Occupational Hazards of Comedy

From "Sesame Street" to "South Park," satirists are wringing very different kinds of laughs out of Occupy Wall Street.

Occupy Wall Street has reached a strange intersection where the two biggest pop culture figures to emerge as satirical symbols of the movement hail from the vastly different neighborhoods of "Sesame Street" and "South Park."

Cookie Monster became co-opted early into the encampment at Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park as furry blue face of the greedy "one percent," starring in a clever, evolving Internet meme called "Occupy Sesame Street" ("99% of the Worlds [sic] Cookies are being consumed by 1% of the monsters," reads the caption under Cookie’s picture). This week, conniving Eric Cartman surfaced as the bane of the other 99 percent (his classmates) in the latest "South Park," an episode that quickly elicited much Twitter chatter via the #OccupySouthPark hashtag.

From "Sesame Street" to "South Park," satirists are wringing very different kinds of laughs out of Occupy Wall Street. The disparate approaches reflect not only varying comic sensibilities, but the movement, whose diversity of purpose, whether or not a strength, certainly offers opportunity for a wide range of humor.

In Wednesday’s "South Park" installment, Cartman's poor performance on the President’s Challenge fitness test sparks extra gym classes for all – spurring protests and fury at the fat fourth grader.

"You're the 99 percent ganging up on the one percent!" Cartman whines.

Show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, long adept at timely, quick-turnaround episode, are at their best lampooning the media's focus on the story and fomenting of class warfare (even, if in this case, the warfare is between the fourth- and fifth-grade classes).

Much of the episode is scattershot, echoing the movement and the comedy it's prompted – as well as varied reactions to OWS spoofs, including recent bits by Cartman's Comedy Central colleagues Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

The first major Occupy Wall Street segment on "The Daily Show" featured John Oliver using the "human microphone" – a call-and-response amplification system employed at Zuccotti Park – to make the demonstrators mock themselves. Oliver led the crowd in a chant – "The human microphone, while well intentioned, is incredibly annoying, and embodies everything that people find frustrating about movements like this" – though the response got softer with each phrase.
During last week's premiere of "Rock Center with Brian Williams," the NBC newsman asked Stewart if he was being too tough on the protesters. Stewart initially appeared taken aback, joked about the ever-present drum circle at Zuccotti Park and ultimately said he understood the “frustration” behind the movement.

Meanwhile, Colbert's recent segments, conducted in the guise of his conservative commentator character, are gaining praise from an unlikely fan base: right-leaning bloggers, The Hollywood Reporter notes.

Colbert showed up at the park dressed as Che Guevara. He followed up with a two-part interview in a swank hotel suite with two of the demonstrators, a young man and woman, who explained the quirky hand signals used to express approval or disapproval at OWS governance meetings. "You guys seem like a cult,” Colbert observed.

The young woman, who goes by the name "Ketchup" and referred to herself as "female-bodied person," gave Colbert additional grist for humor of the absurd.

Stewart and Colbert proved themselves equally opportunity comics, defying the largely unfair perception in some quarters that they’re a couple of kneejerk liberals who go easy on left-leaning targets. Occupy Wall Street, whatever one thinks about the growing movement, is all about changing perceptions – even when it comes to comedy. Check out some examples below:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Colbert Super PAC - Stephen Colbert Occupies Occupy Wall Street Pt. 1
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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