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Why audiences are getting their news from comedians

Getting some comedy with your news may help you remember what you’re learning.
Posted at 4:51 PM, Jan 26, 2023

How do you get your news? You’re obviously watching Scripps News. But do you supplement straightforward news with a little bit of comedy? 

Turns out a lot of people do. And it may help you remember what you’re learning. 

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication conducted a study putting participants into an fMRI machine, and watched their brains as the subjects viewed both straight news and segments with a comedic twist. Prateekshit Kanu Pandey, one of the researchers, says people were able to both recognize and recall the information told through comedy better. 

"There is a network of brain regions, which is associated with thinking about others and taking others perspectives. We found that humor created greater activity in those regions," Pandey said. "Partly because people want to remember humorous information or comedy to be able to share with your friends later. Part of it is because humor is so central to our meaning making process. What these comedians are doing on late night talk shows or other political satire shows, is taking political information that might be difficult to understand, and then putting them in the context of pop culture or other kinds of relatable references."

It’s not just here in the U.S. that satirists like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver are effective — it's a worldwide phenomenon. We traveled to Ukraine in 2020, to speak with Roman Vintoniav, a former hard news journalist who traded in his pen and paper for viral videos. 

"Serious journalism is really hard content but when you are joking, when you're not serious, it’s really easy to understand," Vintoniav said. 

He said after encountering politicians who lied to his face repeatedly, he changed his tune, deciding to show the world how often this happens on video. It was an instant hit and soon became a weekly TV show calling out issues in Ukraine.

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SCRIPPS NEWS' ALEX MILLER: Do you think people trust you more now than when you were a journalist?  

ROMAN VINTONIAV: I'm afraid to think about it. 

But making information more palatable is the name of the game in the age of cable and broadcast TV, streaming services and of course — social media.  

For Political Satirist Jeremy Newberger, a simple tweet like that racks up engagement. And to some degree, Newberger sees it as educational. 

"The Trump announcement is not scaring us Democrats, especially after the red wave was as effective as Rudy Giuliani's hair dye," Newberger said. 

"In some cases, I'm like a reminder of things. A year ago, in February, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, and another Congressman Paul Gosar, spoke at a Nazi rally with Nick Fuentes. So every so often, when her name comes up, which is often, I will remind people like, 'Oh, this is the woman who spoke in February at a Nazi rally,'" Newberger said.  

Newberger, who has worked in TV on everything from satire to hard news to documentaries, says these kinds of shows target people’s thirst for knowledge and opinion in an authentic way. 

"That's what really appeals to me. And I think you get it that with satire, because it makes it go 'Yeah, yeah, that's right. That's why this person is awful, because they hang out with Nazis,' you know, or whatever the story is," Newberger said. 

But even the experts say it’s important for news consumers to look at the topic before jumping into the satire. 

"There's people in a well, or there's, you know, a school shooting, those are moments when the news is the news. Now, the President, you know, has classified documents that are found — that's different. That's a moment when we can be satirical, and we should be because hypocrisy is, you know, raging at that point," Newberger continued.

And when it comes down to it, even comedians believe you need tried-and-true journalists to find the facts — so they have something to  make fun of.