and
people want to see something that represents their experience,” she
said, adding that large segments of the audience don’t even tune in to
late night shows because they don’t see relevance to their own lives.