Sep 272012

Actress Tina Fey, left, mimics 2008 U.S. Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and Amy Poehler plays Hillary Clinton in a 2008 episode of Saturday Night Live. Photograph by: Dana Edelson, Reuters, NBC, The Canadian Press

By Lee-Anne Goodman, The Canadian Press

September 27, 2012

The 2012 presidential campaign is offering no short-age of gifts to late-night comedians – from Clint Eastwood’s ravings to Mitt Romney’s wealth and Jill Biden’s unwitting sexual innuendo about her vice-presidential husband.

But those gifts pale in comparison to the veritable comedy orgy that was 2008, some observers say.

Four years ago, Tina Fey’s bang-on Saturday Night Live impression of Sarah Palin became a global phenomenon. Fey’s most memorable punchline – “I can see Russia from my house” – was, and likely still is, often mistakenly attributed to Palin herself.

This year, aside from Romney’s recently revealed assertions that 47 per cent of Americans are freeloaders, there’s less fodder for the likes of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and David Letterman, says an academic who has studied the influence of The Daily Show on U.S. politics.

“Late-night comedy is not as much of a big deal this year as it was in 2008 – there’s less raw material to work with in terms of the targets of the jokes, and there just seems to be less buzz about it,” said Jody Baumgartner, an associate politics professor at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.

Romney’s gaffes, meantime, aren’t easy to pithily ridicule – although Colbert did his best last week, donning a top hat, tails and a wealthy man’s posh, clipped speaking manner as he ridiculed the Republican’s secretly videotaped remarks.

Saturday Night Live, meanwhile, all but left the remarks alone, offering up only a parody of Fox and Friends that featured the talk show’s hosts making excuses for Romney’s comments.

Bill Horner, a political-science professor at the University of Missouri who’s working on a book about SNL’s impact on presidential politics, said he was surprised by how feeble the jokes were on last weekend’s episode.

But late-night comedy isn’t must-see TV any more, Horner said, in an era of mass media fragmentation. Many Americans now mine their social media accounts or email the next day to catch the best parts.

“Things do get clipped and for-warded around; they still get seen, so late-night comedy still does have an influence,” Horner said.

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