The role of satire in troubled times is a debatable one. Historically, the evidence suggests that laughter is the best medicine only if what ails you isn’t very serious. Frederick the Great’s attitude toward the mockery directed his way was telling: After struggling to read a poster that made fun of him, he is said to have remarked that it would have been more effective had it been hung lower. Nazi Germany saw its share of subversive humor, but of course it was bombs delivered by pilots, not comedians, that finally dismantled Adolf Hitler’s regime. The jokes might have even helped him hold on to power, providing ordinary Germans with both catharsis and a distraction from the fact that he was as monstrous as he was.
The Soviet Union saw satire as a societal release valve, worth opening whenever internal pressure began to build. The country’s most prominent satirical publication, Krokodil, was published by the Communist Party itself. A government that could laugh at itself couldn’t be that bad.
In modern America, where we have long taken for granted the idea that our leaders should be able to laugh at themselves, some consumers of satire have become more cynical and perhaps less likely to engage in meaningful action. A 2006 paper called this sense of comedy-fueled apathy the “Daily Show Effect.”
–Chris Jones, Comedy and tragedy in an age of political chaos