The New York Times this week had a story about an Iraqi comedy news program called “Hurry Up, He’s Dead.” I had seen a story earlier on the show, but this is the first time I’d actually bothered to dig in and read up on it.
It’s a interesting concept: essentially the main character is the last Iraqi alive in the year 2017, and the rest of the show is a flashback of newscasts showing how it got to be that way. One details that caught my eye about the description was that rather than going for emulating a serious newscast, the producers went with a very broad, almost clown-like figure in a big wig to do all the parts for the show. It sounds like a far cry from the personas of Stewart, Maher or Colbert (well, maybe not Colbert).
I haven’t seen the program - unfortunately there’s no clips available on the web (if anybody finds one please send pass it on). So I have no first hand knowledge about how well such a broad approach works - and even if I did - I don’t know Arabic, so I wouldn’t necessarily get it all. But I think it’s interesting that when attempting political satire in this country, so much of it must be delivered in a suit, in a wry and “smart” manner.
But the roots of satire are so much in exaggeration and caricature. In some ways, I almost imagine our current approach to political humor may be less effective simply because the stance of today’s satirists is designed to preach to the converted. The outrage is pushed through a cool exterior that sometimes shows more cynicism than passion.
But with something like “Hurry Up, He’s Dead” - again, conjecture - because the actor Saad Khalifa goes so big and broad it can connect with more people, because the comic isn’t portraying himself as “smart” but is rather in the mud and morass with the people. Highlighting the most cartoonish of features to make serious points with jokes that aren’t wonky, but are rather coming from what the people are feeling. I don’t know if at all accurate in describing “Hurry Up, He’s Dead” but does political comedy have to be presented smart? Is a whole audience missed by being droll rather than a troll?