Stories and Lifestyle: Campaign Comedy on TV

TV Comedy boost during US campaign

America has caught the election bug. And so have the American comedy shows: Saturday Night Live (SNL) or the Daily Show with Jon Stewart enjoy rising viewer ratings, thanks to amusing parodies of presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain – but most of all thanks to the “pit bull in lipstick,” as vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is also called. “Saturday Night Live” is something like the mother of all comedy shows. The NBC show has been the place for great comedians for more than three decades. However, it has rarely been as popular as it is this fall, while Americans are curiously following the presidential campaign. Comedy has become sort of a magic bullet during this campaign. Both candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, were guests on SNL. Both were on late night talk shows. McCain, in fact, first announced his candidacy in May 2007 on David Letterman’s “Late Show” – and was later, after canceling on him rather rudely, raked over the coals by Letterman until he finally rescheduled and publicly ate some humble pie. Viewer ratings went up by 50 percent, up to ten million people watch SNL make fun of the candidates every Saturday at 11:30 pm. And because it’s going so well, now the show is on more than just once a week: until the election Saturday Night Live will be airing a number of specials – on Thursday night, prime time.

Most popular is Sarah Palin, the woman who wants to be John McCain’s vice president, whose campaign appearances usually are unintentionally funny. She is being excellently portrayed by Tina Fey of Saturday Night Live. 38-year old actress and scriptwriter Tina Fey had enormous success with the portrayal of Palin’s naiveté concerning foreign policy. “Every morning, when Alaskans wake up, one of the first things they do, is look outside to see if there are any Russians hanging around. And if there are, you gotta go up to them and ask, 'What are you doing here?',” Fey interprets Palin’s vague answer to an interview question concerning her foreign policy experience. “And if they can't give you a good reason, it's our responsibility to say, you know, 'Shoo! Get back over there!” The nation is screaming with laughter. A popular fact is also that Palin didn’t know what the Bush doctrine was. And of course Tina Fey as Sarah Palin is very popular on the internet: her parody of Palin’s interview with Katie Couric, news anchor of CBS, has been watched more than ten million times on NBC and Youtube. The original TV interview had been watched by only one million. “I think the gods smiled on us with the Palin thing,” Lorne Michaels, creator and producer of “Saturday Night Live,” says. “There’s never been an election where we’ve been at the center of so much. It’s great for comedy, and it’s also great for broadcast television because it’s what we do at our best.”

Great response among young people

The comedy shows could win over especially young audiences: One year ago, Saturday Night Live had an audience of 1.4 million between the age of 18 and 34, today, it’s 2.1 million. Young men make up for a quarter of the Daily Show’s audience. “Everyone has been saying that more young people have been into this election,” says Michael Ganeless, president of Comedy Central.

Even in Germany, the digital channel Sat.1 Comedy will air a US presidential campaign special on November 4: in three special editions of the legendary Saturday Night Live the network will show the humorous side of US election campaigns. The 30-minute special episodes ranging from nasty to amusing, parody the competition for US presidency between Barack Obama and John McCain. The special will be aired from 10:30 pm in the original English version without subtitles.