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COLUMN: Comedy's role in the madness



Late-night comedy hosts from all the major networks began their shows Monday with commentary on America’s deadliest mass shooting in modern history, the Mandalay Bay shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday night. 

Monologues ranged from Conan O’Brien's remarking on how the frequency of mass shootings has changed so much during his time on television to Jimmy Kimmel's tearfully begging American congressmen to act on gun control.

However, Jimmy Fallon chose a slightly different route as he quickly introduced a musical act and ended with this: “We’re here to entertain you tonight, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Fallon has been criticized on social media, and his show has received lower ratings for keeping the nature of "The Tonight Show" light. He has kept the show focused on his personality instead of conforming to the more serious roles other shows have taken.

While show integrity is important, during a time when politicians rarely speak their minds because of funders and special interest groups, late-night shows have begun to engage in honest conversation that unites the nation. This unifying language is of the utmost importance, since we live in a society where there's a new issue each day that divides us.

Laughter, however, is universal.  

President Trump’s five-minute remarks on the shooting were filled with prayers and condolences, but there was no talk of congressional action or a call to change America’s gun control laws. President Trump’s press secretary even remarked that now was not the time to “politicize gun control.”

Americans on both sides of the aisle are seeking changes, big and small, to gun control, according to Kimmel’s monologue. However, gun control bills continually fail to reach floor debate in Congress.

Americans everywhere are looking for hope and for meaningful speech that will comfort and inspire in times of terror. 

Since the advent of television, late-night talk shows have done just that. Saturday Night Live has done just that. Comedy has done just that. 

These shows have used their captive audience, the American people, to cry, take moments of silence and internalize the seriousness of the events in our world. Comedy has the ability to unite us despite our differences. 

Writers of these shows have been able to tackle difficult realities through sketch and monologue, and made them digestible and relatable and comforting.

Comedy’s purpose is grounded in truth. We find comfort in the common human experience of laughter. When we cannot look to our elected officials to provide meaningful, honest solace in times of horror, comedy does. 

That is why it is imperative late-night shows don’t stop being honest and unapologetically calling for action, or our country’s morale will plummet.  

ccarigan@indiana.edu

@carmesanchicken

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