Opinion: Humor Through the Years: SNL and The Daily Show’s Cultural Impact

Mike Richards is a senior English major and a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

Mike Richards

We’re losing an icon in Jon Stewart, who announced last week on an episode of The Daily Show — where he has sat as the satirical news king since 1999 — that he would be retiring.

Saturday Night Live just celebrated its 40th anniversary with a giant event featuring many former cast members and various other celebrities — save for the lack of the ‘NSync and Backstreet Boys reunion that never happened.

Now, there is no lie in my claim that these institutions are in fact strong cultural powerhouses that have guided themselves and America through the shifting times and events over many years. Careers have been spurred through them, lives have been changed — and that’s not just for the people they employed.

You’d be mistaken to think that Jon Stewart didn’t open the eyes of the world to a form of real news. There was always a sense of professionalism attached to every news story, even through all the wry humor involved. Satire is still truthful even if it isn’t dry, bare-to-the-bones news.

If anything, there was an inspiration to get more involved and do some research. There are plenty of occasions where Stewart tackled a news story I had no idea about, but through him I did my research and became much more educated on whatever it may have been. With news outlets like CNN and Fox News, and their constant criticisms behind damn near everything they cover (with good reason), it’s difficult to become interested in anything newsworthy. I never cared for an entire month where a plane went. It crashed, it sunk, it’s really sad, but we all have to move on sometime, and all it was a constant reminder to the families that their loved ones were gone and they didn’t know what happened. It was infuriating.

SNL has taken on many political and social issues through constant parody and satire, but with the humor comes the brains behind it. It wasn’t just Jay Pharoah walking on stage to do a Barack Obama impression because he was the only black man besides Kenan Thompson in the cast, or Will Ferrell and Dana Carvey’s George W. Bush because they could squint their eyes enough.

No, there is passion behind these institutions because they want to bring to life the issues that we do not understand.

Why else would all of the conservative junkies have a meltdown when SNL became what it was? No one else was taking charge in a society where free speech was more limited than what was being taught.

But, there was never an uprising. This was and continues to be all in good fun, as can be seen by the years of surviving on the air.

As I’ve said and stood by in previous talks and columns, I firmly believe there is more honesty in comedy than anything else, because these people know how our emotions work and register. There are times when reality is presented, sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle, and with that we learn more than we ever did or could.

Jon Stewart can be replaced, though it is sad to see him go. SNL can continue with new cast members every season, though we will miss our favorites.

It is the message they bring forth to us that makes the difference, and we should continue to welcome it into our lives, drinking it up as a refreshing alternative to the sad realities that can be our faulty media outlets.

Contact Mike Richards at [email protected].