For example, the popular sitcoms Good Times and Sanford and Son showed working class neighborhoods and the problems of violence, crime, and social oppression, and yet how humor always finds its way into these character's lives.
The 1970s also brought about a new late night live comedy show, called Saturday Night Live. This show had its first run from 1975 to 1980, and made political humor the centerpiece of Saturday night television. The original cast consisted of Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, George Coe, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Michael O'Donoghue and Gilda Radner, a diverse mix of young comedians from around New York City. Saturday Night Live is famous for its portrayals of U.S. Presidents, from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama, and has helped to shape Americans impressions of how these presidents have reacted to events in the world. (Boskin, 46) Saturday Night Live created a demanding schedule for the show's cast to create original, funny content week after week, and without a show to lead the way, the SNL cast was forced to be hilarious all on their own. Fortunately, this was possible because of the high quality of the cast involved. Each of these actors went on to have movie careers, meaning that the invention of Saturday Night Live had not only been a success for comedy in the television format, but also in changing how things were done in Hollywood. No longer were writers of intricate sagas in charge of comedy, but rather the personalities of the individuals who are chosen to inhabit the films that are being released each year.
The 1970s became the decade of the sitcom family, where comedy was directed to generation shifts that had happened in people's homes. The old generation had values that were very different than those of the baby boomers, and this provided for endless laughs. All in the Family created the best representation of this humor, with the character Archie Bunker. Archie never liked change, and he felt the world was getting worse as society opened up. Constantly challenging Archie's presumptions about women, gays, blacks, Jews, and hippies provided for common humor.
The television show MASH, on the other hand, was set in a military hospital in Korea, at a time when Vietnam had lowered the nation's ability to appreciate war. MASH became a hit not because of its war themes, but rather because of the characters in the show that all felt as if the war was pointless and who constantly sought reprieve from its harsh effects. Mary Tyler Moore was an actress who, in the 1970s, reshaped the idea of the modern woman by showing her life as a working single woman. Feminism was struggling with the idea that women could fill this role. Once again, social change was guided by comedy, as humor was used to bring women to the forefront by challenging the bigoted views of the older generation.
The 1980s saw new avenues in comedy by exploring more with cross-cultural themes. Eddie Murphy was a standup and Saturday Night Live, as well as a movie legend during this time. His humor was cutthroat and raw, and he was not afraid to 'tell it like it is.' Movies like Coming to America showed wealthy black and poor black interaction, something that had not been seen before in movies. During the 1970s, the black community was seen as a single unit of working class individuals, but this was hardly the case and Eddie Murphy exposed that truth. The 1980s also gave rise to 'geek' comedy, as many stereotypes of adolescence became entire movie genres. Geeks and Jocks were the dueling personalities at this time, with computers and Silicon Valley wealth showing that for the first time the mind ultimately wins over body. Teenage comedy was able to show how young people interact and how it is different than adult interaction. When comedy was restricted to very few outlets, it had to hit on broad themes, like in the early days of Hollywood and during the war period. By the end of the 20th century, however, comedy as well as all media became more segmented by specific groups, and more diverse in who was shown on screen. Feminism had faded somewhat and male dominated comedy was resurgent during the 1980s as well, with movies like Wall Street showing the epitome of the alpha male. Many other themes came up as well, such as family comedy, like with the movies Caddy shack and National Lampoon's Vacation series. The 1980s also saw the rise of MTV comedy as a replacement for the music videos that were becoming less and less popular as the format became more widespread.
New actors came and went through the 1990s, and new bridges were constantly broken and social taboos approached. Gays and lesbians, rarely shown on television or in movies before the 1970s, became a major subject of comedy in movies like the Birdcage. Special effects had once again reshaped the possibilities of Hollywood, and concept movies like Ace Ventura the Pet Detective, and the Mask were capable of creating special effects as outrageous as the actors in the movie. New Saturday Night Live stars had also reshaped many comedies in America. Stars like Adam Sandler created movies such as Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, David Spade had Black Sheep, and Chris Farley created icons like Beverly Hills Ninja. The 1990s also saw the rise of the late night comedy feud between Jay Leno and David Letterman. In a surprising twist, Jay Leno was offered the replacement spot of Johnny Carson instead of David Letterman, who believed that he deserved the spot. Letterman ended up on CBS, and the two hosts still compete for viewers to this day. The 1990s also saw the rise of animated comedy on mainstream television, aimed for adults. Starting with shows like the Simpsons, and continuing with Beavis and Butthead, Futurama, King of the Hill, South Park, and Family Guy, the animated cartoon was a format where comedians could broadcast their own unique and perverse forms of comedy.
At the tail end of the 20th century came a new invention that would once again change everything about human communication, the Internet. It seems strange today that the world worked as well as it did without the Internet, but it is obvious that the Internet is the future of all communication between humans. The early Internet sparked people's imaginations and allowed for many humorous things to be shown for the first time ever, creations that lacked polished but that could relate to every day problems. Chain emails brought jokes to thousands and could be replicated constantly. Home Movies could be shared, and although services like Facebook and YouTube were not around at this time, the content that is presently shared on such services is mostly just modern forms of early Internet entertainment. Cameras that connected to one's computer allowed for videos to be instantly uploaded onto the Internet. The ability of individuals to communicate to each other in such a direct manner was inspiring, and created its own genre of comedy in the 1990s.
In conclusion, the 20th century was a century that reshaped American society in exceptional ways, yet comedy is persistently used to both explain and manage complicated reforms. The invention of the radio, television, and Internet changed comedy because they changed the ways comedy could be spread. American humor changed quickly from the racial issues of the 19th century, to the opposition of nationalist and communist forces around the world. In the second half of the 20th century, comedy was able to flourish in every format and from every angle imaginable. By 1999, nearly ever taboo had been approached, and humor was far more advanced than it had been in 1899. It was the first century when humans could become legends by their comedy alone, and not through some other profession. It was also the first century where comedians were treated as stars in their own right, rather than simple court jesters or street performers. Still, however, the allure of the stand up comic retains the feel for the traditional comedian, who would just get up on stage in front of an audience and say whatever was on their mind in order to get a laugh.
Boskin, J. (1997). Rebellious laughter: People's humor in american culture. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.