Comedians Debate the Nature of Satire

Dateline: MONTREAL—Comedians gathered around an enormous round table at the World Comedy Festival to try to answer once and for all the perennial question of whether satire is supposed to be serious or funny.

According to the comedian Lawrence Flappapuss, satire is mainly about making people laugh. “Satirists make fun of things, so satire’s got to be funny,” he said. “Satire should be as funny as physical comedy. That’s why I combine the two in my act.”

Flappapuss proceeded to ridicule the foreign policies of various political administrations while jumping up and down on one foot and repeatedly throwing pies in his own face.

Michelle Richenbacher disagreed with Flappapuss. “Satire is deadly serious business,” she said.
“Take Jonathan Swift’s famous satire, ‘A Modest Proposal,’ for example. I defy you to laugh while reading it. It’s not funny, but it’s hugely satirical because it teaches us about an absurdity. It uses techniques of exaggeration to skewer a worthy target and to shame those who have allowed the absurdity to continue.”

Arriving at a compromise position was Jose Fandango, the comedian’s equivalent of a street magician. Instead of performing tricks to surprise and delight bystanders, he’s known for circling an outdoor crowd like a vulture and mocking every third individual he sees, without mercy, satirizing them to their face.

“I like to work in threes,” he said, “to lend my satires an air of mathematical inexorability. These days we’re all deserving of ridicule, but sort of like the angel of the Lord in the biblical Passover story, I pass over groups of two individuals out of charity and then unload on the third fellow.”

Satire is serious business, he agreed with Richenbacher. “But satire must also be funny and therein is the middle ground. You see, the world is screwed up and satire is a weapon wielded by some of those who want to improve things. You ridicule those who deserve it, you teach the unpleasant truth, but then the humorous part of the satire lifts us back up, inspiring us to go out there and change things for the better.”

After Fandango spoke, Flappapuss mocked the way Fandango sat on his chair, by attempting to swallow his own chair for no good reason. Richenbacher protested that laughter is for the little people who are incapable of fixing even a decent sandwich.

Meanwhile, sticking to his method, Fandango ignored them both and descended upon the young waitress who had been serving them drinks, accusing her of being altogether too thin.

Author: Benjamin Cain

Ben Cain is a misanthropic omega male who likes to think that the more you suffer, the funnier you can be, and the more of an alienated loser you are, the more you can withstand coming face to face with the horrors of reality. He dedicated himself to discovering whether suffering has a meaning and so he earned a meaningless Ph.D. in analytic philosophy. He shares his findings by writing philosophical rants on his blog, Rants within the Undead God, and he's published a novel, called God Decays, which is available on Amazon. Also, he's pretentiously written this bio in the third person even though he rarely partakes of such conventional trickery.

5 thoughts on “Comedians Debate the Nature of Satire

  1. I agree that political or any other didactic comedy can come off as a rant or even as a lecture. But the fact remains that satire isn’t primarily about making people laugh, like Three Stooges sort of physical comedy. Satire is at least implicitly didactic, because it ridicules something that deserves to be ridiculed and thus that’s judged to be bad in some way. Have you read A Modest Proposal? Did it make you slap your knee with laughter?

    Also, I think political satire is funny if you happen to agree with its slant. So if it’s written by a liberal against conservatism, a conservative isn’t likely to find it as funny as a liberal would.

  2. I have no problem with political satire, as long as it’s knee slapping funny.

    Unfortunately, too much political satire comes off as a rant.

  3. Actually, I started this satire a few weeks ago, but the cosmology discussion motivated me to finish it off. This question of how funny satire needs to be has come up a few times here in the last month or so, so I thought I’d give my take on it.

    And yeah, parody is something else again. Parody requires something close to copying, so satire is the broader category.

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