Not that this is an outright contradiction. Like so many aspects of comedy in particular (and art forms in general) there's a paradox at work here. Comedians are the most courageous cowards there are!
Sure, they're not into "shirt-fronting" their foes. But they've got the cohones to get up in front of scores of people they don't know and risk excruciating humiliation in an effort to make them laugh for an extended period of time. And unlike most other kinds of performers, they always do it alone, usually armed with nothing but their routines. So that's one form of courage, certainly.
But back to cowardice: There's the kind that Minchin alluded to. And there's another kind that I think a lot of satirical comics are guilty of. That is when a comedian heaps scorn and derision on some individual, political party, business or organization. He's not just being silly and mischievous. He's using vicious mockery to make a serious point. Sometimes this kind of satire attracts serious condemnation, occasionally even legal action. If it does, the comic often says: "Hey, lay off. I was only joking."
So, in a way he is hiding behind the form. He's trying to have it both ways. This is a bit of a cop out, because in not standing by and really owning what he implied in his rants, he actually negates the power of them.
This is why I think comics who decide to opine on current events have a credibility problem. Take Russell Brand. He seems to be confused about what he's actually trying to do. Is he holding forth on current events just "for shits and giggles"? Or is he really trying to say something profound.
Well, if it is the latter, it's not clear to me. And if he really believes what he says I couldn't take him seriously anyway. His opinions lean towards the conspiracy obsessed lunar Left, after all.
One comedian who seems to have successfully traversed that gap between satire and serious commentary is Bill Maher. Lately, for example, he's been taking a very serious and principled stand on the issue of Islam and the threat it presents to liberal values.
Another example of a joker saying something serious and standing by it: Renowned Aussie satirist Barry Humphries, who has spoken up in defence of an academic being publicly vilified as racist after his private e-mails were hacked -- e-mails the academic claims were satirical in nature.
In my opinion, both of these men are exceptions that prove the rule. When it comes to intellectual courage, serious minded columnists right across the political spectrum beat comedic and satirical entertainers hands down.
Not surprisingly, these pundits are often popular targets for comedians. And if you were to ask these funny men why they mock them so mercilessly, most would no doubt cite their backward or reactionary views as the main reason. But I think there's often an element of envy in there as well. Comics would like to be taken seriously. But they don't have the nerve for that. So they want to tear down those who do.
Speaking of nerve: Politicians themselves are actually even more courageous than comics and pundits, in my opinion. They seriously express and stand by their ideas, and campaign for election on them as well. In these brutal, relentless contests their privacy is often invaded and they endure countless vicious verbal assaults -- sometimes even physical ones! At the very least elections are gruelling, cruel and exhausting. So competing in them is courageous by any measure, in my opinion.