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newsmax : A spate of terrible news stories from the Paris attacks to mass shootings in the US has challenged TV comics like never before, writes Jennifer Keishin Armstrong.

newsmax :
Late Show host Stephen Colbert was finishing up work on Friday 13 November when he heard the news: more than 100 people had been killed in orchestrated attacks in Paris. He sat behind his desk, looked into the camera and let his tears fall as he told the audience, “Folks, we end tonight's show with a heavy heart because we taped all of tonight's show, and then we found out about the horrific attacks in Paris.”
When he returned to work the following Monday, he had a more cogent response, one that, against all odds, even mixed a little humour with its empathy. “New York is a city that sadly knows all too well the horror the French experienced,” he said. “We stand with the people of France as a friend and as an ally, and offer the hope that there is a way through the unspeakable tragedy.” He also read a few tweets from people who seemed to claim sincerely that they were watching the animated film Ratatouille, which is set in Paris, as a gesture of support. It was exactly the kind of silly sentiment Colbert would normally lacerate with his next remark, but instead he defended it: “Watching a cartoon Parisian rat cook soup is certainly as valid as anything I will say tonight, I promise you that. If it makes you feel a connection to the people of France, go drink a bottle of Bordeaux, eat a croissant at Au Bon Pain, slap on a beret and smoke a cigarette. Anything that is an attempt at human connection is positive.”

His band, Jon Batiste & Stay Human, punctuated the moment with a sombre version of La Marseillaise instead of Colbert’s standard theme song.
Tragic events can often bring out the finest in professional comedians. It seems unlikely but on further examination, this makes sense. In the US, popular comics are regular presences in public life, as hosts of daily late-night talk shows and as social media personalities. They’re forced to address topical events, since they usually play off the news of the day for material. And as large-scale tragedies, particularly terrorist events and mass shootings, have sadly become regular headlines, comedians have become awfully good at helping to guide audiences through their grief with just the right amounts of outrage, pathos and humour – a welcome break from the constant drumbeats of bad news and dangerous speculation that emerge online and from on 24-hour US news networks.

Getting serious
Colbert wasn’t the only late-night host addressing the tragedy in Paris. On HBO, John Oliver took advantage of cable TV’s more liberal atmosphere to unleash a profanity-laced takedown of the terrorists we all needed to hear. The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah delivered a heartfelt speech in the mode of his predecessor, Jon Stewart – a standout moment for Noah, a South African whose strength lies in his international perspective. The Nightly Show’s Larry Wilmore skipped the mourning and used his show’s unique strength – a diverse cast – to poke fun at US media and politicians’ debate over what to call Muslim terrorists: he staged a faux interview with correspondent Fariaz Rabbani, playing a Muslim surfer upset that terrorist groups had given the word “radical” – a beloved exclamation of those who ride the waves – such a bad rap.
Before 9/11, comedians tended to stay away from tragic news events
It was David Letterman who pioneered switching from comic to serious modes, as he did most notably after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.  But Stewart, who had been hosting The Daily Show for only two years and still had something to prove at the time, did the same to standout effect. Toggling with ease between real emotion, genuine outrage, and ironic humour became Stewart’s defining feature.

Before 9/11, US comedians tended to stay away from tragic news events. Tonight Show host Johnny Carson conducted an awkward interview with JFK assassination conspiracy theorist Jim Garrison – five years after Kennedy’s death. But faster news cycles, the rise of international terrorism and an increased number of domestic mass tragedies have changed the nature of American TV comedy. Over the past decade, and particularly the last five years, hosts have been forced to react to tragedy again and again, from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the country’s many mass shootings. It may just be that with repetition, this new generation of hosts has – sadly – perfected the form.
Channels for anger
American late-night hosts, however, weren’t the only comedians speaking fans’ truths in the wake of recent tragedies. In fact, comedians of every type across the world have used their platforms to reflect what many were thinking. British comedian Jason Manford took to Facebook to rant against the Paris attackers, whom he called “cowards” in a post so full of expletives, as well as Muslim extremist-bashing, that the social media network removed it as a violation of its policies. “I hope you are all caught and murdered in a similar agonising way,” he wrote in the post, which was widely shared before it was taken down.
We've only been on the air for nine months, and it baffles me that we have to talk so often about mass shootings and tragedy
By the time of another US mass shooting a month later, even the comedians seemed to have run out of expletives. The violence at an office party in San Bernadino, California in early December pushed everyone, even comedians, past a point of exhaustion. "This is really unacceptable, coming off the heels of the shooting last week at Planned Parenthood," Wilmore stated simply on The Nightly Show. "It's just so overwhelming.” Later he added, “Let me just see if I can put it in perspective for you: There have been 355 mass shootings this year, and we are only on calendar day 336. This has really got to stop."

Talk show hosts are in a unique position, culturally, to give us what we need during these times. News reporting is often confusing and contradictory: terrifying one minute and numbing the next. The internet is freaking out about everything, always. But late-night shows allow viewers a break from 24-hour news and Twitter cycles while still acknowledging the event weighing on everyone’s minds. Colbert’s Monday-after defense of connecting to Paris any way we could – even if that meant watching a cartoon about a Parisian rat – soothed many of us who wanted to grieve in our own ways, even if we weren’t doing it ‘correctly’. Oliver gave voice to our outrage.
Such attacks should and must feel personal to us all. Our late-night hosts can help us process them, can guide us through, in a way few other media can. Here’s to hoping we don’t need them to use that power nearly as much in 2016.

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