Jack Black Goes Back to School

The actor masquerades as a kid in Web videos skewering bids to repeal health care. But is he blurring lines between comedy and advocacy?

Political comedy isn’t the first thing to spring to mind when thinking of Jack Black, the blustery actor who amusingly wreaked havoc in “School of Rock.”

But on the Web, he's offering lessons in pointed satire.

Black stole the all-star show, playing Jesus in the 2008 hilarious "Prop 8: The Musical" viral video, which used song, dance and comedy to attack California’s same-sex marriage ban. Now he's back on the (very) small screen in a Web video series skewering attempts to repeal or alter the landmark health care law passed this year.

In the two episodes of "The Mis-Informant," Black plays Nathan Spewman, a corporate mercenary who pretends to have an aging disease as he goes undercover as a student in a classroom full of eight year olds. His mission: to turn the youngsters against President Obama's health care plan.

"Hey, you hear Obama's gonna kill our grandmas?" the mustachioed Spewman whispers to a classmate. "Did you ever hear of a death panel? Say your goodbyes now – for real!"

He finds a disciple in a fresh-faced little girl who accuses their teacher – played by America Ferrara – of being a socialist shill for the president and screams, “You hate America!”

"I really get what you're saying. I like to lie, too... I want to spread lies just like you," the girl tells Spewman.

The videos, though, are more than just inspired satire: They're co-produced by an advocacy group, Health Care for America Now! The videos link to a "Stop Spewman Now" site, along with the requisite Facebook page and Twitter feed – and the grassroots group's Web page.

"The Mis-Informant" is an entertaining, effective and timely effort, particularly with the health care plan bubbling up as a key issue in next month’s crucial midterm elections.

The videos, though, also mark the latest example of the sometimes disorienting blurring of comedy and advocacy on the Internet: director Ron Howard earlier this year assembled Jim Carrey and comics who played presidents on "Saturday Night Live" for a video pushing for a consumer protection agency. The short was made in support of Americans for Financial Reform and the Main Street Brigade, which were involved in the ultimately successful push for the agency.

Huffington Post chief Arianna Huffington and comedian Bill Maher were among those promoting a video parody of “It’s a Wonderful Life” that served late last year as part of a call for consumers to pull their money from big banks and make deposits with smaller savings and loan operations.

Black will never be mixed up with Maher, but he gets the point across while keeping within his own decidedly unsubtle, raucously silly style. Whether or not laughter is the best medicine, it’s certainly not a replacement for health care. But in this case, at least the jokes are free – get a fix below:

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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