Alice Snedden’s comedy-news show is absolutely exasperating and positively hopeful
“I would love people to come away having a think about someone else’s position in the world for a little bit… and thinking I’m funny.”
The newest season of Alice Snedden’s Bad News, a comedy-news show produced by Hex Works Productions, has just landed. The series of short episodes explores a wide range of topics including the wealth gap and housing, fatness and stigma, prison conditions and reform, the morals of meat-eating, and (still to come) NZ rugby, and the minimum wage exemption. Throughout the episodes, comedian Alice Snedden reliably investigates systems of oppression and painful truths, drawing out cathartic comedy from tragedy.
It’s the final hurrah for the comedy-news-opinion show, as it comes to a close at the end of season three. After avidly watching Bad News since it was adopted by The Spinoff for its second season, I’m excited to pick Snedden’s brain on the making of the series. When I ask her about how the show has changed over the years, she warmly reflects on the conception of Bad News, right at the beginning of the “Wild West” of season one. She explains that, originally, the show was set to be called How? What? Me? as it was “about taking any sort of current event or social issue and going like, what’s happening? How is it happening and why is it related to me?” She sarcastically calls it a “cutting satire” on the framing of millennial culture at the time.
Though the name didn’t stick, the core of the idea did. In Bad News, Snedden explores topical news events, while taking the time to engage meaningfully with people affected by the issue, and consider her place within the wider context. Snedden explains that her personal opinion “has always been pretty central to the show.” She continues, “That’s really the only point of view I can operate from, and then, hopefully, try and empathise and learn about other people’s situations and their experience of the world.” Throughout the episodes, this sense of empathy is really clear. The comedy-news genre allows Snedden to engage closely with the feelings of interviewees, as well as her own. There’s no hiding the exasperation central to exploring so many of these issues—in fact, the show treats it as a productive and necessary method of engagement.
Comedy-news is by no means a new media genre—Snedden highlights the compelling nature of The Daily Show as a news source in her teen years. We can also recognise the form in late night shows in the U.S. or, on home soil, in Guy William’s New Zealand Today, the weekly Seven Days news-quiz, or The Spinoff’s On The Rag series. Often, comedy-news is subject to debate from audiences about missing the mark or creating an inappropriate tone for dealing with serious content, as it tries to blur the line between genres.
To engage critically and directly with these difficulties, Snedden seems to employ a strict ‘punching up’ policy, where powerful people or structures are held to account through the laughs. Snedden explains that much of the humour in the show “comes from, ideally, I’m either the butt of the joke, or the person who’s the oppressor is the butt of the joke.”
However, Snedden recognises the fraught nature of comedy-news, highlighting that “It’s rightfully up for debate… if someone said to me ‘this is not appropriate’ I’d be like, yeah, you might be right.” She’s confident in asserting that “it should be negotiated, it should be debated, it should be up for criticism, because they are real world things that have real world stakes.” And though she thinks it’s tricky to navigate, she says “ultimately, I think I land on the side of all of that discussion is good discussion.”
She also considers a risk that the show circulates in an echo-chamber of people “who are already thinking about these issues,” even though it’s not necessarily aimed at that audience. However, she also highlights the opportunity of talking about social issues through a different frame, and reflects on her own moments of realisation.
During the interview, I disclose to Snedden that I felt called out in the latest episode, as she explores meat-eating and finds out about the potential pitfalls of being pescetarian. She laughs, and later highlights the confronting factor of experiencing a moment of “moral clarity on something.” Bad News is full of these moments, where Snedden drops her head in her hands, or audibly expresses the confrontational feeling with a punctuating “fuck!” It’s an exciting way to present news about challenging topics—it calls viewers to consider injustice in a close and personal way.
As the final two episodes are set to release, Snedden reflects on what she hopes the lasting sentiment of the series will be: “Honestly, if the series could do anything [I hope] it would be increasing people’s empathy for other people and the struggles that they have to go through. And learning to acknowledge what your own privilege is.”
Alice Snedden’s Bad News might be full of laughs and cringing, but it’s a motivating, confronting watch. It illustrates the potential for comedy-news to hold power to account, and bring new audiences into discussion about civic issues, while also offering catharsis for people experiencing hardship and feeling exhausted from dealing with oppressive systems. As a hopeful advance for critical thinking about the general state of things, season three will close leaving audiences wanting more, and hoping for another comedian-journalist-opinion-columnist, who’s anywhere near as good, to fill Snedden’s shoes.