For as long as I can remember, election season has always been paired with vicious, hilarious comedy. I can still picture Jon Stewart aggressively ranting about John McCain and Stephen Colbert making jokes about Mitt Romney drinking milk after a long day of campaigning. It was a special moment for me when my parents let me stay up late and watch Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live perfectly mimic Sarah Palin. This election season, with the presence of Trump, seems only to have bolstered the number of comedy routines. As someone who easily gets frustrated, anxious and/or depressed when hearing the news—especially news about the election—I have often turned to the likes of John Oliver and The Tonight Show for comfort, for information that I can actually stomach. However, I wonder now, is it healthy or productive to do so? With November quickly approaching, it seems dangerous to continue laughing off reality. Is comedic relief a necessary coping mechanism, or is the time for fun and games over?
A few days ago I watched this season of SNL’s opening episode. As was expected, there were many political jabs thrown, including a cold opening about the first presidential debate with Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump and a “Family Feud—Political Edition” sketch featuring Margot Robbie as Ivanka Trump. I found myself doing what I have done for the past year or so—laughing followed by the sharp realization that this is actually happening. Remember when Trump first declared his campaign and everybody thought it was a joke? And then, bit by bit, it wasn’t really a joke anymore. Then the other candidates started dropping out. Then he won the primary. Then he rose in the polls. S*** hit the fan, and genuine laughter started to turn to uneasy chuckles. Nevertheless, as in all elections, debates are mocked, scandals giggled away and viewers flock to late night TV hosts for puns and studio audience fun.
This election, however, seems different than the others I have lived through and learned about. Donald Trump, a business man and border-line celebrity, versus Hillary Clinton, a politician with lots of experience but lots of scandals, as well as the potential first female president. Many supporters of both sides are more afraid of loss than they’ve ever been in their voting lives. Tensions are rising quickly. We’ve all seen the Facebook statuses, heard the passionate conversations. Every person I’ve talked politics with in the past year has been afraid, and that terror is only growing. The stakes in this election, for everyone in the United States as well as abroad, are high. Quite possibly the highest they’ve ever been. Think of any issue—abortion, gay rights, illegal immigration, police brutality, gun control and taxes—and you’ll see that the result of this election will drastically change the lives of millions.
I am sure none of this is new. All of us, even those mildly following the election, are aware of the big decision facing Americans. This is why, even as I laugh at the vulgarity of John Oliver and the wild eyes of Kate McKinnon, I doubt that now is the time for jokes. Comedy makes infuriating events, people and opinions easier to handle. Laughter is a coping mechanism for fear—which I am guilty of using. But now, with weeks to go, it’s time to just deal with it. No more laughing and sighing, only sucking it up and doing what we can to make sure we won’t have to grimace for the next four years. Out of our way, jokesters, it’s time for us to face reality head on.