Late-Night Comedy Has Become Education’s Rea...

Late-Night Comedy Has Become Education’s Realest Frenemy

In a recent article posted on The Atlantic called How Comedy Became Education’s Best Critique, author Alia Wong explains how Late-Night hosts such as: John Oliver, Samantha Bee and Trevor Noah have used comedy as a medium to tackle a number of hot-button education issues, and put them into terms that are simple, clear and more digestible than mainstream media news can.

Having this middle man (late-night comedy pundits) to process and spit out the key points in a non-pedantic manner, has in turn made people actually care about policy issues.

“What we’re witnessing, actually, is a movement in these longer-form satire programs in the direction of exploring in-depth, complicated policy issues,” said Dannagal Young, an associate professor of communication at the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication. “I think what humor offers that’s particularly useful is the ability to reframe complex policies in really clear, simple, accessible terms.”

According to Young’s research, humor and coherence are interconnected through frame-shifting, which can essentially be boiled down to setting up a commonly known joke and then hitting the audience with an unexpected punchline. Of course this is a super-simplified version of a complex linguistic theory, but in the spirit of keeping things simple, I figured a boiled-down version was fitting.

What is particularly interesting though, is the amount of attention education received from late-night pundits, especially from John Oliver. Basically the best thing to happen to HBO since Game of Thrones, John Oliver says everything we’re thinking in the most eloquent smartass-y way possible, on his show Last Week Tonight. Oliver’s episodes about education, such as the student debt and for-profit colleges episode and the one on standardized testing, not only take very complex issues and systematically hit every bullet point one could ask for, they also feature a call-to-action, unlike other late-night shows. By implementing an interactive element, Oliver encourages actual political participation.

So, there you have it folks. Your favorite late-night pundit is actually helping you process those boring things you should know about, but probably wouldn’t look up on your own. Thanks, Late-Night.

Here are a few of John Oliver’s episodes on education:


About Shelby Newallis

Ciao, there. I'm Shelby, your classic recent-ish grad stereotype trying to figure out how to make it in Los Angeles. By day, I'm a Special Education Teacher and by night, I'm a TV serialist, culinary enthusiast, writer/editor. When I'm not planning my next trip, I'm either wikipedia-ing random celebrities, trying to figure out which podcasts are cool or researching new happy hour spots. Intrigued? Check out my website,