Send in the Clowns

Long before the telephone, radio, television, and the Internet, folklorists claim, a joke still traveled at roughly the speed of light. For some reason, call it human nature, jokes rank high on the list of topics for social communication. Societies prize a good comedian, which can be seen from the universality of the court jester--who did more than make the royals laugh, to be sure, but who unfailingly did that--to our day. Steve Allen, the songwriter, polymath and humorist who created and hosted "The Tonight Show," television’s first talk-show, once said that society’s respect for the comedian is shown in the high salaries it pays to those who can get laughs. How true. Soon Jay Leno, one of Allen’s successors, may become the highest paid late-night-television host, possibly earning $40 million a year, according to one report. If so, it is because he is deemed society’s most popular jester, the people’s choice. Leno’s style is to heap satire on current events, big and small, and all those involved. In nightly monologue he mocks the likes of Martha Stewart and Roger Clemens as well as the president, his cabinet, Congress, and the Supreme Court justices. As a cultural commentator, he pokes fun and ridicules as only a stand-up comic can, serving a public role: as a witty voice of the people. Historically speaking, some jesters counseled kings and served as royal confidant. Leno, by contrast, has seen politicians come before his court (like Fred Thompson and Arnold Schwarzenegger). More significantly, at their best Leno’s comments on serious political situations and the actions of national leaders hold up a mirror to society. The mirror reflects an image of reality that could serve to alert an apathetic public and also as a corrective to any leader surrounded by like-thinkers and flatterers. (For its part, the public attests to the veracity of the reflected image by the degree of its laughter.) In this way, Leno’s laugh lines bring him, and others of his ilk (Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart, and so on), as close to the role of prophet as any modern gag-ster can come. Karen Sue Smith
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10 years 7 months ago
Yes, and sometimes people like Jon Stewart, of on "The Daily Show," also do a far better job of explicating and explaining the news of the day than do the more "serious" networks. Where the networks will typically have a brief few seconds of footage of a particular topic, often on "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" you will get not only the entire story (sometimes over the space of five or ten minutes) but a more detailed, if trenchantly funny, analysis of the story. Plus, there's less of the network's dreadfully solipsistic "news you can use," that is, the latest diet pill or wrinkle-remover. That is another reason why so many younger viewers get more of their news from Comedy Central than CBS.
10 years 7 months ago
There is absolutely nothing anyone could possibly do to justify a salary of $40,000,000, unless they have found a cure for cancer.

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