Laughter, Outrage and Resistance

Post-Trump TV Satire in Political Discourse and Dissent

by Lori Henson (Volume editor) Stacie Meihaus Jankowski (Volume editor)
©2020 Monographs X, 220 Pages


The rise of candidate, then president, Donald Trump coincided with a near-total turnover of late-night hosts, as well as the additions of late-night shows in new formats. The result has changed the paradigm of late-night talk show hosting, in which each host or segment must weigh the political leanings of their audiences and their personal convictions as they choose how to poke fun at or pontificate on the issues of the day. The ways each host has navigated this new terrain of outrage and resistance in their comedy offers fascinating insights into hosts’ abilities to use new techniques to continue to inform, inflame, entertain and satirize, all while shaping their audience’s knowledge about their world. This volume examines the communication strategies, informed and influenced by their individual experiences, employed by the hosts as they seek to handle Trump and the fast-moving news cycle that trails in his wake. Examining topics as varied as politics as the carnivalesque, race and gender privilege, satire as education and the blurring lines between satire and journalism, this volume provides a starting examination of the rhetoric, humor and political chops these hosts have employed while they use their platforms to inform, entertain or resist.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1 Trump vs. Comedy: The Carnivalesque Politics of Late Night (Matthew R. Meier)
  • 2 “There Are No Switzerlands”: Jimmy Fallon and the Costs of Staying Apolitical (Stacie Meihaus Jankowski)
  • 3 From The Man Show to #MeToo: How “the Personal” Shifted Jimmy Kimmel’s Comedy, and His Performance of Masculinity, into the Political (Jessica Birthisel)
  • 4 “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell”: Using White Male Privilege to Promote Diversity in Late Night (Spring-Serenity Duvall)
  • 5 The Roasts That Burned: Comedy, Access Journalism, and Resistance at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner (Lori Henson)
  • 6 Checking In with the Resistance against Trump’s Administration: How Samantha Bee Utilizes Feminist Humor to Advocate for Social Issues (Nancy Bressler)
  • 7 Truth, Humor, and a Reality Check: Samantha Bee’s ‘Full Frontal’ Coverage of Trump’s Travel Ban Executive Order (Jennifer A. Jackson)
  • 8 Deconstructing Privilege with Trevor Noah (Kacee A. Garner)
  • 9 Satirical Education or Educational Satire?: Learning and Laughing on Last Week Tonight (Patty Terhune and Charisse L’Pree Corsbie-Massay)
  • 10 John Oliver: Committing Acts of Journalism through Dick Jokes and Snark (Rosemary Pennington)
  • Contributors
  • Index

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This volume would not have been completed without the assistance and support of several individuals and institutions.

This work began as a panel at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) annual conference in 2018. We would like to thank the Cultural and Critical Studies Division and the Entertainment Studies Division for co-sponsoring that panel. Our authors and friends Jessica Birthisel, Spring-Serenity Duvall, and Rosemary Pennington, all of whom were on that panel with us, have been integral to the conception and execution of this manuscript. Dr. Radhika Parameswaran, ever our professor, guided us to think bigger about the panel—this guidance gave us the confidence to proceed with this volume.

We have really enjoyed meeting and working with our authors throughout this process. We want to extend many thanks to Nancy Bressler, Charisse L’Pree Corsbie-Massay, Kacee A. Garner, Jennifer Jackson, Matthew R. Meier, and Patty Terhune for joining us in this manuscript and submitting such thoughtful chapters.

Financial support for indexing was provided by Indiana State University. We would also like to thank our editor Michelle Smith and everyone at Peter Lang Publishing for all of their support.

The patron saint of the initial panel, and thus this book, also deserves recognition. Thank you, St. Stephen Colbert.

Lori would also like to acknowledge the following: The wonderful support of my co-editor and friend, Stacie Meihaus Jankowski, whose organizational skills and good humor kept me sane and benefitted this project more than I can say. Get yourself Kentucky Catholic mom as a collaborator if you want things done right! Our lovely friends and co-authors—Spring-Serenity Duvall, Jessica Birthisel, and Rosemary Pennington. They know what their ←ix | x→sisterhood means to us. And to Radhika, whose guidance in the largest sense made all this possible.

