Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Sociology

Content Description

1 online resource (vii, 309 pages) : illustrations.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Ronald N Jacobs

Committee Members

Richard Lachmann, Elizabeth Popp Berman


Cultural Sociology, Humor, Politics, Presidential Elections, Satire, Television, Television and politics, Television talk shows, Television comedies, Political satire, American

Subject Categories

Journalism Studies | Mass Communication | Sociology


How has political comedy on television in the United States changed over time? Earlier examples of political comedy on television were shows like Saturday Night Live and various late night talk shows, which focused primarily on political or personal scandals or personal characteristics, rather than policies or substantive issues. In other arenas of television and the public sphere in general, there was serious criticism of scandals, but not in political comedy. Shows that attempted to criticize politicians or serious public issues using satire, irony, or invective such as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, were routinely censored by network executives. With the advent of cable, and the failures of traditional mainstream journalism after 9/11, a change occurred. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart almost immediately adopted a critical stance on the Bush administration that was widely discussed in "serious" public sphere outlets such as CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post. This form of "critical comedy" has proved popular. This project examines commentary about such programs in the journalistic sphere from each presidential election cycle from 1980-2008. This includes data from newspapers as well as television news sources. Additionally, I conduct content analysis of sets of Saturday Night Live, The Colbert Report, and The Daily Show from each time period, if the show was being produced. I show that political comedy is increasingly influential in public sphere discussions of presidential politics.