This was a rough year for comedy. As Chris Rock put it, “We lost Robin, we lost Joan, and we kind of lost Cosby.” But, we gained some, too. Breakout stars like Hari Kondabolu and John Oliver made keen, quotable observations that resonated with ever-widening audiences. Young Americans cited comedy news shows as increasingly more relevant than “traditional” news sources. And in a year when there was so much tumult, unrest and tragedy, nearly all comedy seemed political – quite possibly because we were all in such desperate need of a laugh. Not every notable high (or low) point necessarily came from those easily identified as political comedians. Sure, Stewart and Oliver take up expected slots on this list — but they sit alongside some less expected candidates. In times of political crisis, comedy is often where the most revealing, telling and above all, honest insights are made. In 2014, these were 10 of the best political comedy examples of all three. ( Editor’s Note: Don’t worry that your favorites haven’t made this list. This is part one of a two-part series.)
1) Hari Kondabolu’s “2042 and the White Minority”:
Hari Kondabolu was one of, if not the, undisputed star of political comedy this year. A former immigrant-rights organizer, writer for the funny-but-canceled “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell,” and one of the most thoughtful — and truth-telling — voices on Twitter, Kondabolu has long been a provocative and perceptive voice on race. This year, with the release of his stand-up album “ Waiting for 2042” — a reference to the year that white people will become a minority in the United States — Kondabolu’s audience and influence grew vastly with critics, comedy fans and activists alike. “Saying I’m obsessed with racism in America is like saying I’m obsessed with swimming when I’m drowning,” Kondabolu says in the clip below, a sentence that has recently found a home on signs carried in protests around the country.
2) Jon Stewart: “You Really Have No Fucking Idea, Do You?”
FOX News handled the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, and subsequent protests in and around Ferguson, Missouri, the same way it handles every story involving race — which is to say, by accusing anyone who mentioned racism of playing “the race card.” By the time “The Daily Show” returned from summer hiatus, weeks into the story, Jon Stewart had a long list of insane quotes from the channel’s pundits to marvel at. This included Sean Hannity’s idiotic suggestion that the only thing differentiating police treatment of him and Michael Brown is that when he’s stopped by an officer, he’s smart enough to “lift [his] shirt up” so the police can see he’s packing heat. Stewart, exasperated, began his response by asking, “You really have no fucking idea, do you?”
A second notable moment this year came as Stewart addressed a Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict the white officer who killed Eric Garner, a verdict that came just days after a similar outcome in Ferguson. “I honestly don’t know what to say,” Stewart stated, somberly. “If comedy is tragedy plus time, I need more fucking time. I would settle for less tragedy than comedy, honestly.” He then went on to note that “none of the ambiguities that existed in the Ferguson case” existed in Garner’s case, thanks to video seen by millions. “Yet the outcome is exactly the same.”
Comedian Doug Benson loves getting high. So much so that he did a 2004 off-Broadway show called the “ Marijuana-Logues,” a 2007 documentary called “ Super High Me” (imagine “Super Size Me,” only with pot), has described smoking a joint with Brad Pitt in High Times, and hosts a video podcast called “Getting Doug with High.” On every single episode, Benson sits down with his guest at 4:15 p.m., ensuring that everyone’s ready to blaze at exactly 4:20 p.m. (not necessarily in his own time zone, but it’s always 4:20 p.m. somewhere). Most of the talk that follows is pot-oriented, punctuated by additional smoking. Guests this year have included David Cross (below), Jack Black, Sarah Silverman, Margaret Cho and, in the ultimate get, Cheech and Chong. Check out more episodes on Benson’s Youtube channel, here.
4) John Oliver Explains Civil Forfeiture:
When “Last Week Tonight” premiered earlier this year — HBO’s foray into the satirical news business with “The Daily Show” alum John Oliver at the helm — it seemed like an all-too-familiar set up. Instead, the show has been anything but predictable, taking the well-tread comedy-news format and adding an extra layer of analysis and insight to the experience. With a week’s hindsight, the program can delve deeper than its daily satirical news competitors, conducting real investigative reporting interwoven within Oliver’s signature 10-15 minute rants. The virality of nearly every episode has been a testament to how much the show has gotten audiences talking. But perhaps the most astonishing segment this year focused on civil forfeiture, a little-known — but often abused — procedure which allows police to seize money and property from citizens without proof of a crime having been committed. Oliver and his crack team of writers, along with the cast of “Law & Order,” do a masterful and hilarious job of explaining just how frighteningly ridiculous the process is and pointing out why the system is in desperate need of an overhaul.