A comedian and Fox News contributor was caught trashing the network: what this shows us about comedy in news media

A comedian and Fox News contributor was caught trashing the network: what this shows us about comedy in news media

Francis Ellis

Francis Ellis is first and foremost a comedy personality. He rose to prominence as a comedy blogger and podcaster for Barstool Sports, as a stand-up, and from his appearances on the Shane Gillis/John McKeever-created Gilly and Keeves sketch comedy series. Like several other comedians, he's made appearances various times on Fox News, mostly to joke with the show host and riff on the news of the day.

Recently, leaked audio from the Barstool Rundown podcast made its way onto the internet revealing Ellis' distaste for the people working at Fox News and their divisive behavior. Ellis also took particular shots at host Tucker Carlson.

"Look, I got home. I talked my wife about it 'cause I was disappointed in myself and she was like, 'Let's be honest, like, do you want to be working with these f*cking people?'" the audio revealed. Ellis continued, "And then like, Tucker comes on and just screams. It's so weird. They're just trafficking in hate."

In the audio clip, Ellis further reveals his uneasiness about sharing his comedy on the massive Fox News platform. "I think last night I went into a place that I shouldn't have gone to," he stated. He expressed concern that while his intentions were purely to make the audience laugh, he was worried some viewers might not realize he was joking. "I was like, 'yes, the Democrats are like eating children beneath pizza shops.' There are people watching that who don't know that I'm f*cking with them."

The audio was recorded on the podcast, but not until after the show had officially ended. In an apparent error, Barstool released the complete audio, including this segment after the hosts had signed off. A few hours later, they took it down - but by then it had already been picked up. Mediaite re-released the audio shortly after.

There is of course the dramatic part of this story - "look at all the secret infighting we weren't supposed to see!" But Ellis' qualms about making jokes on Fox News also reflects a real question that comedians have about how their words can be twisted around or misconstrued. When comedians make jokes, the true meaning behind what they say can be a lot more unclear than the lines of your news anchor. A good anchor typically attempts to present information about the news in as matter-of-fact a way as possible. A comedian is putting some topic - in this case the news - through a comedy filter, and presenting it through this distortion.

So much of what makes a joke work is some essential context. The audience has to be able to realize that you're joking. And while most of what Ellis says is clearly comedic, his worry is that sometimes this doesn't come across so explicitly. If someone were to take what he is saying at face value, they would be dramatically misinformed. It also raises the notion that cable news channels need to a better job at separating what is news and what is entertainment. When do the jokes begin and when does the news start? It is clear that this is part of a larger trend across television news platforms to merge entertainment seamlessly with actual news.

But is it his job as a comedian to think about how every person could misunderstand his jokes? Another person in the leaked audio asks this question, joking, "Are you Jesus? What, are you gonna fix everybody? Come on bro. You're there to tell jokes."

Ellis responds, "I'm not here to fix people, but I'm certainly not here to further divide the country."

Maybe this is missing the obvious. A comedian doesn't have to worry about how every person might understand his joke, but he does need to think about if he is succeeding in having his point come across. Some comedians argue that there is no larger "point." They are there to make you laugh, and that's the end of it. This may be true, but regardless of a comedian's intentions, people will come away from a conversation having absorbed the larger point in some way or another. The question for the comedian is, have you communicated sufficiently that what you are saying should be taken as a joke or not. This is the problem Ellis brings to us, although unwittingly.

Ellis has since responded on Twitter with a joke video, perhaps showing that he has found a way to laugh off the event.

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