A few weeks ago the online comedy world was rocked by the news that someone was actually making money from online comedy. No, wait, we got it wrong: it was rocked by the news that someone was making money from their videos. Hang on – was it that it was rocked by the fact that videos can provide income? Someone was being paid? On the internet? Shit.
But for the crack team at Buzzfeed, it seemed worthwhile pointing out that Jordan Shanks – better known to many as Friendlyjordies – had been paid for a five minute viral video on the importance of voting. It gets worse:
BuzzFeed News can reveal the comedian regularly approaches progressive organisations with a pitch email to make branded video for them.
According to the man himself in a recent chat, it’s more a case of him first coming up with an idea and then pitching it to various organisations to see if anyone wants to sling some cash money his way. You know, like every other freelancer on the planet.
these sponsorships do not represent an uninterrupted income stream. Jordan says he maintains 100% editorial control and “because they believe in the cause and want to keep the channel going, they chip in money here or there. Essentially, it is a donation for what I was going to do anyway”. An email, written by necessity in the soulless style of a research grant, is sent out to left-wing organisations ahead of the release of a new video to solicit funding and keep the machine running.
To Jordan, his work is online activism, with his videos acting as “virtual protests of two hundred thousand people”. He sees satire as a “gateway drug” for political engagement.
That’s pretty bad news for those who thought satire was a way to make people laugh.
But let’s be honest: after fifteen billion years of Jon Stewart hosting The Daily Show, we’ve now had at least twenty-five generations of humans grow up thinking that political comedy is meant to be ruthlessly partisan first and funny somewhere further down the list. The old idea of political satire – that the audience should never have a clear idea of which side you’re on – is deader than Richard Nixon’s dog: these days people want their political comedy to go the enemy and go them hard.
So when Buzzfeed says:
It’ll also be interesting to see whether Shanks’s fiercely loyal audience is turned away from videos that are funded by different political organisations.
Who are they kidding? Friendlyjordies audience doesn’t care that he’s taking money, they only care that he’s not taking money from the chumps funding the other side. And what accusation is Buzzfeed throwing his way? That he’s “sold out”? What is this, 1993? Have fun enjoying the hilarious comedy stylings of Janeane Garofalo, slacker. Over here it’s 2016, and selling out – now known as finding a way to get paid to do something you love – is pretty much the whole entire point.
Look, once upon a time, not so long ago, this kind of thing actually would look pretty bad for a comedian. The laughs are meant to come first and foremost: if you’re being paid to shill a message, then by definition the message (and not the laughs) has to come first. If you think of a hilarious joke that’s not “on message”? Into the bin.
But this kind of “satire” isn’t that kind of comedy. Its purpose isn’t to make you laugh: it’s to sink the boot into the other side. It’s partisan cheerleading, not the kind of even-handed “satire” the ABC still aims for (and which increasingly looks bland and toothless by comparison).
[to be fair, Australian television in general has such a relatively small audience that its programs can’t afford to deliberately alienate even a single viewer. Which is why Australian television is doomed]
Obviously there are still plenty of ways it can look bad for a comedian to take money. If The Katering Show suddenly started talking up a particular brand of cheese, it’d run pretty firmly against what makes the show work. And if Friendlyjordies was selling itself as taking an even-handed look at the issues then accepting sacks of cash from shadowy lefties to push their cause would be something of a problem. But he’s all about the partisan rants sinking the boot into the right-wing types that run much of this country: when you’re already that compromised, you might as well make a few bucks out of it.