The New Stephen Colbert: Humor Meets Honesty

Image via CBS/YouTube

This simultaneously funny and touching interaction opened a space for Colbert to ask Jeb Bush, somewhat abruptly, “In what ways do you politically differ from your brother George?”

Bush tried to joke, but this time, Colbert was serious. He insisted on a real response.

And because he was not asking Jeb to criticize his brother, only to point out a political difference, the governor must have felt obliged.

“He didn’t veto things,” Bush said.

“He didn’t bring order, fiscal restraint.”

With a combination of satire and earnestness, Colbert finagled an honest, illuminating answer from Jeb Bush about George’s legacy, something most media figures would have had a much harder time doing.

John Oliver Calls Out Congress for Denying D.C. Statehood

Screenshot of 'Last Week: Tonight'/YouTube

"Taxation Without Representation." It's the slogan on license plates in Washington, D.C., and a daily fact of life for residents in the nation's capital. With typical wit, comedian John Oliver this week spent a segment of his HBO show Last Week: Tonight on the only democracy in the world with a non-representative capital city, saying, "The Dalai Lama ... called it 'quite strange.' And it is not good when a guy from Tibet says, 'Wow, this system is really undemocratic.'"

WATCH the segment here.

WATCH: New Key and Peele Skit Imagines a World Where We Glorify Teachers Like We Do Athletes

Comedy Central / Youtube

Photo via Comedy Central / Youtube

The Comedy Central duo has long been using comedy to challenge injustice. Now they’re tackling education.

The new skit portrays Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as primetime anchors of “TeachingCenter,” a show meant to mimic ESPN’s flagship athletic program, SportsCenter. The two hosts obsess over new teaching trades, a live draft for teachers, and an in-depth analysis of pedagogical technique. We even get a glimpse at a BMW commercial starring an educator.

Muslim Funny Fest: Using Comedy to Combat Hate

Doha Film Institute / RNS

Dean Obeidallah and Maysoon Zayid. Photo via Doha Film Institute / RNS

“Muslim Funny Fest,” billed as the first-ever American Muslim comedy festival, kicks off July 21 in New York City and runs for three nights.

The fest aims to challenge misperceptions about Muslims and combat hate. It features 15 Muslim comedians — from Dubai native Ali Al Sayed to “America’s Funniest Muslim” Azhar Usman — and there are more than a few familiar names on the marquee.

Co-organizers/comedians Dean Obeidallah and Maysoon Zayid are hoping it will be an annual event, and they may take the show on the road. Their successful annual New York Arab-American Comedy Festival, which features comedians from a range of faiths, enters its 12th year this fall.

Jim Gaffigan's Catholic Comedy

Image via TVLand/RNS

Image via TVLand/RNS

Jokes about somebody’s religious beliefs are often duds.

But jokes about your own religious beliefs somehow push the line between funny and offensive, making room for laughter and, occasionally, sharp commentary.

That’s the philosophy behind The Jim Gaffigan Show, a new series premiering on TVLand on July 15 featuring Jim Gaffigan — the popular stand-up comedian known for his Comedy Central special and the books Dad Is Fat and Food: A Love Story — and his wife, Jeannie.

The husband-and-wife team say their Catholicism — with its daily prayer, weekly Mass, and rosary recitation with their five kids — is such a part of their own lives that not including it in their work would be dishonest.

“It’s part of the story,” said Jeannie Gaffigan, an executive producer of the new show and Jim’s frequent collaborator.

Amy Schumer’s Feminism: And Then What?

Schumer’s strong, emphatic, and well-intended words once again have reduced the feminist cause to the act of sex and a woman’s appearance. She rails against sexual restrictions on women, male sexual dominance, and that weight and beauty define a woman’s worth, all worthwhile topics. But in this extremely powerful and culturally influential speech, I wonder: where is any mention of actual equality?

Why Comedians Can Be Prophets, Too

Photo via Elisanth /

Photo via Elisanth /

We tend to feel like we really know them when they share so much through their various media. Marc Maron got choked up and started to cry at the end of his interview with Terry Gross. And it felt real. I’m not saying it wasn’t real, but we know only as much as he wants us to know. He has created an artifice of authenticity in his work that feels real enough to us to suggest real intimacy, and this is what we lack so profoundly in today’s culture.

We’re too busy, too scared, too incapable, or maybe all of the above, simply to sit down and have “real conversations” with friends and loved ones like the ones Marc has on his shows. We find something wildly cathartic about the outrage Jon Stewart expresses about current events, and about the depths of apparent vulnerability Louis C.K. offers in his comedy routine and in his T.V. show, Louie. Amy Schumer takes the teeth out of human sexuality by helping us laugh at it, robbing it of some of its power.

Charlie Hebdo: Comedy As an Act of Courage

phipatbig /

phipatbig /

I love Jon Stewart. I mean, like “maybe jump the fence” love him. His presence on The Daily Show has spoken to and with my generation through some of our most formative years.

And yes, he tells fart jokes (which I also love). And yes, he editorializes, (which is nearly ubiquitous in “legitimate news” streams anyway). But he also often names what people are thinking, feeling, or what they can’t even put into words.

And then he helps us laugh about it, and at ourselves.

On a recent episode of The Daily Show, however, he took a more sober tone when talking about the slaughter in the headquarters of the French satire magazine, Charlie Hebdo. One comment in particular that he made stuck with me, not because it was funny or witty. Rather, it pointed to something we all need to consider more seriously, I think.

'Dear White People:' A Satire of Injustice

A poster for 'Dear White People.' Image courtesy

A poster for 'Dear White People.' Image courtesy

It might be tempting for some viewers to see Dear White People as over-the-top. To see some of its characters as caricatures, or the offensive party that makes up its climax — with white students dressed in blackface — as unrealistic. But it’s not. For evidence, you only need to look as far as the credits, which show photos from similar events at other schools across the country. And when the president of Winchester claims that “racism is over in America,” it doesn’t sound too different from Bill O’Reilly’s similar claim on The Daily Show just last week.

Dear White People is clever, loving, angry satire. It’s a multi-faceted exploration of race in a time when such portrayals are needed, like peroxide on a deep cut. The film sometimes falters in its process, but delivers the goods when it matters most. The fact that it comes so stingingly close to reality is stunning. It’s funny. It’s sad.

Joan Rivers: Wicked Humor with a Jewish Touch

Joan Rivers in 2010. Photo courtesy David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons.

Joan Rivers in 2010. Photo courtesy David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons.

Joan Rivers, 81, the acid-tongued survivor of popular comedy and entertainment, died Sept. 4. Who could possibly find it funny?

Joan would have.

Humor, she said, was how she dealt with all life’s triumphs and defeats.

She once said, “I knew I was funny and I knew it was powerful” as early as 8 years old.

Born Joan Alexandra Molinsky in Brooklyn, the daughter of Russian immigrant Jews, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Barnard. (“My mother wanted M.D. to stand for Make Dollars.”)

But she couldn’t get a door opened to the stage until she started making the gatekeepers — the agents’ secretaries — laugh.

She worked her way up through New York comedy clubs, over into TV and finally, after seven auditions, onto a stand-up stint on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” By 1983, she was Carson’s regular guest host until a bitter feud over her competing TV endeavors brought their friendship to an end.

Rivers’ first marriage ended in divorce; her second ended in tragedy when her husband killed himself. Even so, she said, “I enjoy life when things are happening. I don’t care if it’s good things or bad things. That means you’re alive.”