Jimmy Kimmel strikes again in another late night antic that makes you wonder, are we actually in on the joke?

Maybe not.  Sources now indicate that one of Kimmel’s most popular segments may actually be staged and I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if that were true.

Kimmel’s late night show has built a reputation for thinking outside the box and soliciting audience participation in crafting some of their best bits.  In most of these instances, the results are both hilarious and depressing.  Whether we’re watching children throw tantrums after their parents pretend to throw away their Halloween candy (on Kimmel’s orders) or watching young and old alike lie to please the person behind the camera in Kimmel’s frequently recurring segment Lie Witness News; what we see isn’t particular flattering.

Being able to point out the absurdity of the mundane is a special kind of skill and makes for some of my favorite kinds of comedy.  Take Louis CK’s bit on being broke from well before he became super famous.  While he’s laughing not to cry he’s also able to comment on social priorities and a society that rewards the rich for being rich.  “Sir you have insufficient funds,” his bank calls to tell him “I know I would say that my funds are grossly insufficient” he responds. He later jokes about the bank giving the fee charged for having insufficient funds to some rich guy as a reward for having so much money.

Lie Witness News is its own type of commentary but in this case the joke’s on the audience. Kimmel’s staff take to the streets of festivals, fashion shows, and downtown LA to ask questions that seemingly have a right answer.  Whether asking about the State of The Union the day before it airs or asking folks to respond to the death of a nonexistent celebrity — the people on camera scramble to say the right thing and it’s cringeworthy. As Kimmel teases a segment at Coachella last year, presented above:

Music fans in general love knowing about bands that no one else has ever heard of so we decided to conduct an experiment; we sent a camera crew to Coachella and we asked people walking into the venue what they thought of a bunch of bands whose names we made up.  These bands are so obscure that they do not exist.

Dr. Schlomo and the GI Clinic, The Obesity Epidemic, Get the Fuck Out of My Pool, and The Chelsea Clintons are just a few of the nonexistent bands referenced.  In response, not only do participants confirm knowing the acts they pile on with additional thoughts. One guy even suggests that he used to play a nonexistent album from one of these nonexistent bands back when he was working as a local radio DJ.

What happens when the topic is less frivolous? When it’s a matter of the President appointing Judge Judy to the Supreme Court?

The segments confirm our worst suspicions about society by making fun of specific members of society. It’s easy to point and laugh–and we can accuse them of being ignorant and lazy–but I wonder how doing that makes us any better than the folks we’re laughing at?

If the rumors are true and the participants are “in on it”,  I’ll be a bit relieved. It won’t be the first time it’s happened, Kimmel once staged a young girl twerking and catching on fire only to reveal that the stunt was a joke that featured a stunt actress but only after the video had accrued millions of views. But if not, then I feel a little gross about the whole thing.

In the case of Lie Witness News, it’s tempting to say that we’d never find ourselves in a similar position as the participants in the video.  We’d tell the truth– if we didn’t know the answer, we’d say as much.  Obviously these segments are edited not to include the folks who do exactly that.  Of the several participants who have come out and claimed to have been in on the joke, one reveals that they said what they thought they had to in order to make it onto TV.  If that’s true then it would make sense in the context of a culture in which reality TV is a means to an end, a vehicle towards fame and fortune. In other cases, the Judge Judy clip in particular, when in truth most Americans can’t name a single Supreme Court Judge, is it really all that funny?

It’s the role of the comedian to point out the obvious, to highlight aspects of society that we’d rather not acknowledge.  But then what do we do with information as it comes to light?

I don’t have the answer– but the more segments of Lie Witness News I watch, the less funny it becomes.