The Daily Show star has it easy. An FP List of the world's most influential political satirists shows that in dangerous places, telling jokes can be hazardous to your health.
- By Max StrasserMax Strasser is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Prior to joining FP, he lived and worked in Cairo from 2009 to 2012 and was the news editor at Egypt Independent, an English-language newspaper. He has been a freelance writer, covering everything from the fishing business in Turkey to international arms fairs in London to Islamist militancy on the Egypt-Gaza border. His writing has appeared online or in print in The Nation, The New Statesman, The London Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic, Newsweek, and elsewhere. Max is a proud New Jersey native and has a BA in History from Oberlin College and an MSc in International Political Economy from the London School of Economics.
Shtick: Tas is the host of Whatever It Takes, a weekly comedy news show that is known to buttonhole parliamentarians in Brazil’s National Congress building, and ask them easy questions such as what the laws they had just voted on actually said. Any representatives who can’t answer are mercilessly mocked on national television. Tas also edited a book of the inarticulate sayings of outgoing Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, like “My mother was a woman born illiterate” (think Slate editor in chief Jacob Weisberg’s collection of Bushisms).
While Tas is best known for Whatever It Takes, he actually started his career as a hard-hitting reporter for the state television network, not a funnyman. His real name is Marcelo Tristão Athayde de Souza, but adopting the moniker Tas has clearly been a good career move: He now boasts more than 971,000 Twitter followers.
But Tas hasn’t been joking around lately. Brazil still has a law on the books dating back to the days of military dictatorship that bans making fun of candidates in the three months before an election. With a presidential runoff scheduled for Oct. 31, it’s going to be another month before Tas can unleash his acerbic tongue on Dilma Rousseff, the presumptive winner.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Comedy Central; Autumn Sonnichsen/Flickr
Shtick: Zarganar works puns and double-entendre (trust us, they don’t translate well) into a vaudevillian show based on the traditional Burmese theater form anyein, which combines music, opera, dance, and satirical comedy. And he uses the show to lampoon the Burmese dictatorship. Or rather, he used to.
The comic — whose real name is U Thura (Zarganar means “tweezers” in Burmese) — is serving a 35-year prison sentence for criticizing the government’s handling of the relief effort after the deadly Cyclone Nargis hit the coastal country in May 2008. He was also accused of mocking an article in a state-run newspaper that said cyclone survivors could subsist by scavenging in the countryside rather than by accepting chocolate bars from Western aid organizations.
This might be the 49-year-old comedian’s longest prison term, but it’s hardly his first. Zarganar’s anti-government satire has kept him in and out of prison for years.
Shtick: Prior to his death in November 2006, Hassan led the sketch comedy show Caricature on al-Sharqiya, Iraq’s first privately owned satellite TV channel. The show lampooned every aspect of post-Saddam Iraq, including U.S. forces, Sunni insurgents, inept politicians, power outages, and long gas-station lines. In his last role on Caricature, Hassan played an employee moving up through the ranks of a company which, in the end, discovers that he is the wrong person. The skit was taken as a criticism of Iraq’s system of tribal allegiances.
Before he became the master spoofer of all things wrong with Iraq, Hassan was a civil servant and then a comedian on state-run television under Saddam Hussein’s regime. Hassan, a father of five, was 47 when he was shot and killed in Baghdad during the deadliest period of the post-invasion insurgency and sectarian fighting. Al-Sharqiya interrupted programming to announce the news of his death, and even UNESCO, the U.N. cultural organization, issued a statement in which its director-general condemned the murder of Hassan, who was “killed for exercising his freedom to speak his mind, which includes the freedom to use humor.”
Shtick: Grillo, an activist and comedian, is best known for his blog, www.beppegrillo.it, a daily attack platform that uses foul-mouthed humor (he refers to the leader of a right-wing party as Psychodwarf) to take on Italy’s endemic corruption.
He hasn’t had much success in changing the country’s entrenched political culture, but the site has been a huge hit: Grillo’s blog is one of the world’s most read and a 2008 national poll designated him the second-most popular political figure in Italy, after former Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni. In 2007 Grillo brought more than 300,000 Italians to the streets for an event whose name could be translated as “Fuck Off Day,” in which protesters chanted expletives at the government. “We are part of a new Woodstock,” Grillo said at the event. “Only this time the drug addicts and sons of bitches are on the other side!”
Marcello Paternostro/AFP/Getty Images
Shtick: Nothing is sacred for this Saturday Night Live-like sketch comedy show, which, in addition to mocking former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke, Russian immigrants, and the BBC’s anti-Israel bias, has gone as far as joking that Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier locked up in Gaza since 2006, is actually being held hostage by Jewish settlers.
Eretz Nehederet, or Wonderful Country, is one of the most popular shows in Israel, with up to 60 percent of TV viewers tuning in to its Friday-night broadcasts. But not everyone thinks Eretz Nehederet is so hilarious. In April, a promo for the show that featured settlers kidnapping Israeli soldiers sparked an outrage that reached all the way to the Knesset. A representative from the right-wing National Unionparty called the show anti-Semitic and compared Eretz Nehederet‘s creators to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
Muli Segev, the show’s creator, isn’t worried. “If the extremists of Israeli society are losing their cool over something, it’s a sign we’re doing our job well,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images