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Comedy Campaign

Comedy Campaign
by Heidi Cassell

There has been a long-term shift of how the public gets its news. In the past several months, more young adults are tuning-in to the late-night television parodies and satirizations of the 2008 US Presidential election than the “real” news broadcast coverage. Similarly, the younger generation of late-night television watchers are tuning-in en masse to the more recent form of this genre, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report, in numbers far greater than the primary late-night broadcast television such as Late Night with Conan O’Brien and the Late Show with David Letterman.

The world of parody and satire has become ever more present on late-night television and is sweeping the mass audiences off their proverbial feet. The difference between the hard-hitting news programming and the Late Night programming is clear. So, what is so different between the earliest late-night television and the new late-night television? Well, for starters, the new programming goes beyond the regular comedy routine and skit. It moves from the realm of entertainment into what is called infotainment. It parodies the news reports in a “fake news” report style, running the length of the entire show. It’s not just comedy skits and segments; it is a non-stop spoof of real news network programs that generate the laughs and audience ratings.

The “fake news” programs are taking off like a fashion trend among the young generation of late-night television viewers. These programs are apt to give the younger, more impressionable audience a skewed sense of knowledge, more specifically, on the 2008 US Presidential elections and world views.

Infotainment Phenomenon

Ever more, young people are being drawn to the slapstick comedy that has engulfed the Late Night programs on Comedy Central and other cable television channels. The passing of information in the form of entertainment is a great way to get younger audiences to pay attention. 43% of Steven Colbert's regular viewers are younger than 30, as are 42% of Jon Stewart's regular viewers.

Is it really affecting the minds and opinions of young adults, or is it simply entertainment? A word like infotainment is dangerous. The audiences must realize that the information may be skewed or a misrepresentation of facts, likewise, taken out of context can be misunderstood and a form of slanting or falsification of fact. Americans and Australians alike are obsessed with truth these days, which is why infotainment can be so dangerous for the viewers and seekers of truth. Getting information from a purely entertainment platform is not the same as getting information from a credible, objective source. There are implications of bias and slanting within The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

The Daily Show and The Colbert Report reached record numbers of viewers last month, topping some of the broadcast networks’ late-night shows that have been at the top of the charts since 1962 - starting with Johnny Carson and David Letterman. These shows have been competing for years, but just recently the parody and satirical genre has taken off.


The Daily Show averaged just under two million viewers for September, by far its best performance since the show began airing. For the first time since the US Presidential elections began, the show had more viewers per episode than NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien. More striking, is the fact that Late Night with Conan O’Brien is on a cable television network, which is available in about fifteen million more homes than The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

In the category of men ages 18 to 34, the prime comedy category, The Daily Show averaged 486,000 viewers in September, with The Colbert Report at 438,000. The closest viewership among cable television network shows in that category were The Tonight Show With Jay Leno on NBC with 321,000 and Late Night with Conan O’Brien with 215,000. Late Show With David Letterman on CBS had just 179,000 in that group.

The Daily Show has become a must-see for the news-jaded American public. Jon Stewart's irreverent look at the news reported from the Democratic National Convention tied with "real" news outlet MSNBC[http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032553] in ratings.

The late-night show had 1.3 million viewers, equaling MSNBC's primetime slot. While CNN is the most watched cable outlet, with 2.3 million viewers and Fox News second with 2 million, The Daily Show beat out all the major news channels for the 18-49 and 18-34 demographic.

The Daily Show's numbers overall have risen immensely this year, with a 21% ratings increase. The show once struggled to find guests, but is now on the top of the “must-visit” list of most politicians and celebrities. The interview segments may very well be the closet to something real or useful that comes from the satirical shows.

If more proof is needed of The Daily Show’s increasing clout and ability to deliver to swarms of young voters, take a look at recent guests during the 2008 season – Ralph Nader, Mike Huckabee, Howard Dean, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Barack Obama and John McCain. But the guests do not stop there with the political figureheads; the list of guests goes on for days with top movie actors and actresses, world figures, and other government officials, including George Clooney, Nancy Pelosi and even Conan O’Brien all making an appearance for the interview portion of the show.

Even though The Colbert Report has only been on the air for four seasons, it is not far behind The Daily Show, with similar clout and ability to access and interview high profile figures. In 2008 guests included Mike Huckabee, Madeleine Albright, Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Salman Rushdie, Ron Paul, Bob Dole, Geraldo Rivera, Jesse Ventura, Will Smith and Kevin Costner.

The ratings and fame are evidence enough of the infotainment phenomenon, attracting so many viewers. Infotainment is another trend in television programming geared towards mass audiences and mass ratings. It is scary to think that the mass audiences get their information and knowledge of the US Presidential election from a faux news television show.


Jon Stewart has been called “the most trusted man in America,” I must point out that The Daily Show mandate is to entertain, not to inform. The Daily Show resonates with many young people across the globe and with the cognitive dissonance shared by the public in wanting to justify or rationalize their attitudes and beliefs.

Adults were asked in a 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center: For the people & the press, to name the journalist they most admired, Mr. Stewart, the fake news anchor, came in at No. 4, tied with the real news anchors Tom Brokaw of NBC, Dan Rather of CBS and Anderson Cooper of CNN. And a study this year from the center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism concluded that “The Daily Show is clearly impacting dialogue and getting people to think critically about the public square.”


Comedy Central. 2008. Viacom. 9 October 2008 http://www.comedycentral.com/

The Colbert Report. 2008. Comedy Partners. 9 October 2008 http://www.colbertnation.com/home

The Daily Show. 2008. Comedy Partners. 9 October 2008 http://www.thedailyshow.com/

The Internet Movie Database (IMBD). 2008. IMBD Inc. 9 October 2008 http://us.imdb.com/

TV By the Numbers. 2008. Nielson. 12 October 2008 http://tvbythenumbers.com/category/ratings/late-night

“Public Knowledge of Current Affairs Little Changed by News and Information Revolutions.” 15 April 2007. Pew Research Center for the people & the press. 17 October 2008. http://people-press.org/report/319/public-knowledge-of-current-affairs-little-changed-by-news-and-information-revolutions

“Journalists Less Prominent.” 8 March 2007. Pew Research Center for the people & the press. 17 October 2008. http://people-press.org/report/309/todays-journalists-less-prominent

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