Perhaps the most talked about issue around politics in comedy this year was the false notion — put forth by Jerry Seinfeld, though he was definitely not the only one — that political correctness is ruining perfectly good jokes and even comedy as an institution. Though audiences across the board were maligned as buzzkills, college students took the biggest hit, painted as joyless crusaders for insisting that racist, homophobic and rape jokes just aren’t funny.
A number of incisive rebuttals have already pointed out that this notion says far more about the laziness of the speaker than the humorlessness of students. (Comedian Sarah Silverman, who has never been accused of being politically correct, summarily dismissed the aggrieved griping comedians as being “old” and out of touch.) Suffice it to say that if you have to rework your act so as not to rely on dumb stereotypes or to get cheap laughs at the expense of those who now have a voice, maybe your comedic chops needed some work anyway.
Politics and comedy have always been bedfellows, and the sharpest comedians’ brilliance is often revealed in their ability to navigate that territory, however bumpy it may potentially be. And certainly, no one comedian can satisfy every audience, because while comedy is universal, humor is highly individual. In 2015, an historic year that saw a growth in movements for social, racial, gender and LGBT rights (and crazy right-wing pushback against all those things), the daily news provided few joking matters. But good comedians sifted through those disturbing and difficult moments to find reasons to laugh — sometimes as a way to keep from crying. And kudos to them, because making people laugh is incredibly hard under any circumstances, no matter what the season.
In a year where Stewart ended his tenure and Colbert started a new one, let’s look back at a few funny moments that were worth revisiting. In no particular order, here are 17 of the best political comedy moments of 2015.
1. Inside Amy Schumer: ‘Football Town Nights.’
In terms of rising comedy stars, this was Amy Schumer’s year, hands down. She won some accolades, hosted an awards show, appeared in a bunch of magazines, had her own standup special, and featured a lot of smart comedy on her Comedy Central show. The 12 Angry Men episode consists of a celebrity-studded all-male jury debating whether Schumer is hot enough to be on television. The Last Fuckable Day skit, with cameos by Patricia Arquette, Tina Fey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, takes bitter laughs from Hollywood’s sexism and ageism. And “Football Town Nights,” featured below, is a Friday Night Lights parody that deftly and brilliantly takes on rape culture in football. Schumer’s comedy on race needs serious work—like, for real—but she and her writers nail it here.
2. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: ‘Wack Flag.’
It was Jon Stewart’s final season at “The Daily Show,” which dismayed many yet made for plenty of memorable moments. After terrorist Dylann Roof murdered nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, the team over at Fox News couldn’t wait to take to the airwaves to criticize those who dared label the crime exactly what it was. Sean Hannity even took a moment to self-righteously call discussion of Roof’s hate crime and calls for gun control a leftist agenda-advancing “sickness.” “Yes, it’s a sickness, this rush to use tragedy to advance your narrative,” Stewart responded. “Combine that with an inability for self examination, an almost comical degree of self-exculpatory rhetoric, flag pins, a little bit of leg, and a complete immunity to irony: you got yourself a full-blown case of Fox-abetes.” Then he showed footage of how Fox anchors responded to the killing of two New York City cops weeks earlier (spoiler: it involves a lot of blaming Obama, Mayor Bill de Blasio and suggestions of reverse racism), as glorious a display of hypocrisy as has ever been televised.
3. Drunk History: ‘Harriet Tubman Leads an Army of Bad Bitches’ with Crissle West.
The Read is, without question, one of the best podcasts running and Crissle West, who co-hosts each week with BFF Kid Fury, is at least 50 percent of the reason why. The two somehow navigate a terrain that includes taking pop culture’s worst down a peg, worshipping at the altar of Beyonce, giving unfiltered responses to listener advice requests, and offering impassioned and insightful social and political commentary. The popularity of the show has led to other gigs, including West’s appearance this year on Drunk History, where she gave a tipsy, yet somehow hilarious and brilliant, retelling of Underground Railroad heroine Harriet Tubman’s brave mission to free hundreds of slaves. Plus, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer stars in the role of Tubman. Seriously, this is pretty much the best history lesson you’ll ever get.
