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Frank Lesser, Emmy Award-winning writer for 'The Colbert Report,'opens the National Agenda 2014 speaker series.
1:41 p.m., Sept. 12, 2014--Comedy writer Frank Lesser thinks that
poking fun at the politically powerful has a serious side, but it should
always be fun for the writer and the audience.
The Emmy Award-winning writer for Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report
shared his experiences on Monday, Sept. 10, during his “Making Fun of
Politics” presentation to a large audience of students, faculty and
community members in Mitchell Hall.
The talk kicked off the National Agenda 2014 speaker series, "Battle for Congress."
“Sometimes it’s just about knocking the mighty down a peg or two,”
Lesser said. “Everybody’s human, and people shouldn’t take politics so
A graduate of Brown University, Lesser is the author of the book Sad Monsters: Growling on the Outside, Crying on the Inside.
As a literary and entertainment venue, political satire has been
around since ancient times, with one of its more illustrious
practitioners being the 18th century author Jonathan Swift, he said.
“In his 'Modest Proposal,' Swift satirically suggested that instead
of being a burden on their parents, children of the poor should be
fattened up and baked or boiled,” Lesser said. “It’s actually pretty
funny and its humor holds up today.”
Making such a mock-serious argument that is so ridiculous ends up
mocking something less extreme but similarly disturbing and keeps such
political satire relevant, he said.
Other noted purveyors of political satire have included writers as
disparate in time and style as Charles Dickens and Dante Alighieri,
“The Christmas Carol was basically a screed against
libertarianism about the political rift between two factions of that
time,” Lesser said. “In his Divine Comedy, Dante used this most
sophisticated form of comedy to pretty much say that ‘all my political
enemies are burning in hell, and I will tell you exactly why and
Lesser said he has absolutely no idea whether or not the kind of political satire viewers see on The Daly Show, The Colbert Report and other comedy venues has any real world impact.
“I know that I am getting paid for it, and I don’t have to get a real
job, so there really is a serious impact for me,” he said. “I do think
there is something about the kid who points out the fact that the
emperor has no clothes, and then someone in the crowd readily agrees and
people see how ridiculous it is.”
Sometimes shows featuring political satire are a reaction to real world events of their time, Lesser said.
“It was not exactly coincidence that The Colbert Report,
started right at the height of the George W. Bush-era paranoia fears of
terrorism,” Lesser said. “Stephen Colbert pointed out some of the
absurdities of that.”
While writers of political comedy may not directly change people’s
lives, they may shake things up a bit by educating those who really are
making a difference in the world
“It might be about people who are working every day to try to make a
difference,” Lesser said. “So, when they come home after they’ve had a
long, hard day, they can turn on the TV and seeing somebody making fun
of all of the things they have been dealing with all day.”
The greatest contribution of political humor lies in its ability to
bring politics to a more acceptable reality by taking subjects that most
viewers find boring and make them more interesting through political
satire, he said.
“What do you remember more -- boring details about finance laws, the
amount of unregulated money and super pacs, or seeing Colbert’s
political action committee while being advised by a ham loaf named Ham
Rove? The people on the show just took a ham loaf and put Carl Rove kind
of glasses on it. It was really funny and accurate too.”
Political satire created and expressed by very talented professional
comedians in a humorous way can also teach people more about recent
political happenings, he said.
“The main thing is to just be funny about all the things we are
talking about in politics. That’s the key. You want to go after the
targets in power. When you make fun of the little guy, then you’re just
being a bully.”
After his talk, Lesser joined Ralph Begleiter, director of UD’s
Center for Political Communication, and Danna Young, assistant professor
of communication at UD, to field questions submitted by students and
The 2014 National Agenda speaker series, presented by UD’s Center for Political Communication, is free and open to the public.
The next speaker in the series, on Wednesday, Oct. 1, will be CNN political reporter Peter Hamby.
This year, National Agenda alternates with a political film series and the first screening will feature O Brother, Where Art Thou?
at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 17, also in Mitchell Hall. This series,
“Fade to Black: Dark Political Humor in American Film,” will be
moderated by Lindsay Hoffman, associate professor of communication.
Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photos by Duane Perry
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