What Is Political Satire?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Political satire is a humorous, ironic, or sarcastic examination of the political arena in an attempt to expose absurdity and hypocrisy. A combination of humor and political analysis, political satire can skew more toward bringing laughs or toward activism, depending on the content and the intent of the satirist. There are many different forms of political satire, including prose, editorial cartoons, and fake news. A controversial issue, satire with a political bent may be viewed anything from mere folly to unpatriotic or even rebellious behavior in some parts of the world.

Comedian Stephen Colbert is a popular modern political satirist.
Comedian Stephen Colbert is a popular modern political satirist.

Politicians, political parties, legislation, and the political media are all common targets of satirical review. In some cases, attempts at satire may simply break down into joke telling, such as making fun of a congressperson's voice or strange outfits. True satire attempts to rise above simple comedy, with the aim of exposing an underlying absurd truth or paradox: a congresswoman who endlessly preaches family values being caught in numerous extramarital affairs, for instance, would be an easy target for an examination of hypocrisy. When political rhetoric fails to match up with reality, the opportunity for satire is truly born.

Editorial cartoons are usually one form of political satire that's seen on a daily basis.
Editorial cartoons are usually one form of political satire that's seen on a daily basis.

The main challenge of political satire is striking a balance between humor and apt political analysis. When a satirist goes too far toward simple jokes, a satirical piece can become mere mockery, without the bite and intent of true satire. Losing sight of humor in favor of analysis, however, can take a piece out of the realm of comedy altogether, transforming it into a simple political attack, rather than an examination of political ridiculous from a humorous standpoint.

The many different forms of political satire have been developed into artistic mediums over the centuries. Prose satire often takes the form of newspaper articles or short stories; one of the best known prose satirists is the 19th century writer, Mark Twain. Editorial cartoons also developed significantly during the 19th and 20th centuries, and usually use a single cartoon panel to poke fun at a particular politician or political event. Fake news, such as fake newspapers or television shows, provide news-like coverage of real political events from a satirical point of view, often skewering the mainstream media as well as the news itself.

The court jester, in all his many cultural forms, is perhaps the first and best representation of political satire. Employed by royalty and nobility, the jester would make fun of various court officials, including the king or queen, for the entertainment of the court. While the jester had the opportunity to expose real instances of absurd, immoral, hypocritical behavior, he also could end up in very real danger of imprisonment or execution should his jokes fall flat.

Social networking sites can help political satire become viral.
Social networking sites can help political satire become viral.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


I am writing a paper concerning satire (political and social). Can anyone recommend any books about this topic?


Political satire is difficult. It's hard to get that balance of humor and criticism like the article said. If people don't understand a satirical piece, then it becomes a parody, which is just comedy.

I watch those late night shows all the time, and there is always a short segment in the beginning with political satire. I really admire the people who write those.


I enjoy political satire but I don't think that political satire is always done well. Some satirists think that insulting a politician's personality is satire. I don't think that satire should target people, but rather the things they do. So maybe we need to differentiate between good satire and bad satire.


I'm from a country that is not very democratic. The government is oppressive and very controlling, especially in areas of freedom of speech like media. So the administration regulates the kind of TV programs that run and they do not allow any shows that contain political satire.

They just don't want their flaws and mistakes exposed and discussed. They feel that people who do political satire want a coup d'etat, they want to topple the government. So the administration forces TV channels to cancel these kind of comedy shows.

I'm mentioning this because I want to point out that political satire isn't always about activism and wanting the end of an administration. Political satire is a social need in my view. People have a need to talk about their problems and humor is a great way to do this.

It's true that political satire can be a type of opposition to a political party. But this doesn't mean that people who write, enact and enjoy political satires want a revolution of some kind. It doesn't mean that they hate a politician and their party either. It's just healthy criticism and all governments and all societies need this.

I think that the existence of political satire in a country is a sign of democracy and freedom of speech.

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