The crisis of democracy is no laughing matter. While some dictatorships like Myanmar are finally opening up, some of the world's biggest powers appear to be shifting toward authoritarianism. Even the United States, home to a vibrant democracy and civil society, is in the headlines because of the autocratic rhetoric of its mercurial president. But what can we do to protect open societies from being drawn into the maelstrom of authoritarianism and closed ones from becoming more dictatorial?
In a recent interview with PBS, Mel Brooks, one of America's oldest and greatest comedians and creator of the all-time classic movie The Producers, offered this opinion:
"The great thing about dictators is, you have to know, if you get on a soapbox with them, you're gonna lose, because they have a way of spellbinding with their oratory. But if you can reduce them to ridicule, then you're way ahead."
Brooks believes that political humor turns the table on dictators, placing them in a demeaning position by subjecting them to ridicule. This has a subversive effect that undermines their authority, and, therefore, strips them of their power.