Let’s All Shut Up: Six Reasons You Should Watch Paul F. Tompkins’ Political Puppet Show

Comedy Lists Paul F. Tompkins
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It’s not surprising that No, You Shut Up isn’t as well-known as other cable political comedy shows. Even if it was as righteous as The Daily Show, as incisive as Last Week Tonight With John Oliver or as downright brilliant as The Colbert Report, it’s still on a little-known news network called Fusion, which many cable companies don’t carry, and which isn’t to be confused with the little-known music network Fuse. Also it’s totally filled with puppets, so even if you did see it on TV you’d probably think it was for kids and just keep flipping the dial. (Because in this hypothetical situation you are using a television from 1983.)

This is all true but sad. Everyone should watch No, You Shut Up because it’s incredibly clever and one of the most adorable things on TV. It shouldn’t necessarily be compared to The Daily Show or John Oliver because its satire has a slightly different focus. Here are a few things that set No, You Shut Up apart from other political shows, and a few reasons you should make the effort to watch it.

1. It isn’t as angry or smug as most political comedy shows.

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No, You Shut Up is a fundamentally silly show that tends to be a little bit subtler than other political comedy programs when it tries to make an actual statement. It uses real-life events for inspiration but it’s more interested in parodying media practices and personalities than directly attacking them, highlighting the hypocrisy that courses through so much of our political dialogue. Even though almost every episode ends with puppets screaming at one another, it deflates the hostility and smugness that defines political entertainment on either side of the aisle. Occasionally these political comedy shows can grow a little too strident, but No, You Shut Up mocks self-serving pundits and close-minded activists without ever feeling angry or smug. It also never really stresses me out, whereas reminding us what we’re stressed out about before undercutting it with comedy is part of the appeal to, say, The Daily Show. Both tactics can be important and therapeutic, but sometimes I’d like to be entertained about current events without always having to get agitated first. The tone isn’t that far off from The Muppet Show, only instead of a lighthearted satire of the variety show format it’s focused on political panel shows.

2. Paul F. Tompkins

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The show’s hosted by comedian and Mr. Show veteran Paul F. Tompkins, who is, most importantly, a classy gentleman. He’s the perfect host for a show like this, a guy who at first seems intentionally (almost nostalgically) corny, but who’s actually one of the sharpest and most inventive comedians around. He’d fit in equally well at either the Algonquin Round Table or The Match Game. He’s a fine straight-man for the puppets to sound off on and gets to indulge his own absurd sense of humor in his intros and editorials, which are clever riffs on the banalities and platitudes of professional pundits. Tompkins is also a pro at looking exasperated, which happens a lot when dealing with a quarrelsome group of puppets.

3. Speaking of which: the puppets.

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The puppets are an obvious sign that No, You Shut Up isn’t going to take its political commentary all that seriously. It has a deep roster of strange and hilarious creatures that parody viewpoints across the entire political spectrum, from a Christian fundamentalist squirrel to a libertarian Bigfoot, and they’re all brought to life masterfully by The Jim Henson Company’s puppeteers. At this point cable news is pretty much defined by people straight-facedly espousing the most unbelievable and hateful opinions, and the sheer ridiculousness of those arguments is only underlined when you have an adorable puppet repeating them almost verbatim.

4. How it incorporates its celebrity guests.

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Like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, No, You Shut Up regularly features celebrity guests. Instead of fawning over them like Jon Stewart sometimes does, or engaging them on actual issues in a ridiculous manner like Colbert, Tompkins seats his guests alongside the puppets and basically squeezes them out of the conversation. In the current season the guests are “forced” at the last second to play random games with barely explained rules, largely preventing them from actually taking part in any discussion. Instead of spending minutes to dance around a blatant promo for their new work, comedians like Ron Funches and Brian Posehn are awkwardly turned into willing buffoons in a recurring joke that also mocks shows that rope celebrities into poorly planned bits.

5. It seems to be on all the time.

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This may not be a positive, but if you like to binge watch shows, Fusion makes it easy for you by scheduling No, You Shut Up like almost every day. New episodes air on Thursday nights at 10:30 ET, but if you set your DVR up to record all showings, you’ll wind up with four or five episodes a week. Episodes were only about twelve minutes long during the first two seasons, like an Adult Swim show, and Fusion reruns them constantly in half-hour blocks. So if you’re catching up you’ll have episodes to watch almost every day.

6. Because the Jesse Helms / Strom Thurmond turtle puppet is maybe the cutest thing on TV.

Just look at that guy. He almost turns reactionary politics rooted in fear and hatred into something adorable.

Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. Twitter at him.

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