I am grateful to my colleagues at Indiana State University who supported my work, even as it required me to say no to other projects, especially Arts and Sciences Dean Christopher Olsen, Communication Department Chair Darlene Hantzis, Shana Kopaczewski, Malynnda Johnson, and Jennifer Mullen. Thanks also to Jane Compton and Leslie King for their administrative support and patience. I appreciate you all.

I am endlessly grateful for my family—Mom, Dad, and Lisa—who cheer me on and love me. I’m grateful always to dearest friends—Marie, Mandy, Dan, Rachel, Kim and Dana—for singing my song to me when I sometimes forget the lyrics. And to the members of Activist Study Hall: Thank you for all you have taught me about laughter, outrage, and resistance.

Stacie would like to recognize the following: Working with Lori Henson has been a joy. You can tell she was an excellent reporter by her deft editing skills and her commitment to working right up to (and sometimes just a smidge past!) deadline. I am so happy to have her as my friend.

I am fortunate to have supportive colleagues at Northern Kentucky University’s College of Informatics, especially Michele Day, Alyssa Appelman, and Steve Bien-Aime in the journalism program. Furthermore, I am thankful for the kindness and support of friends, particularly Anne Blandford, Emily Hagedorn, Lesa Hatley Major, Jessica Kratzer, and the roundtable. My brother Steve Meihaus supplied a healthy diet of gifs and memes.

I am blessed with a supportive, loving, and hilarious family—parents Don and Paula Meihaus, siblings Don and Sylvia, Stephen and Hannah, and Jennie and Phillip, and an entire extended family.

Finally, I am beyond lucky to have the love of my sons, Luke and Nathan, as well as my husband, Hal. This topic is of particular interest to my son Luke, who has been a political marvel ever since first listening to Hamilton when he was five (a huge thank you to Lin-Manuel Miranda). My favorite response to people who insist he will run for president one day has been to joke that I hope I’m dead, but in reading and writing (however tangentially) about the presidency, I think my instincts are right.

←0 | 1→


The years leading up to the 2016 election saw a near total turnover of the old guard of late-night hosts. Jimmy Kimmel entered latenight primetime when he moved his ABC Jimmy Kimmel Live show to 11:35 p.m. after being on after midnight for 10 years, solidifying a rise from The Man Show to a mainstream audience. After a contentious battle with Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno retired NBC’s The Tonight Show to the boyish charm of Jimmy Fallon in 2014, and Seth Meyers staffed Fallon’s vacant Late Night spot. That year also saw the rise of John Oliver on HBO, which premiered his in depth look at news and issues of the day on his Last Week Tonight. A year later, David Letterman turned the reins of the Late Show on CBS to Stephen Colbert, who entered the late-night host gig after years of playing a satirical conservative pundit on The Colbert Report. His Late Late Show counterpoint, James Corden, also began in 2015. Also in 2015, Colbert’s business partner and friend Jon Stewart retired from The Daily Show on Comedy Central, giving control over that desk to Trevor Noah. Samantha Bee premiered her news satire late night show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee in the beginning of 2016. The personalities defining late night became more political, with Oliver, Colbert, Bee, and Noah trained in the Stewart school of news satire and Meyers hitting the desk after being a head writer and Weekend Update anchor for Saturday Night Live. Fallon was also a Weekend Update anchor alum.

The political chops of these hosts would be tested. The 2016 presidential campaign wrought a contentious barn burner of a race in which celebrityturned politician Donald Trump campaigned with a different type of rhetoric than the country had experienced in recent memory. Career politician Hillary Clinton brought her own challenges and past burdens to the race. The traditional spaces of political humor in late night, where hosts were traditionally expected to pillory each political party while commenting on the news and ←1 | 2→issues of the day, were strained by the rancor of the election. Post election, the United States and the globe contended with the learning curve of a president new to politics and diplomacy while the American public surged in protest and simmered in anger. Hosts confronted the issues of appealing to a wide audience in an increasingly media fragmented world while also coming up against issues that taxed their personal morality and political beliefs.

What results is a changing paradigm of late-night talk show hosting, in which each host or segment must weigh their audience and personal convictions as they choose how to discuss the issues of the day. Their new techniques continue to inform, inflame, entertain, and satirize, all while shaping their audience’s knowledge about their world.

This volume examines this transitional period, critically examining the communication of the hosts as they learn their new positions and their audiences.

This volume begins by examining the major players in broadcast late night, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and Seth Meyers. These broadcasters have the ability to reach millions of viewers night after night and the power to bring major celebrities and political candidates on their shows. When conceptualizing late night as a vehicle for political comedy as well as political interviews, broadcast late night is the traditional venue, reaching back decades of American history.

