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Opinion: Political satire is not dead, just evolving

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The year 2015 may look like the beginning of the end for witty political satire on television if you fail to notice that the chapter has ended and not the book. This year will sit in the wake of Jon Stewart’s retirement from The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert’s transition from The Colbert Report to The Late Show. These television legends of satire have not left us without proper closure—so the world need not despair.

The year 2015 marks the end of the old order in political satire and marks the birthing of a new one which I argue is due to be every bit as good if not better. The flame forged by the two best shows of the old order—Stewart and Colbert—is carried forward by two new shows: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Real Time with Bill Maher.

For many die-hard Stewart and Colbert viewers, the names Maher and Oliver may not connote the same legendary status that they are accustomed to. For others who have given these newer shows a chance, they may already see the same level of genius in the writing as exists in their satirical predecessors.

Maher and Oliver are respectively able to hold their own in this genre of television. Some might be asking why Bill Maher’s Real Time is included in the new order when its first episode premiered in 2003—two years before the premiere of the Colbert Report.

Maher has had plenty of time to step up to the plate and bat alongside Colbert and Stewart throughout the 2000’s. Maher has not played the satirical political game as well in the previous decade. However, he has made considerable progress in becoming more approachable as a talk show host. Furthermore Maher’s content is now engaging, educative and at times in tension with the satirical giants of the old order. In 2010, he actually attacked Stewart for comparing right- to left-wing extremist without noting the key differences. His points are worth learning.

Bill Maher presents truly liberal content to his audience in a general but committed way. It balances between television entertainment and political lecture nicely, just like good political satire should. Some of the points Maher touches on are arguably as informative as a political science class at a major university—and not just an intro course. Just watch this.

Of course Real Time needed this boost, many viewers (and in this case non-viewers really) did not find Maher’s appeal as a talk show host very strong. I think it would be unfair to blame his politics on this given his truly liberal stance, which is representative of many political viewpoints in the world. His ability to lead a discussion or lecture on TV through a relatable personality has, in my opinion, increased exponentially, even if he is still not as likable a figure as Oliver, Stewart or Colbert. Let’s just say he will never have his own flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Oliver on the other hand has had considerable momentum with his new show—partly because it was spun off of The Daily Show. With a catchy intro, high energy, and quality political wit, it comes off every bit as good as Stewart and Colbert.  It was a miracle when Colbert created such a strong spin-off from Stewart; it appears lightning has struck in the same place twice now that Oliver is clearly on the same trajectory to fame and success like Colbert.

Fame and success aside, Oliver is every bit as good as his predecessors, if not better.  Yes, I dare say it: better. Oliver is able to really hone in on the issues of the contemporary global order and always has something to say. It is unclear whether this level of genius found in Oliver’s work is sourced in his writing team, himself, or the fact that HBO is the sponsor when compared with other television satirists.

The old order in political satire was hosted on Comedy Central, which may have more institutional constraints on content within Colbert’s and Stewart’s shows. HBO has a long-standing laissez-faire attitude towards the creators of HBO’s shows—hence all the sex and raunchy dialogue.

Comedy Central has one trick up its sleeve to stay in the game, however. It is hard to say where Larry Wilmore’s The Nightly Show will fall in the new order because it is such a new show. The premiere of this show began only at the beginning of 2015.  Wilmore is also a spin-off of Jon Stewart, so hopes should remain high that things go well. From what has been seen, Wilmore is not quite as entertaining or witty as Oliver, but then again he has not had adequate time to adjust to his new career.

As it stands, the new order has enough momentum already through Oliver to take political satire, and what I consider to be genuine news really, to incredible new heights.  Maher has seemed to take on the 2010s with a reduced ego and some of the most compelling political commentary (from the liberal perspective) ever, and Wilmore should have our hopes high as he attempts to prove himself in the infancy stages of The Nightly Show.

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