What responsibilities, if any, do satirists have to their audience? Are they obligated to deliver a message while also making us laugh?
McGRUDER: I don’t think anyone can define the rules for satire. We operate with the message — that’s the easy part. Everyone sits at home with their political opinions. The important thing is making it as funny as possible and knowing when to pull back on the message for the sake of the message…. It’s indulgent to turn off the audience for the sake of preaching — the goal is not to turn off the viewer. … But it can never just [be about the jokes] for me. I’m not like a funny person. I’m not like a comedian. I have things I want to say. … Bill Maher does find a nice balance between the jokes and tackling the serious issues. So few outlets [offer] those issues in a serious fashion.
Do you think a satirist can influence public opinion, be it a viewer or a voter?
McGRUDER: Good satire goes beyond the specific point it’s trying to make and teaches you how to think critically. Even when your favorite cartoonist retires or Colbert wraps it up, you’re not left believing everything they’re telling you. That’s probably what you’re hoping for as a satirist.
So what’s satire’s role at the end of the day?
McGRUDER: It’s still about imparting a message about the lies a society tells itself. We can all live in collective denial. We can lie to ourselves pretty easily. It’s a challenge. Satire is the least commercially viable form of comedy. … There really is a distaste for being preached at. People have a very low tolerance for it — newspaper audiences have a way higher tolerance for it than others. But it’s tough on TV.