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Satire festival to highlight importance of laughter in politics

<p>Duke University and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists will host the Political Cartoon and Satire Fest.</p>

Duke University and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists will host the Political Cartoon and Satire Fest.

Duke University and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists will host a political cartoon and satire festival Sept. 22-24 on campus. The three-day event will feature panels with guest speakers such as the senior producer of "The Daily Show," student performances by Duke University Improv and Inside Joke, live cartooning by professional artists, a student satire workshop and political cartoon exhibits.

“I think it will be great fun but I also think [students] will gain some insights about the importance of satire but also a reminder not to take things too seriously," said Bill Adair founder of PolitiFact and director of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy. "I think we tend to get pretty wrapped up in our politics and it is a good thing to laugh."

Adair will be moderating the panel “Facts and Comedy.” His journalistic focus is in fact-checking which is becoming a widespread phenomenon in news media. This practice holds politicians accountable for the things they say and paints a more accurate picture for the electorate.

“Fact checking is critical in a digital media age when there is so much information out there and people want some help figuring out what is true and what is not,” Adair said.

Lead Researcher Naureen Kahn and fact-checker Ishan Thakore from “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” will be in attendance as well as Adam Chodikoff of “The Daily Show.”

In addition to “Facts and Comedy,” this year’s panels will cover topics such as North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2, which states that people must use the bathrooms which correspond to their biological sex at birth, the #blacklivesmatter movement and the 2016 Presidential election. Fans of “The Simpsons” will be able to enjoy “Night of The Simpsons: A Celebration of Satire” at Page Auditorium where writers and producers will share their experiences working on the American sitcom.

For those interested in art and cartoons, there will be four exhibits featuring editorial cartoons on a variety of issues. “Bathroom Humor: National Cartoonists Take on HB2” will comment on the contentious “bathroom bill” while “This Campaign Is Yuuuge!” is an amalgamation of 50 campaign cartoons by different artists. Artists Dwane Powell and Cullum Rogers will each have an exhibit dedicated to their work.

Rogers, who was a long-time editorial cartoonist for The Herald-Sun, previously known as The Durham Morning Herald, and currently works for The Independent, said, “You can’t make a complex argument in a one-panel cartoon…but what you can do is express a point of view clearly which brings comfort to the people who agree with you and it makes the people who disagree with you angry.”

In a few seconds, cartoons deliver simple yet strong messages. Because they are visual in nature, they linger in people’s minds and plant the seeds of an unfamiliar or even uncomfortable idea. 

Adam Zyglis, President of the AAEC and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, even referred to editorial cartoons as the original memes but with more meaningful purposes. Perfectly adapted for the digital age of online media and news, they engage the audience, are easily shareable and bring attention to important issues of the day.

“Cartoons spark a discussion or reaction…they are a contemplative art," Zyglis said. 

Readers who see a political cartoon may not immediately understand the commentary but once they do, the idea takes a hold. One simple image may be the start of a conversation about social justice or current events.

“To improve the political discourse, people with sharply different opinions have to have civil conversations and satire can be a way of breaking down the barriers so that people on different sides of an issue can laugh together and I hope talk together,” Adair said.

The beauty of satire is that it makes people laugh about sometimes serious and pressing issues. Through humor, people become more interested in politics and consequently more informed. 

The Center for Politics, Leadership, Innovation and Service is the sponsor of the festival. POLIS' mission is to find creative ways to get people to think about politics and to tackle the big issues in politics. The center hopes that celebrating the accessibility of satirical content will create an opportunity for audiences to participate in a larger political dialogue.

A complete list of events can be found at

Correction: A previous version of this article noted that POLIS was one of the organizers of the event. POLIS is the sponsor of the festival. The Chronicle regrets the error. 


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