Comedy has long been an avenue for people to express their personal and political beliefs. The rise of late-night comedy shows that deal with political issues reflects our nation’s widespread engagement with politics.

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Political comedy can be interpreted in two ways: as making light of a serious situation or illustrating the absurdity existent in the former and call for meaningful change.

As the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., is host to many comedy groups that incorporate politically charged humor in their routines. Mark Chalfant, artistic and executive director of Washington Improv Theater, discussed the prevalence of political undertones in his group’s routines in an interview with The Hoya.

In the fall of 2016, the Washington Improv Theater staged a comedic production with a political focus, “POTUS Among Us.” The show, an improvised satirical presidential debate, is reprised every four years in tune with the presidential election cycle.

Chalfant said that it is the responsibility of comedians to offer commentary on politics.

“Decisions in politics will make a difference to our lives. Not to comment on them would be irresponsible,” Chalfant said. He views comedy as an effective way to deal with the state of politics today.

“Comedic relief is a real thing,” Chalfant said. “Tension is released biologically and chemically when people laugh together and feel that sense of community in a room.”

Although comedians may not propose real solutions to the political issues brought up in their shows, Chalfant maintains that it is important for comedians to have decisive political views of their own.

Georgetown University comedy clubs share Chalfant’s perspective as well. Students frequently engage in political banter through on-campus comedy groups.

From the Georgetown Improv Association to The Georgetown Heckler, a satirical news magazine, students can join a variety of comedy clubs at Georgetown.

The Heckler, for example, publishes satirical political and lifestyle pieces. The Heckler aims to parody both Georgetown affairs and events in the greater D.C. community; it has published stories mocking controversial political figures — like “News-In-Picture: Bill Clinton Unveils New Tinder Profile For Campus Return” — as well as campus politics, including a story titled “SAC Goes Extra Mile to Ensure Place on Wrong Side of History.”

The myriad comedic organizations at Georgetown work toward a combined goal of providing comedic relief in a politically entrenched society. Yet not all organizations have the same perspective on the issue. Some groups, like The Heckler, choose to use comedy as a forum to discuss politics, whereas others, like Georgetown Improv, use comedy as an escape from the American political scene.

Sean Lerner (SFS ’20), a member of Georgetown Improv, discussed the group’s intentional avoidance of politics in its routines. Instead, the comedy group performs a variety of ridiculous yet relatable comedic bits that provide an outlet from Georgetown’s politically engaged campus. On the night after the inauguration, the group performed without incorporating a single scene that even remotely broached the topics of politics or the government.

“The audience actually thanked us after the show for doing so,” Lerner said.

Whether it be on Georgetown’s campus or in the greater D.C. community, comedians use their skills to provide meaningful social commentary on the state of political affairs in the United States today.

Comedy enables society to highlight to divisive issues, or alternatively, to forget about politics altogether. How we choose to engage is up to us.

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