Comedy in the Obama Age: The Joking Gets Hard

With a President who isn't a punch line, these are trying times for stand-up comics. But they are trying

Illustration by John Ueland for TIME

The crowd sitting elbow to elbow in the basement performance space at New York City's Comedy Cellar on a recent Wednesday night had pretty much had its fill of sex jokes, gay jokes, rants about New York cabdrivers and time-filling banter with the couple in the front row who had just gotten married a week ago. Then, a few minutes after midnight, James Smith, a lanky Australian stand-up who has appeared on HBO's Flight of the Conchords, bounded onto the stage for a 15-minute set to do something a little different. He talked politics.

Some of his targets were...

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