Jester’s Privilege A short history of the comedy roast.

Jester’s Privilege A short history of the comedy roast.

  • Words Annabel Bai Jackson
  • Photograph Henrik Bülow
  • Styling Camilla Larsson

“I got a promise I will not be going to jail.” So began comedian Trevor Noah’s set at the 2022 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the Washington equivalent of a comedy “roast.” With his impunity assured, Noah’s job that night was to continue a long-standing tradition of the yearly gala: to publicly mock the president of the United States.

Noah may not have realized it, but his set—with its lighthearted jabs at President Biden’s stalled agenda—tapped into a ritual that long precedes today’s high-society dinners. In medieval and Renaissance courts, it was the role of the jester to mock the king and his noblemen and elicit their laughter. The concept of “jester’s privilege” protected his right to ridicule without facing the chopping block—within reason.

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