4. Saturday Night Live with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler: ‘Meet Your Second Wife.’
If you think this isn’t a political sketch, sit back and consider the feminist underpinnings of a skit that so willingly gets super dark about ageism, sexism and men trading in their first wives for newer models. In this game show spoof, married men—whose current wives happen to be seated in the audience—meet the literal prepubescent girls who will someday become their second spouses. (“I — I thought this was a home makeover show,” one confused first wife stutters. “In a way, it is,” Fey responds.) It’s uncomfortable, unsettling and definitely not untrue, which is precisely why it’s so funny. And not only was it one of the best bits of comedy this year, it was the best thing on SNL in 2015.
5. Bob and David. ‘Corey the Wonder Kid: Heaven.’
It’s hard to talk about Bob and David without also discussing—and getting all gushy about—Mr. Show. Though it ran on HBO from 1995 to 1998, it rose to cult status a few years later, when lots of people (this lady included) discovered its genius on DVD. It was one of the best comedy shows of all time; a brilliant and weird sketch comedy program that would be incredibly influential and would launch several careers (Jack Black, Sarah Silverman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Paul F. Tompkins, and of course, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross). Always irreverent, this skit from the new Netflix not-quite-reboot clearly makes a mockery of that (surprise!—totally fabricated) bestselling book about the kid who says he went to heaven and came back. Here the book is called Heaven is Totes for Realz, and the adults get a little uncomfortable when the kid says he met Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer in the hereafter.
6. Master of None: ‘Indians on TV.’
In many ways, it’s a political act not only to cast a show fulll of people of color, but to create storylines depicting them as three-dimensional characters. Master of None avoids stereotypes without feigning colorblindness, and over the course of its first season, addresses issues from sexism and thirtysomething aimlessness to first-generation Americans and, yes, racism. In “Indians on TV,” Aziz Ansari and his fellow players take on Hollywood’s lack of representation as well as ethnic and racial stereotyping in casting. Like the rest of the season, the episode is well-written, funny, smart and way overdue.
7. Emily Heller: ‘Feminism Has a Recruiting Problem.’
Host of the podcast Baby Geniuses, Emily Heller is that rare species of comedian who makes jokes about feminism while not relying on misogyny to prop up her punchlines. Earlier this year she participated in HateSong, the Onion AV Club’s regular feature that invites artists and performers to talk about a song they absolutely loathe. Heller chose Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me,” a track she picked because of its underlying slut-shaming themes. (“[I]t’s a very evil song about trying to steal someone’s boyfriend masquerading as a love song,” Heller stated.) In her standup, she acknowledges that feminists have a “bit of a recruitment problem” to contend with. “Misogyny has much better T-shirts,” she quips, in the clip below. “I saw one the other day that said, ‘I may not be Mr. Right, but I’ll screw you till he gets here.’ That’s great. Concise, hilarious—not effective, but concise [and] hilarious.” Check out her set from Late Night with Seth Meyers.
8. The Nightly Show: ‘Papa Pope vs. the Confederate Flag.’
Larry Wilmore has had several standout segments this year as he settles into the time slot formerly occupied by Stephen Colbert. That includes this scene that emerged from a panel featuring Joe Morton, lately popular for portraying Papa Pope on “Scandal,” but a star of the large and small screen since way back when. In the character of Pope, Morton spoke to those who are so protective of the Confederate battle flag, delivering a soaring speech that clearly left both the audience, Morton’s fellow panelists and Wilmore impressed. The whole thing really begins to take off at about :45 seconds, when Morton ad libs, “You cried yourself to sleep ‘cause Lincoln hurt your feelings.”
9. Key & Peele: ‘Sexting Scandal.’
With the growth of technology, political missteps are often products of the digital era in which they occur, from incriminating emails to poorly worded tweets. Let’s not forget the ubiquitous dick pic, as popular with sexting male politicians as their equally clueless civilian cohorts. Key & Peele are the best at drawing a punchline out of sheer repetition, a comic device that can be less than successful in less adept hands. The politician who can’t stop sending pictures of his junk (and getting caught) is familiar to us all by now, though this skit showcases an extremely rare case of a pol whose sexting has gone comically out of control.
10. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: ‘Don’t Forget Donald Trump Wants to Bang His Daughter.’
All parents think their kids are the bee’s knees, and Donald Trump is no exception. However, not every parent—thank Flying Spaghetti Monster—goes around making people uncomfortable by talking about how hot his kid is and how he’d be totally down to date his kid if that whole parental thing weren’t such an issue. Trevor Noah takes a look at the Donald’s repeated references to his daughter Ivanka’s “beauty” and “nice figure” as well as his incessant refrain that he’d probably be in a romantic relationship with her under different circumstances. Those circumstances being ones that don’t include, you know, incest.
