IN THE WAKE of the Charlie Hebdo attack, the question reared its head and headlines anew: Can humor, especially satire, change an opinion or persuade a mind? Are cartoons so dangerous as to pose an ideological threat? Or, put another way: Do punch lines really possess the philosophical power of a knockout punch?

What follows is what 10 practitioners have memorably told Comic Riffs over the years:

“Joking [about] something is a defense mechanism to overcome your fear towards it. If people see their leaders in cartoons, that can help to make them realize they are not gods. Cartoons break people’s fear.”

Egyptian political cartoonist SHERIF ARAFA, during Arab Spring


“I’m not trying to say something profound or important. . . . I hope to God no one takes their political cues from me.”

JAMES DOWNEY, veteran writer of many “Saturday Night Live” political sketches


“The public is gullible. … If [many satirists are] making the same joke, that’s the danger. Then there’s a solidifying effect and it becomes a truth.”

BILL MAHER (HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher”)


“Satire is useless. If it wasn’t, people would have gone ahead and eaten babies, like Swift so reasonably proposed.”

BEN KARLIN, co-creator of “The Colbert Report” and a veteran of “The Daily Show” and the Onion; editor of “Things I’ve Learned From Women Who’ve Dumped Me.”


“Kennedy didn’t beat Nixon. Satire beat Nixon.”

CHRIS ROCK (“Top Five”), on what he says he grew up hearing about satire’s power


“I’ve never felt any of us had significant influence,” “For something to be funny, the audience has to be in a position to sense the truth of it. It has to be primed. Satire can crystallize what’s already in the air, but it can’t really put it there.”

— Pulitzer-winning cartoonist/show-runner GARRY TRUDEAU (“Doonesbury,” “Alpha House”)


“[It] transitioned from taking on the hypocrisy to having an obligation” to question through humor.

— “The Daily Show” co-creator LIZZ WINSTEAD, on the role of satirists


“The only influence I have is [to get the electorate] to try to f—— focus!”

LEWIS BLACK (“The Daily Show,” Pixar’s “Inside Out”)


“When a cover of mine doesn’t engender a certain Zeitgeist, I wonder if I have somehow failed as an artist. The thing is, my best New Yorker covers provide a visual embarking point, offer graphic clues, but absolutely rely on a smart, educated reader to flesh out the image and interpret it in their own way. It is only by their personal decoding of the art that it suddenly makes a statement that speaks to them — uniquely and individually.

BOB STAAKE, book illustrator and veteran New Yorker magazine cover artist


“Good satire goes beyond the specific point it’s trying to make and teaches you how to think critically. Even after your favorite cartoonist retires or [Stephen] Colbert wraps it up, you’re not left believing everything they’re telling you.”

AARON McGRUDER (creator of “The Boondocks”)