The Whiplash Decade

The Decade Political Comedy Stopped Being Funny

Remember when you could actually laugh at a president?

Eve Peyser
Published in
6 min readDec 10, 2019

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Illustration: Brennon Leman

This piece is part of the The Whiplash Decade, a package on the wild ride that was the 2010s.

TThe 2010s was the decade political comedy became unwatchable. I turned it off, not as a conscious decision, but as a result of politics fatigue. At the beginning of the decade, when I was still in college, forming my opinions about the world, I looked to comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as political authorities. But hardened by the Trump era, disillusioned with not only our farce of a political system, but a mass media that encourages our worst impulses, I increasingly look for solace outside of the news — which is why it doesn’t make me laugh anymore.

Stewart and Colbert were always at their best when they had something to parody. Stewart had his twist on the solemn, desk-bound news anchor when he took over The Daily Show in 1999, and Colbert in 2005 introduced us to an opinion-beast in the Bill O’Reilly mode. By 2010, Stewart and Colbert had been comfortably lampooning pre-existing structures for much of the new millennium, exposing the buffoonery of the politically influential. It was a kind of comedy that seamlessly moved what seemed like an impossible political divide — from the Bush administration to the Obama administration — but the smoothness of that transition belied how little had actually changed. The players were different, but the institutions were the same.

Everything changed in 2015, as the election cycle kicked into gear. Stephen Colbert ended The Colbert Report the year before, putting his right-wing pundit caricature to rest in order to host The Late Show on CBS. In his new position on network TV, no longer playing a character, he continued to joke about politics, but his new persona was significantly more tame. Soon after, Jon Stewart left The Daily Show in April 2015, and was replaced by Trevor Noah, who was competent, but lacked the je ne sais quoi of his predecessor.

Donald Trump’s presidential bid upended the foundation on which political comedians relied: pointing out hidden injustices, the…

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Eve Peyser
GEN
Writer for

nyc native living in the pnw. read my writing in the new york times, nymag, vice, and more.