Serious Comedy Central study finds politician’s best bet at reaching Millennials is through humor; Top 5 tips

On the same day that President Barack Obama visited The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central published the results of a comprehensive study it had commissioned to understand how humor impacts the political beliefs of Millennials (also known as Generation Y) — the 80 million Americans currently aged 16-32.

Coincidental timing or not, the research study that Comedy Central conducted with TRU Insights and Insight Research and unveiled just less than three weeks before Election Day 2012 showed that the youngest generation eligible to vote right now not only needs their politicians to have a sense of humor, but also shape their attitudes toward politicians based on what the candidate thinks is funny. Moreover, they’re not watching political comedy on shows such as The Daily Show or The Colbert Report to get informed on the issues — they’re already up to speed with current events.

An overview, the study found that…

First, the bad news:

  • Millennial unemployment remains stuck at 12.7% (August 2012)
  • Student debt tops $1 trillion
  • 52% have been personally impacted by economic downturn
  • 26% have had a close friend/family member to lose their home
  • 21% have lost their own job in the past four years
  • only 34% agree that the American Dream is alive and well

And yet…

  • Two-thirds say the current political system is broken, and many want Republicans and Democrats to work together

But kids these days, what with their computers and their reliance on social media to be social, are less likely to Occupy Anything:

  • 66% agree it is possible to create the most change by spreading the word online than standing on the street, rallying and protesting
  • 63% would rather protest online than protest in person

So, that’s the serious side of the research study.

Bring on the jokes! A larger percentage of Millennials would rather know a candidate’s favorite comedian than his/her favorite band or sports team, and would learn more about a candidate through an interview with a comedian than any other form of communication. Seriously? Seriously.

  • 62% like it when politicians use their sense of humor
  • 54% say politicians need to loosen up
  • 55% want politicians to show their sense of humor more often
  • 54% agree the funnier a politician, the more likeable he/she is

And half of Millennials said they get their election news updates from shows such as the late-nighters on Comedy Central or via Saturday Night Live. Fewer did through other late-night chat shows or honest-to-goodness newspapers and news sites, while more cited the old-fashioned network TV news broadcasts as information sources. Well, golly!

From all of this, the study suggests five ways for politicians to employ humor effectively enough to reach the youngest voters.

Roll the clip.

5 Tips for reaching Millennials through humor

1.    Avoid political hack.  Well, that’s just good advice for anyone making funny.
2.    Keep foot out of mouth.  Don’t choke when you joke.
3.    Take a joke.  Self-deprecation always works, especially if you’re rich and powerful to begin with.
4.    Be sharp and smart.  ‘Nuff said.
5.    Stay up late. Go on late-night TV for an interview with a comedian. President Obama has appeared with both Stewart and David Letterman. Mitt Romney showed up to recite a “Top Ten” list for Letterman, but not a sit-down interview. Both the president and his challenger have appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. For whatever that’s worth with Millennials. Better to do Chelsea Lately or Late Night with Jimmy Fallon for this demo, wouldn’t you agree? Obama did visit Fallon’s show, by the way, to “Slow Jam The News” (humor) and sit down for panel (interview).

Speaking of which, here is the extended, uncensored 17-minute interview Stewart conducted last night with Obama. It’s in two parts.



Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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