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Chapter Three

Campaigns and Propaganda: Comediennes Get Political


Gertrude Berg, Gracie Allen, Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler, not just actresses but creators, were necessarily well-versed in gender politics within broadcasting. Several also acknowledged politics beyond the limited broadcasting world, immersing themselves in national news and commenting explicitly on government. What makes the political issues in these shows interesting is that every program creator asserted that the shows were not meant to be political. Unlike Maude, which was first and foremost a political statement about gender and sexuality, the creators of The Mary Tyler Moore Show made a point to say that the program was a comedy first and a political vehicle only when relevant.[1] Even the creators of Parks and Recreation, which follows the antics of several local government officials, consciously avoid using party terminology and evade electoral discussion by constantly shifting from politics to personality.[2] The shows’ creators insist that these programs provide only a subtle commentary on politics.

 

However, some of these comic entries into politics were quite direct. Gracie Allen and Amy Poehler tackle politics head-on in their programs by entering into extremely realistic campaigns, while Tina Fey reenacts real-world politics in a pseudo-Presidential debate with her boss. Politics also went beyond parody; Allen and Gertrude Berg were recruited as parts of the government propaganda machine during World War II. All of these comedies included intelligent and well-founded criticisms and commentary on politics and government, and Allen and Berg actually became a part of the government during World War II. While creators may insist that politics played second place to comedy, the two seem irrevocably intertwined in these programs.


[1] Yael Kohen, We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy (New York: Sarah Crichton Books, 2012), 62.

[2] Maureen Ryan, “’Parks and Recreation’ Gets Political: Amy Poehler And Mike Schur Talk Pawnee Debate Night,” Huffington Post, April 25, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/25/parks-and-recreation-debate_n_1452848.html (accessed February 15, 2013).

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