People have employed humor to expose and ridicule the perceived foolishness or corruption of their political leaders since at least the days of ancient Greece. Today’s information technologies have rendered political satire more common; Wikipedia lists satirical news programs in 29 countries.
In the U.S., political satire is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution — “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ….” Leaders, no matter how powerful, have learned that accepting criticism with grace comes with their jobs.
Vice President Biden, for example, is a frequent target of The Onion, a satirical news site. He calls The Onion “hilarious” and has good-naturedly responded to its jabs via social media.
The Daily Show is among America’s most popular sources of political satire. The show has been in the news recently because of the departure of its popular and long-serving host, Jon Stewart, who after 16 years is well-known for both his biting humor and his ability to seriously address subjects like the 9/11 attacks and racial unrest in Baltimore.
President Obama has appeared as a guest, as have other world leaders, U.S. senators, governors and Cabinet members. Senator John McCain, a frequent Stewart sparring partner, appeared (with a puppet that looked like Stewart) on Stewart’s last episode, as did Secretary of State John Kerry.
Obama, himself often the subject of humorous critique, called Stewart “brilliant.”
“It’s amazing to me the degree to which he’s able to cut through a bunch of the nonsense,” he said.