Comedy

The Toast's Mallory Ortberg on Death, Faith, and Why It's So Easy to Make Fun of Christians

"I love the desert fathers. They are so neat. Especially because my life is all about maximizing comfort — like, my house is cozy, my dog and I have little spots on the couch that’s just shaped like our butts cause we just love being on the couch. And these guys are like, 'Well, I spend a lot of time not eating, and weaving baskets until my fingers bleed, but could I spend more time not weaving baskets until my fingers bleed?'"

Mocking Pretentious Power

Charlie Chaplin asThe Great Dictator
Charlie Chaplin as The Great Dictator.

EXTRAORDINARY British actor Mark Rylance has a noble theatrical reputation but has only recently found prominence in movies, most notably in the wonderful Steven Spielberg Cold War film Bridge of Spies, for which he recently won the best supporting actor Oscar. Speaking of Spielberg, Rylance made a beautiful point: “Unlike some of the leaders we’re being presented with these days, he leads with such love that he’s surrounded by masters in every craft.” This gentle wisdom—that good leaders attract good teams—echoes the message of Bridge of Spies, which illuminates the possibility of talking to each other across boundaries of militancy, misunderstanding, and fear. It is an invitation to loving leadership, criticizing a mutually destructive strategy by practicing something better.

Amid the noise of “some of the leaders we’re being presented with these days,” I’ve been indulging in a little comfort-watching, asking Charlie Chaplin to help me discern a way through. Chaplin’s brave, hilarious, and deeply moving film The Great Dictator does to authoritarianism what C.S. Lewis says the devil cannot tolerate: It mocks evil, revealing its pretensions. Chaplin’s courage has rarely been matched. Today his mantle may be held by Sacha Baron Cohen, whose trilogy of pride-puncturing, diversity-affirming films, Borat, Brüno, and especially The Dictator, is brave enough to challenge prejudice when it’s not safe to do so. These three are in the same tradition as Dr. Strangelove, In the Loop, Four Lions, Dave, and the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, which make us laugh at the absurdity of political control, taking away some of its power.

If comic portrayals of bad leadership are comforting, serious cinematic explorations of bad leadership might help us learn how to avoid it. Nixon, Downfall, the Godfather trilogy, Citizen Kane, The Apostle, Beasts of No Nation, The Act of Killing, Leviathan, and There Will Be Blood all present warnings of what happens when leaders are self-interested, unaccountable to an emotionally mature community, and not mentored in tending to their inner lives.

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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?

AmySchumer
Adapted image via Shawn Robbins/Flickr.

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 / Shutterstock.com
Photo via Elisanth / Shutterstock.com

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 / Shutterstock.com
phipatbig / Shutterstock.com

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.

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