But broadcast late night isn’t the only venue for political comedy. This book turns to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where late-night hosts have often been the speaker, to varying degrees of success or derision. Moving further away from broadcast late night, this volume interrogates cable and the new major late-night shows in the past few years. Here, the chapters investigate the new creations of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, on TBS and HBO, respectively, rounding out the discussion by examining Trevor Noah in John Stewart’s old role at The Daily Show, which airs on Comedy Central.

Throughout this volume, the authors use a variety of methods and communication theory to support their arguments.

First, Matthew R. Meier examines late night in the context of the carnivalesque, arguing whereas most candidates began to ignore late night once they entered office, Trump continues to directly engage—and denigrate—late night. Using Trump’s clashes with Stephen Colbert as exemplary of this process, Meier situates these discussions in how they harm or bolster the carnival, arguing that these clashes can cause comedy not only to be less fun but also to be a harbinger of a humorless state that fights one of the important ways the people have of communicating dissent.

←2 |

Jimmy Fallon’s urge to be apolitical is challenged by the Trump campaign and presidency, as he received criticism for his goofy and fun pre-election interview with Trump. In Chapter 2, Stacie Meihaus Jankowski examines Fallon’s political growth after the “hair tousle” incident, centering her discussion on the serious monologue Fallon gave in response to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Jankowski argues that while most audience comments on that monologue were positive, there is also evidence that the hair tousle and other political jokes have caused long-lasting distrust, particularly when Fallon alleges the show is not political.

Chapter 3 delves into Jimmy Kimmel’s metamorphosis from the Man Show to a politically engaged father. Jessica Birthisel discusses Kimmel’s engagement in the health care debate and the #MeToo movement, examining the contexts of Kimmel’s authenticity, particularly in light of what manliness meant to Kimmel and co-host Adam Carolla on The Man Show. Throughout, Birthisel examines how and why Kimmel has been able to reinvent himself throughout the years.

Spring-Serenity Duvall positions Seth Meyers uniquely within late night in Chapter 4, as a white male host using his show, especially the regular “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell” segment, as a challenge to patriarchal hierarchies in late-night comedy. Meyers uses his white male privilege to provide a stage from which to advocate for changes within the television industry. This chapter explores the extent to which his professed feminism and allyship both bolsters his own star power and potentially builds opportunities for women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA community in late-night comedy, thus complicating narratives of inclusion.

Lori Henson examines in Chapter 5 the tradition of comedic roasts of the President of the United States at the White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner, and argues that Twitter effectively killed the nearly century-old tradition. Using critical discourse analysis, Henson argues that controversial roasts by Don Imus, Stephen Colbert, and Michelle Wolf over more than two decades reveal the increasing pressure on journalists to justify to the public their participation in access journalism, quid pro quo political coverage, and celebrity culture celebrated at the dinner in the pre-Trump era. Henson argues that the social media era, as well as Trump’s attacks on the press, has brought to the fore longstanding concerns over the event, and brought about a forced reflexivity among journalists that changed the event forever.

Chapters 6 and 7 focus on Samantha Bee. With the only woman host in the late-night paradigm when the show premiered in 2016, Bee’s Full Frontal with Samantha Bee roared into its weekly spot on TBS. Nancy Bressler’s ←3 | 4→Chapter 6 examines Bee’s use of feminist humor in advocating for consciousness raising. Using analysis of satirical bits on universal healthcare, the treatment of rape victims, the prosecution (or not) of financial crimes, and the influence of media representation on the campaigns of female presidential candidates, Bressler found Bee’s use of superiority theory and differentiation contrast with traditional understanding of feminist comedy, and explored the pitfalls and strengths of this approach.


X, 220
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (November)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. X, 220 pp., 3 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Lori Henson (Volume editor) Stacie Meihaus Jankowski (Volume editor)

Lori Henson (Ph.D., Indiana University) is an Instructor of Journalism in the Department of Communication at Indiana State University. Her research focuses on American news media, religion and politics. Stacie Meihaus Jankowski (Ph.D., Indiana University) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at Northern Kentucky University. She is the co-author, with Lesa Hatley Major, of Health News and Responsibility: How Frames Create Blame.


Title: Laughter, Outrage and Resistance
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232 pages