Last week on Saturday Night Live, actor Woody Harrelson made a joke about vaccines, and the media predictably went berserk.

He told about a time he read a script for a movie that audiences would find implausible. “The movie goes like this,” he began. “The biggest drug cartels in the world get together and buy up all the media and all the politicians and force all the people in the world to stay locked in their homes, and people can only come out if they take the cartel’s drugs — and keep taking them — over and over.”

“I threw the script away,” Harrelson joked. “I mean, who is going to believe that crazy idea,” he quipped sarcastically.

Ironically, the media – the same media Harrelson jeeringly accused of being bought out by drug cartels – was not pleased.

“On SNL, Woody Harrelson pushes popular covid-19 conspiracy theory,” published The Washington Post. “Woody Harrelson Spews Anti-Vax Conspiracies in Rambling ‘SNL’ Monologue,” agreed The Daily Beast. Insider, Rolling Stones, and People all ran nearly identical headlines.

But why?

Comedians make outlandish jokes all the time. When it comes to comedy, the media cannot always be the arbiter of what is and isn’t satirical. Harrelson’s routine, in particular, was admittedly a bit eccentric. He mostly just joked about how much he loves alcohol and drugs. Why didn’t the media correct all of his offbeat gags? Why do they let other comedians get away with their batty statements?

My point is that for the media to launch a coordinated, long-faced defense against a blowsy stoner’s quirky banter sure looks like a sign of guilt.

It looks a lot like something they would do if they were actually in cahoots with high-paying drug cartels.

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And perhaps that is the genius of comedy. By driving one’s opponents to act irrationally over a simple joke, the comedian can cause them to confess things they would not otherwise say. In Harrelson’s case, his not-so-subtle jab (pun intended) at vaccine enforcers made the media look like, well… vaccine enforcers. The great, unnatural lengths they went to prove “it’s just a joke!”, made his “crazy” story seem a tad more believable.

Was Harrelson’s monologue technically conspiratorial? I seriously doubt he actually believes literal cartels are behind COVID-19 pandemic protocols. So in a sense, yes. But the essence of what he was saying is unquestionably true. A consortium of pushy vaccine manufacturers, the media, and politicians did, in fact, “force all the people in the world to stay locked in their homes” until they took the manufacturers’ vaccine. Just like Harrelson said.

Insider’s article on the topic, of course, came complete with a reminder that his claims are “widely debunked” and “fringe,” linking to an overlong, scientific fact check allegedly disproving such senseless nonsense. Because of course, it is perfectly normal to combat comedians’ jokes with science. What ever would we do if not for the media enlightening us that, sometimes, farceurs are aberrant?

Sarcasm aside, the point is that in trying so hard to prove Harrelson wrong about them working hand-in-hand with drug manufacturers, the media actually did the exact opposite. This does not mean that Harrelson is now, as Insider claimed, the “darling of the far-right fringe.” It means simply that sometimes it takes a nonconformist comic to say – and prove – that the Emperor has no clothes.

Jakob Fay is a staff writer for the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance.

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