Last March, President Obama appeared on the online show Between Two Ferns, Zach Galifianakis' satirical program that sends up the usual gush-fest celebrity interview. Galifianakis normally asks his famous guest a series of uncomfortable questions and makes a fool out of him or her, like in this edition with Brad Pitt where he alludes to his infamous split with Jennifer Aniston.
It's usually pretty funny.
But Obama was the guest, there was a government health care program to sell, and the script was flipped, with Obama being the comedic aggressor instead in the scripted segment. It was, quite frankly, comedy malpractice. But for Galifianakis and a website that now spends half its time producing subpar political "comedy," it was a way to do the Obama administration's bidding. Sonny Bunch wrote at the time:
The Obama interview, however, was just dreadful. After a few semi-unbearable moments during which the president shows he doesn’t at all understand the point of the show—the guest is not supposed to get in good zingers; he’s supposed to be taken down a peg—there’s an utterly unbearable moment during which he hawks the failed social experiment that is HealthCare.gov. It’s just gross.
Nothing screams "brave, edgy comedy!" like "I’m here to let The Man sell you on health insurance!"
It hardly stops there in modern comedy. Truly mocking people in power seems to be a thing of the past, so long as they've got a D by their name. This is not in any way shocking, as the creative class is decidedly liberal, but it's a bit jarring that their commitment to politics constantly seems to trump their commitment to laughs.
Stephen Colbert had on Hillary Clinton for a supposedly humorous name-dropping segment about her memoir Hard Choices last June that was so obsequious even the Washington Post called it "embarrassing." In the end, he told viewers to visit the show's website to purchase copies. Colbert, in his super-edgy fake conservative persona, also allowed Obama to take over hosting his show last December at George Washington University.
Colbert's a top-level satirist, and he's still letting the two top Democrats in the country use his show for their own interests? Gag.
NBC comedian Seth Meyers, in "A Closer Look" segment on Late Night in April, took it upon himself to identify the perceived biases of Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer, while failing to reveal that he'd hosted the Clinton Global Citizen Awards last year. Ironically, Meyer felt Schweizer's conservative leanings and former work as a George W. Bush speechwriter helped debunk the findings of his book on pay-for-play allegations against Hillary Clinton at the State Department, findings that were followed up on by decidedly non-conservative outlets like the New York Times and ABC.
It added up to a decidedly weak attempt to be like John Oliver.
Saturday Night Live‘s Cecily Strong was the featured comedian at the 2015 White House Correspondents Dinner, and the slate of 2016 candidates was a hot topic for parody. She hit Clinton for her private email server at the State Department, but she couldn't help but show her political colors later.
"There are so many great people who've already announced they're running for president," Strong said. "It's like, who I should even vote for? Hillary," saying the last word under her breath for effect.
"There's Marco Rubio," she said. "It's like, who's better than Marco Rubio? Hillary. And there's Rand Paul. I mean, who's more knowledgeable about foreign policy than Rand Paul? Hillary."
Before her appearance, Strong talked with MSNBC's Ronan Farrow about the courage of Colbert's WHCD routine in 2006, when he absolutely roasted President Bush sitting a few feet away. (This remains one of the greatest things liberals have ever experienced to this day). Strong also mentioned how "cool" President Obama was, with Farrow agreeing enthusiastically.
Contrast that to 2009, when newly elected President Obama was treated to a routine by Wanda Sykes declaring, "It's hard to poke fun at the president, because he's so likable … People love you!"
Fellow SNL cast member Kate McKinnon, who has hilariously portrayed Clinton in 2015 as a slightly maniacal, un-hip, power-hungry bundle of nerves, told a roundtable of female comedians hosted by the Hollywood Reporter that she's "rooting for her, obviously." She added she finds Clinton "resplendent."
Very committed Democrat Lena Dunham chimed in, "I believe you can make it funny while also not compromising our race."
That, in the end, is what humor appears to be about nowadays.