Every year we report on the comedy that becomes news, but there’s also plenty of news that becomes comedy. The stories that late night talk shows write monologue jokes about– the stories that become source material for comics on stage, the stories that fed thousands of twitter jokes, the stories that become parody videos, SNL sketches, and fodder for weekend update. These 15 stories dominated social media for days, spawned Halloween costumes, and were talked about endlessly on talking head television.
In 2014 we looked back at the Fappening, Donald Sterling, and Rob Ford. In 2015, we obsessed on a liar (Brian Williams), a slaughtered animal (Cecil), and the Kardashians (Cait and Khloe). In 2016 it was more of the same, but this time a different liar (Lochte), a different slaughtered beast (Harambe), and a different Kardashian and her husband (Kimye). In 2017, Trump dominated the news but it was also the year of April the Giraffe, the Bro Romper and Tiki Torches. And in 2018, nothing was bigger than the false alarm that left Hawaiians believing they were about to be nuked.
This year, when we weren’t talking about Trump, these were the biggest stories.
In January comedy was handed a gift that would keep paying off all year round. Empire star Jussie Smollet claimed he was attacked in Chicago, and that racial and homophobic beliefs motivated the attack. This story got stranger and stranger, and ultimately became the butt of many jokes on stage and off. Smollet reported an attack on January 29th, and within weeks it became clear that something about this story didn’t add up. A month later Jussie was charged with disorderly behavior, in March charges were dropped and then in April the story continued with the city of Chicago asking for repayment of expenses incurred in investigating the case. By April the fake attackers were complaining and in June, tapes were released. This gave comedians and talk show hosts months of material. The Daily Show turned the story into a Lifetime-esque movie, Colbert devoted many segments to the story including this one explaining where it all went wrong. And Dave Chappelle famously covered the story in his special, Sticks and Stones. And of course, Saturday Night Live didn’t miss the opportunity to cover the story in sketch.
Honorable mention goes to racist salad bro who went on a tirade while trying to eat lettuce. Get a burger bruh.
In February Nike stock took a monumental plunge after college basketball wonderkind Zion Williams’ shoe exploded on the court. Williams suffered a sprained knee after the blowout knocked him to the ground less than a minute after the start of a game against North Carolina in late February. Everyone was talking about the blowout and the subsequent stock spiral– it was after all, a billion dollar hit for the company. That night late night covered the incident. Jimmy Fallon joked that Nike’s new slogan after the event could change to “Just glue it.” Colbert focused on former President Obama’s reaction to the incident, contrasting it with how Trump would have reacted.
Honorable mention for February to the unforgettable Maga Hat Kid and the Fiji Water Girl scandals, which inspired jokes on stages all over the country throughout February.
Another news event that gave comedians months of ammunition landed in March and is still going strong. On March 12, Federal prosecutors announced that they had discovered a conspiracy to payoff college officials and to commit fraud regarding entrance exam scores, designed to help rich parents get their kids into 11 different schools. In April the story escalated when names were named of parents who participated in the scheme and among those names were celebrities Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. Aunt Becky jokes ran rampant across social media, late night monologues, sketches on SNL and on Weekend Update. There are dozens of examples of comedians talking about the scandal, including Conan, Colbert, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon, Trevor Noah, and Bill Burr. But our favorite look at the scandal came from Fred Willard, appearing on Kimmel. Social media was positively giddy over it and a search for Aunt Becky on Twitter will keep you busy for hours.
After HBO released the first of a series of documentaries about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, Meme Culture exploded, parodies were never ending, and jokes about everything from Holmes voice to her quirky responses to questions about her company became raw material for comedians everywhere. Here’s James Corden taking on Holmes’ odd mannerisms, and while you can find dozens of podcast episodes discussing the story, here’s Joe Rogen’s take. And Kate McKinnon was lined up to play Holmes in a limited Hulu series.
Theranos wasn’t the only documentary to give an unending stream of material to comics and memers this year. Two documentaries on musicians made us realize these guys kind of sucked. Leaving Neverland, and Surviving R Kelly unleashed some serious evidence implicating Michael Jackson in multiple instances of predatory behavior and sexual assault against young boys, and R. Kelly for some fucked up behavior towards women.
On SNL, Pete Davidson got into trouble making fun of the two documentaries in a Weekend Update sketch. Dave Chappelle famously reacted to the two docs in his new special Sticks and Stones. Aziz covered it in his new special too. There are clips from Kimmel, Lil Rel, and Joe Rogen. You can also watch SNL’s cold open featuring a parody of Gayle King’s interview with R. Kelly.