11. Cameron Esposito: The Greatest Period Joke of All Time.
Maybe you recognize Cameron Esposito from her stand up, which she’s been doing in comedy clubs and late-night talk shows for quite a while, or from her Buzzfeed Q&A web series Ask A Lesbian, which was pretty great, or from her other web series, She Said, brought to you by Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls network. She also tells the Greatest Period Joke of All Time. “Listen, if you’re a guy out there and you think periods are disgusting, I don’t believe you’ve ever had an honest conversation with a woman. Because if you think periods are disgusting, you have no idea how disgusting periods actually are.” It gets more epic from there.
12. Jessica Williams (on The Daily Show): ‘The Unborn Ultimatum.’
Senior Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams headed to Alabama, where anti-choice advocates have concocted a harebrained policy of providing lawyers for unborn fetuses. And because she is absolutely awesome, she sat down with one of those attorneys and asked a series of appropriately ludicrous questions, all while maintaining a straight face. “How do you know if a fetus is innocent?” Williams inquires, looking concerned. When the lawyer responds that all fetuses are innocent, Williams asks, “What about a fetus that eats his own twin in utero? It’s a real thing…If that doesn’t sound evil, then what is?” Absolute gold.
13. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: ‘Televangelists.’
In his second season, Daily Show alum John Oliver continued to go after deserving targets, from Big Oil to the failed war on drugs. The lengthy list also includes megachurch televangelists who espouse the disgusting “prosperity gospel,” which holds that parishioners can get rich by sending money directly to the preachers. Many of those parishioners are poor and sink deeper into debt with each donation as the greedy televangelists become multimillionaires. Noting that all of that money is tax-free, Oliver embarks on a journey to found his own church, which he finds “disturbingly easy.” For the record, Oliver closed Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption after the “seed” people mailed in began showing up too often in the form of semen.
14. Friends of the People: Fox Newz.
TruTV’s comedy sketch group predicts the reaction at Fox News when President Obama, his two terms up, vacates the White House for a…paler new occupant. “Celebrating the first white president since the first black president,” one correspondent tells the camera, all smiles. “Restoring our legacy of 230 years of great white presidents!”
15. Jon Stewart crashes Stephen Colbert’s monologue.
During a Late Show monologue that included the endlessly memed footage of Donald Trump being attacked by a bald eagle, Jon Stewart made a surprise visit to again push Congress to reauthorize the Zedroga Act. After informing Stewart that in order to get people—and in particular, the media—to listen to his pleas he’d need to “Trump it up a little bit,” Colbert helped the former Daily Show host get into character with a crappy wig and an orange tan applied with Cheetos dust. What followed was Stewart doing an impression of Trump so hilariously over the top it would be considered a caricature were Trump not already a parody of himself.
16. Saturday Night Live: ‘Democratic Debate.’
Generally, no one can hold a candle to Alec Baldwin’s cameos on SNL, but Larry David’s surprise impression of Bernie Sanders somehow managed to go above and beyond. “Enough with the hellos, let’s do this,” David yelled at the audience as it cheered his appearance, nailing the endearingly rumpled Sanders. “I don’t have a super PAC. I don’t even have a backpack. I carry my stuff around loose in my arms, like a professor between classes. I own one pair of underwear—that’s it! Some of these billionaires, they got three, four pairs. And I don’t have a dryer. I have to put my clothes on the radiator. So who do you want as president? One of these Washington insiders or a guy who has one pair of clean underwear that he dries on a radiator?”
17. Akilah Hughes: ‘Racial Discussion Fatigue Syndrome.’
Comedian Akilah Hughes has been an up-and-coming figure for a while now, although her footprint has gotten noticeably larger as more outlets have finally begun to take notice of her work. You can check out her videos, which manage to mine comedy out of nearly every topic, on her YouTube channel, and more recently, she’s become a contributor to Fusion. In the vid below, Hughes explains what Racial Discussion Fatigue Syndrome is and how to cope with its onset. “Look, times are hard and lots of people are legitimately stupid,” she helpfully offers, “but luckily there are some things you can do. Delete people on Facebook…Put down your phone and moisturize. Nothing irks a bigot like smooth ageless skin unaffected by their hate.”