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Comedians Of Clout

Jon Stewart's faux news
Jon Stewart's faux news "Daily Show." One college professor reportedly said, "My students tell me they read the news for the facts, but they watch Jon Stewart for the truth." (By Jason Decrow -- Associated Press)
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So a Jewish atheist comic, a Hill-veteran Democrat and a pack of Washingtonians walk into a synagogue. The lady and the atheist comic have been arguing about politics and religion, and suddenly this Old Testament thunderclap rumbles overhead . . .

. . . And Lewis Black gives an exaggerated jump, as if God Himself is punctuating Black's talk Tuesday night at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. He's on book tour for "Me of Little Faith." The real setup to Black's current political satire is Iraq. And both political parties. And other culpable culprits. Satire "rose in stature because of the war," he says in an interview. "This presidency is madness. . . . The media was supposed to go 10 more yards -- so was the Democratic Party and Congress." In an age when all politics is loco, "the only influence I have" is to use humor to get the electorate "to try to [expletive] focus. "

Will Durst, author of the new book "The All-American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing: Common Sense Rantings From a Raging Moderate," is among the performers who point the finger solely at the White House. The president's policies, he says wryly, "have resulted in the No Comic Left Behind Act."

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John McCain is a doddering fossil. Hillary is pathological ambition poured into a frigid pantsuit. And Barack -- well, Barack Hussein Obama's mere name is mined for cheap yuks because comedically, he's proved about as hard to pin back as a pair of protruding ears.

Those are one-note caricatures perpetuated weeknightly largely by broadcast TV's late-night chat hosts, who are paid to multiply audiences by the lowest comedic denominator. And because of this political shtick, Peterson, the author and University of Iowa academic, accuses Leno and Letterman and Conan and company of practicing only "pseudo-satire."

True satirists, Peterson contends, are genuine critics -- much as commentators and "punditificators" are. Which is why he believes the likes of Stewart and Colbert are healthy contributors to the election's national conversation -- whether they themselves subscribe to such influence or not.

McGruder, the "Boondocks" creator, says satire appeals to many young people at a time when they're discovering politics. "That's your biggest window of opportunity," says the 34-year-old cartoonist, though "it may not manifest for another 10 to 15 years."

And once satire takes hold, perhaps its greatest influence is encouraging critical thought. "Good satire goes beyond the specific point it's trying to make and teaches you how to think critically," McGruder says. "Even after your favorite cartoonist retires or Colbert wraps it up, you're not left believing everything they're telling you."

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