Let’s be honest. Game of Thrones final season sucked, and since everyone on the planet was watching it, that meant everyone on the planet had a great time making fun of it. Every week there was another reason to get off a joke at the expense of the show, but none more viral than the reaction that followed the accidental appearance of a cup of Starbucks coffee in a scene that aired. Joke twitter and Instagram accounts showed up in droves, sketches were created and released, the error made it to every late night show (With Kimmel hitting it the hardest) and Twitter just exploded.
Long Island’s Chris Morgan became an instant celebrity after appearing in a video that went viral of a misogynistic rant. Nicknamed “bagel boss”, Morgan was caught degrading female staff members and patrons at a bagel shop in mid July. He thought the women were making fun of his diminutive stature. Like most of our 2019 stories, Bagel Boss hasn’t gone away. Morgan doubled down on his fame with more rants, a few stunts and ultimately suffered a stroke in November. Kimmel parodied the original incident with a sketch starring Jason Alexander. The Jim and Sam Show went viral after they invited Morgan on the show. Morgan also appeared on The Stern Show, offering to fight Shuli.
In 2019, as meteorologists began predicting a ferocious storm named Hurricane Dorian, Publix supermarkets decided to break the tension creating a fun little Dorian themed cake to sell to those getting ready to ride out the bad weather. Florida wasn’t laughing setting off a scandal that would require the market to apologize to offended patrons. Every news outlet picked up the story and Publix took a beating. The cakes, (of course) sold out, no harm was done, and the memes went flying.
It may not be the funniest headline, but Epstein jokes are everywhere in 2019 and peaked when the notorious billionaire (accused of being a pedo) was found dead in his jail cell. From his arrest in July to his alleged suicide in August, the story kept getting bigger and bigger, with stories of major celebrities being involved with Epstein, including President Trump. Twitter blew up with memes, jokes and parodies for months. Our Cartoon President addressed the scandal. Colbert covered Epstein’s evolving story for months right up to his suspicious end. Here’s the Daily Show talking about Trump interacting with the disgraced billionaire, and Seth Meyers talking about Epstein’s suicide.
Did you know that Fredo is an F word to Italians? In August we learned from Chris Cuomo that calling an Italian a “Fredo” is like using the N-word. Cuomo was caught on video ranting about “Punk-ass bitches from the right call me Fredo,” Later in the video, he threatens to throw someone down a set of stairs “like a fucking punk.” The Daily Show covered this one best.
Big plans were made to storm the secret alien compound titled Area 51 and once and for all find out what the military was hiding there. And it all started from a viral meme that attracted the attention and assent of over 3 million people who claimed they would participate. Although the meme’s creator claimed it was always just a joke, 150 people showed up for the big day and no raid took place. Watch Colbert comment on the planned invasion.
Antonio Brown kept memers, comedians, sportscasters, late night and all forms of media busy in the fall of 2019. It was easy to get confused. Brown was traded by Pittsburgh to the Raiders before the summer, but then refused to show up for training camp in August with the Raiders, claiming he would not play because NFL rules prevented him from wearing his lucky helmet which was not up to current safety code. After at least of month of “will he or won’t he play” nonsense, he was released by the Raiders and signed by New England, but then in September a civil suit alleged that Brown sexually assaulted and raped a woman. When word got out that Brown was threatening one of his accusers, the Patriots released him, and Nike dropped him from a campaign as well. Watch Kimmel talk about Brown after he was picked up by the Pats. In another clip, David Spade discusses Brown with Chance the Rapper and Judd Apatow. Nick DiPaolo discussed the rape accusations.
Oh Cuomo! If you thought Chris Cuomo’s Fredo story was big, it was nothing compared to Andrew Cuomo casually dropping the ole N-word during a radio appearance. Here’s what he said. “They used an expression, that Southern Italians were called, I believe they were saying Southern Italian Sicilians, were called quote on quote, and pardon my language, but I’m just quoting the Times, ‘n***** wops,’ ‘n-word wops,’ as a derogatory comment,” he said.
Do we even need a vote? We made it all the way to December without picking a single Trump-related story but there’s no getting around this one. The biggest story in December, and all year has to be the recent impeachment of President Trump. With headlines as big as the Hindenberg, this has to be the story of the year, and the story that spawned the most material. All you had to do is walk into any club in December, and wait 5 minutes for the topic to come up in some shape or form. SNL covered it best with a Days of Our Lives parody a Pete Davidson monologue, and of course, Weekend Update coverage.