The political climate can be so stressful and polarizing these days, sometimes all you can do is laugh.
That's why satirical shows like Last Week Tonight and The Daily Show are so popular – comedy is the great equalizer. We can't all agree on immigration ... or healthcare ... or gun policy ... or whether or not we like the president. But we can all poke fun at the ridiculousness surrounding the topics.
And while we're laughing, we often actually learn a thing or two about issues that affect us.
Jonathan Gershberg is a local comedian who's always been a fan of those nationally focused political satire shows. And in the summer of 2015, he decided to create one of his own right here in his home state.
"I realized that there was no show that turned that critical, humorous eye to local news," the 25-year-old told GoMN.
By October of that year, Minnesota Tonight – the only satirical news show in Minnesota –was ready to make its debut.
The first episode was taped at a public access center in northeast Minneapolis. At the time, it was just Gershberg and three others producing the show, and they used free pizza and beer to attract a small audience. They made 16 episodes that first season.
Two years later, the show is becoming increasingly popular. Gershberg attributes a lot of the success to his co-producer Sally Foster whom he calls "the hub of the show."
The volunteer staff now boasts 40 comedians, writers, actors, camera operators, editors, and producers. A new episode is filmed every fourth Wednesday at the Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis, typically drawing about 100 audience members.
Like other late-night shows, Minnesota Tonight has several different segments, including an opening monologue of jokes, an interview with a featured guest, a live band, and pre-recorded sketches mixed throughout.
Here's one of their clips:
Gershberg says Minnesota Tonight's writers don't just want to make you laugh – they hope to inspire you to get involved.
"When you're watching a late-night comedy show and the host makes a joke about Trump, it might feel good, it might be hilarious, but it's not really going to change your action," he said.
"But when the satire is about the Minneapolis elections, or things that are happening in the state Senate ... you could go and protest, you could go and call your state senator, you could actually have an impact on what occurs, what is passed and what happens in people's lives in your city or region."
GoMN sat down with Gershberg to pick his brain about satire, politics, and the issues that matter to Minnesotans.
Q & A
There's so much going on – how do you say informed? It's twofold. I'm a news junkie in a lot of ways. I read pretty much every local news site every day and keep tabs on them pretty frequently.
To get the in-depth analysis of each story that we feature, we have a really wonderful researcher named Michael Weingartner who reads the most relevant books and articles and interviews folks to get the important facts that we need to highlight. That department – which is expanding – is really fundamental for us to not only write funny jokes but also to have those jokes based on facts, current events, and analysis of what's going on.
Are there any topics that are off limits?Certainly no topic is off limits. I think one of the reasons why people trust satire shows is because they refuse to self-censor from topics that might be hard to address.
Why do you think political satire is so popular right now?On a national level, I think it's because people have a lot of anxiety about national politics, and political satire gives people a way of feeling informed without feeling that sense of dread.
But what we do is a little bit different, because we're not necessarily talking about the stories that people have already heard about from the national 24-hour news cycle. We're informing our audience about things that are going in their local community. That's what I think is so exciting about political satire on the local scale: you have more of an impact on what goes on in your city, town, or state.
Do you try – or even want to be – nonpartisan?We are a group of Minneapolites in our early 20s to mid 30s, so our demographic just generally tends to be more left-leaning.
However, I've found that on the local scale, the partisan divide doesn't mean as much when we're talking about things like water quality issues, rural broadband access, food and hunger – things that when you get into the specifics, there's more unison as a community, as a city, as a state.
At the same time, that doesn't mean we're not going to speak how we feel because it might make someone uncomfortable. We hope that we can reach all Minnesotans, and that's why we focus on having a diverse team of writers and tech folks so that we can represent a lot of voices. Minnesota is a really diverse place itself, so we want to make sure that we are that as well.
Any big names you'd really like to have on the show?Yeah I mean, I would love for like ... Mark Dayton to just take a day out of his schedule to come and sit and answer my stupid questions on stage. That would be great. (Laughs)
But I'm excited to be able to highlight people who work for organizations that don't normally get a megaphone, like the heads of nonprofits and folks who are working on issues that are really important to Minnesotans.
What's your overall mission for Minnesota Tonight?I hope Minnesota Tonight is a hilarious show that educates people and inspires people to act on local issues, news, and politics. On a person level, I hope it continues to be as fun as it has been to create.
Proudest moment?There was a moment like one or two shows ago, where the show was going really well and we told this joke about a proposed piece of local legislation, and it just killed.
I think that was the moment where I was like ... this is working. People are laughing and learning and realizing that this is going on in their state, all at the same time – that's really cool.