Chris Stigall: Comedy Ratings Strong; Comedy Not So Much

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Ratings for Steven Colbert’s “Late Show” have been on a bit of a tear. According to the “New York Post,” Colbert’s ratings have surpassed Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” in back-to-back weeks – a major accomplishment for a show without a winning week since its post-Letterman launch in June of 2015. Similarly, “Variety” reports “Saturday Night Live” is enjoying its highest ratings in six years.

It’s obvious to everyone as to why. It’s the election of Donald Trump.

What’s less clear to most media watchers and critics is still painfully clear to Trump voters. These shows didn’t get funnier. They’re simply providing therapy to the still emotionally fragile Hillary Clinton voter. Like Linus’ blanket in Peanuts cartoons, it’s all about providing partisan security in the midst of liberal hysteria.

I’ve long chronicled the sad degradation of some of my favorite comedy and variety shows. Shows with long histories of bipartisan humor directed at the powerful, slowly dying creatively. But it’s worse than that. They weren’t simply unfunny; they became partisan cheerleaders for a man they adored – Barak Obama.

“Court jester journalism” was the name I gave it.

Writers, actors, and comedians too numerous to count were all on record the past eight years claiming President Obama was simply too (choose any mushy, gushing, admiring adjective here) to make him the object of their jokes. More than that, they wanted to actively assist him.

Eventually, Obama’s White House learned these people could be useful surrogates for his politics. He began using everyone from Jon Stewart to Zach Galifianakis to literally advocate and consult public policy matters.

The liberal, emotional buy-in clouded any ability they had in being honest in their work. Viewers noticed. Ratings sank. If they’re not going to joke about the people with the power – what’s the point in watching anymore? Further, what’s left to joke about?

Along came the 2016 election and a pulse returned to writers’ rooms – for a time. Clinton, Sanders, Trump, and a bevy of other interesting primary characters made for a pretty amusing 2015 and early 2016.

I wrote about the devastating Hillary Clinton impressions performed early in the primary season by Kate McKinnon. Many forget how tough ‘SNL’ was on Clinton in the early stages. Larry David hit a home run as her rival Bernie Sanders.

A longer than anticipated primary fight between the Democrats left allegiances torn. Writers were forced to do evenhanded parody of both to avoid betraying either side. Alec Baldwin’s early Trump wasn’t nearly the uninspired mess it would later become. In fact, some on the left targeted ‘SNL’ as too hospitable and normalizing to the man they viewed a monster.

For me, it felt fun to tune in again.

But soon, the tide would change violently. Once it became clear Trump was surging and no longer the joke candidate most of the left thought him to be, panic set in. As Election Day drew closer, I detailed the comedy becoming heavy-handed, incredulous, and borderline admonishing to viewers considering Trump.

Trump’s eventual victory was just too much for liberal writers and performers to take. Once again, they retreated from the field of comedy.

Alec Baldwin was “too busy” to reprise the role of the victorious Trump the first Saturday night after the election. McKinnon’s Clinton opened the show instead singing “Hallelujah” and tearfully promising the audience, “I won’t keep fighting and neither should you.”

Viewer message received.

‘SNL’ publicly declared they were through even attempting to appeal to anyone who didn’t vote Clinton. The Saturday night after Trump’s inauguration featured two women of the show’s cast singing a deadly serious “To Sir, With Love” tribute as a giant photo of President Obama hung overhead.

Not just unfunny. Creepy.

Baldwin has since reprised his role as Trump, though it’s been scaled back dramatically. McKinnon has taken on the role of Kellyanne Conway – Trump’s former campaign manager and now White House council. Both roles are so overdone and full of characterizations the left imagines of the pair, little truth is found in them.

Only one bright spot has emerged – Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of White House spokesman Sean Spicer. His daily, real life jousts with the press – which we can see for ourselves on cable – make the impression more fun and rooted in some honesty. It’s like being in on the joke. Even if you don’t agree the portrayal is fair or funny, viewers can judge it for themselves because it’s based on real events. As opposed to the Steve Bannon-as-the-Reaper stupidity liberal writers’ biases construct.

McCarthy has been given back-to-back weeks for the Spicer role at twice the air time Baldwin has been given to parody the most powerful man in the world. What’s that tell you? The show hates Trump as much as it loved Obama – leading to identically unfunny, uninspired outcomes.

Conan O’Brien tweeted last week: “Remember when the President of the United States was smarter and more even-tempered than you?” No, Conan. A lot of us didn’t adore the former president, nor did we think the last eight years were as utopian as you did.

You may still ask, “If the comedy is so bad, why are ratings up so big?” It’s easy. Liberals can now rally around their shared hatred for the man and party in power. Their constant innuendo and insults make them feel like they’re bringing the “funny” once again.

But Trump voters know it’s not about comedy and they’re not welcome to the party. It’s about liberals’ grief, and anger, and pettiness masked as punch lines. They’re lost. Their laugher has been replaced with applause lines to validate their despair.

Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe leaves no doubt as he lamented the past and next Saturday night without a new ‘SNL’ to watch as the show takes a hiatus. “…when ‘SNL’ goes on break we are left without our weekly comic relief, our group therapy session.”

Group therapy for Trump haters. Sounds hilarious, doesn’t it?

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