A satirist is an artist who uses satire as a mode of expression. Many satirists are writers, but they can also be performers, authors of plays and speeches, and visual artists such as painters and cartooners. Satire is a somewhat unique form of expression because while it is on the surface humorous, it carries embedded commentary, and is usually intended to send a message or make a statement, rather than to be purely amusing.
Many satirists work in the area of political satire, using satire as a vehicle to comment on the political scene. Satirists may attack public figures, laws, and various political trends which they think are worthy of attention. A satirist can also examine social issues. Satirists are often quite biting, and their humor is usually not to everyone's taste. In some cases, satirists have been the first to openly address controversial social issues, saying in humor what cannot be said in plain language.
The practice of satire is ancient. Humans have long loved humor, and they've also long been fans of modes of expression which can be multilayered and complex. Historically, satire was sometimes the only way to make an open political statement. People could not say “I hate the King,” for example, but they could use the King in a political cartoon which sent a clear message about the King. Satire continues to be a valuable tool for political expression in some regions of the world where people lack free speech; the satirist can hide behind the guise that it is humor, and that the meaning of the humor is up to interpretation.
Many satirists walk a fine line. Their commentary may be offensive to some, and some topics are not deemed appropriate for use as vehicles for humor. In some nations, limitations on freedom of speech can also impact satirists. For example, some nations have lèse majesté laws which make it illegal to “injure” the monarchy, and thus satirists must watch their step or end up imprisoned or fined. Likewise, satirists have sometimes been accused of defamation or slander by the targets of their sharp wit.
People can approach careers as satirists from a number of perspectives. Some are graduates of art schools or writing programs who are interested in humor, others are performers, and others develop their own satiric voice independently. The work often starts with small jobs such as a column in a local newspaper or periodic invitations to make political cartoons, with the satirist attracting more attention and jobs as her or his work becomes more well known. A satirist might also start out with a job like assisting the writers on a television show or providing support for a stand up comic who uses satire.