We are living during a great age of satire — the nation is faced by a myriad of issues from emigration problems to oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico to the ongoing wars in Iraq. All of these things, plus the many other political and social issues that have so polarized our country, are the traditional fodder of satire. War, emigration, the destruction of our environment and the abuse of power have always been subject to humorous and often biting ridicule and criticism by satirists throughout history. Satire comes from divisive issues in any society, and we are certainly divided right now.
Comedian Paul Provenza is in touch with the satirical heartbeat of modern America, and working with portrait photographer Dan Dion, he has produced a compendium of interviews with the great satirists of our modern age titled, “¡Satiristas!”
In “¡Satiristas!” Provenza sets out to find out what makes each of his interview subjects tick, where they draw their always-strong opinions from and what really chaps their asses. Through interviews with everyone from Lewis Black and Stephen Colbert to Bill Maher and Cheech and Chong, Provenza develops his case that satire is in part about events and politics and society, but more importantly about understanding people and what makes them do what they do.
Provenza says in his introduction, “And I will make this absolute statement with 100 percent certainty: Not one single person who is in charge of any government, military, religious, or pseudo-religious organization or any power structure whatsoever — not one of them in the entire world — has the courage to get up on stage every night to learn as much about humankind as the people in this book understand.”
The nation needs satire to keep it honest, we need satire to keep ourselves honest, and satire derives from the all the pain and BS that is a part of everyday life. At least this is what Provenza says, and for the most part, what his interview subjects say. When most members of Congress ignore Stephen Colbert’s actual meaning during his congressional emigration testimony and only laugh at the implication that the two parties will actually work together, it seems that out leaders in D.C. might benefit from a lesson in the value of satire. Provenza’s book is timely in its coming.
Fundamentally, the interviews and portraits in “¡Satiristas!” come from a deep respect for the disrespectful, to paraphrase Dion’s first sentence in his introduction. And now, more than ever, in a time when John Stewart and Stephen Colbert can have rallies to call people to be a little more moderate and are still able to claim the title of satirist, we need to embrace every bit of carefully barbed disrespect that shows us just how stupid we all really are.
“¡Satiristas! Comedians, Contrarians, Raconteurs & Vulgarians” is edited by Paul Provenza with photos by Dan Dion. Harper-Collins 2010.