Understanding The Jester: The Power Of Comedic Relief In Life And Politics

Comedy and attention attraction were the jester’s weapons of choice, and ones they used to great effect, but if they were so important, where did they go? Surely, the world hasn’t gotten happier, and bad news hasn’t gotten any easier to convey.

What the jester did, like most technologies and cultural systems, was evolve.

The trickster snuck his way into American news and politics. Into the deeper parts of the web in the fields of satire and commentary. Evolution of the Jester has taken many phases and forms from the writers to spokespeople and anyone with a soapbox tall enough to allow them to shout their voice over the social and political walls that drown out much of the noise of productive conversation. From Jonathan Swift with A Modest Proposal taking the most extreme possibility of a society and shoving it in the face of the reader (and taking a stab at the heartless attitude towards the poor) to the modern Jon Stewart with The Daily Show and his counterparts.

Modern day jesters serve many purposes, but there are three purposes in particular that are quite similar to their medieval counterparts.

First, they take a little bit of the heat off of the boiling tea kettle that is contemporary politics. American politics are intense, and uncomfortable for most to talk about, but in perspective, they are fairly mild compared to the politics that made up the French Revolution. At least some people still have a good head on their shoulder, in the most literal sense. Nonetheless, the modern jester can make a joke about politics to break the ice and melt away the uncomfortableness or intensity that is talking about modern politics. It opens the doors for discussion and any conversation has the potential to lead to understanding and growth. The hardest part is starting the conversation, and that is what the jester excels at.

Second, they offer a splash of color to the monochrome scene of politics, and entertainment begets accessibility. Because contemporary satire like The Onion and The Daily Show are often entertaining, they offer an introduction to the messy and tangled world of politics that youth often avoid because of the steep learning curve that comes with having knowledgeable political conversations. Political satire and comedy offer an entry point and break down the learning curve that acts as the biggest entry barrier. To be well rounded in the world of politics, however, these programs should be treated as just that. An introduction. Relying solely on political satire for current information is a danger in itself, but it is undeniable that these services draw flies to honey in a way that C-SPAN and NPR never could, and to a young population looking for an introduction to political conversation, that could be just the invitation they need.

Finally, they can point fingers at important issues from behind the shield of comedy. Political satire and commentary are some of the most powerful exercises of free speech in a nation that sometimes needs to be reminded of its founding principles. It’s a freedom, and one of the best ways to appreciate it is to exercise it responsibly and freely. There are societal, economic, and especially environmental issues that need to be highlighted, and sometimes the best way to draw attention to these issues like the jesters of medieval times is with a well-executed joke. Take, for example, this picture from the front page of Reddit from user OvidPerl with the headline:

“Trump is right, wind turbines are an eyesore”

(Picture from Reddit user OvidPerl highlighting how anyone can be a loud voice on the internet in the digital age, and how they can use their soapbox and humor to make a point about important issues.)

Jesters of old and the ones of the technology age fight a never-ending battle with weapons of wit and wordplay. There may be different forms or different tools, but the idea that is the jester will always find a way to make an appearance when the current generation calls upon them. Times and technologies may change, but the importance of a good laugh along with well-needed reflection will never get old.