May 2, 2006

Colbert 08

Like Noam Scheiber, I remember hearing Jon Stewart say that he hates it when his audience cheers rather than laughs, and I'm totally with him on that. And I believe Robert George when he insists that he really, genuinely, irrespective of politics, didn't find Colbert funny.

But I disagree.

I hate watching video online, so I've only read the transcript of Stephen Colbert's monologue, and I suppose its possible his timing was really off or something, but as written, most of these jokes really connect. Yes, there are a few clunkers (the photo ops line, the John McCain section), but overall, Colbert wasn't just mean, he was funny. And that's what made him dangerous.

To be fair, the Bush skit had some pretty funny moments too ("Some of my critics in the international community call me arrogant. I will not even honor that with a response. Screw 'em."), but as many folks have noted — meaning this, somehow, as a criticism of Colbert — Bush "played by the rules." Keep it light, don't address real issues, be even-handed and self-deprecating. Colbert looked at those rules and said "screw 'em."

Of course, if it hadn't been funny it would have been no more effective, and just as embarrassing, as when the old dude stood up and ranted at Bush at that town meeting. That guy didn't shake Bush. Colbert did.

Colbert's performance reminds me of the moment in V for Vendetta when the talk show host starts making Dear Leader vs. terrorist jokes. Criticism can be deflected, but once they laugh at you, it's all over. Of course, the powers that be don't crumble right away. The host gets disappeared; Colbert gets ignored. But either way, a point of no return has been reached.

Michael Scherer has perhaps the best analysis of Colbert's shtick.

It's not just that Colbert's jokes were hitting their mark. We already know that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that the generals hate Rumsfeld or that Fox News lists to the right. Those cracks are old and boring. What Colbert did was expose the whole official, patriotic, right-wing, press-bashing discourse as a sham, as more "truthiness" than truth... Political Washington is accustomed to more direct attacks that follow the rules. We tend to like the bland buffoonery of Jay Leno or insider jokes that drop lots of names and enforce everyone's clubby self-satisfaction... Similarly, White House spinmeisters are used to frontal assaults on their policies, which can be rebutted with a similar set of talking points. But there is no easy answer for the ironist. "Irony, entertaining as it is, serves an almost exclusively negative function," wrote David Foster Wallace, in his seminal 1993 essay "E Unibus Pluram." "It's critical and destructive, a ground clearing."

Frankly, I can only take Colbert's TV show in very small doses. As well as he plays his note, it's still a single note. But in this context, it was exactly the note that was needed.

Update: Chris Lehmann, whom I'm inclined to trust on such matters, opines that "the transcript is certainly much funnier than the performance that took place in that room." Noted. But Chris also spends a suspicious amount of time on the appropriateness of the peformance? Has he been co-opted?

Posted by Daniel Radosh


In my imaginary little alternate fantasy world, Colbert gets Tony Snow's job. Oh, the fireworks!

Kudos to Stephen Colbert for his command performance. I just bought the DVD from the CSPAN store:

I sat through all 3 hours on Saturday, and I have to say, without hesitation, that Stephens performance was the highpoint of an otherwise boring and far too self-congratulatory evening.

The press is just jealous of Stephen’s “Huevos Muchos Grandes” because the Washington press core does in fact have little hairless mouse balls
and Stephen’s “Gravitas” was too much bear in light of their glaring inadequacy.

A Tip of the Hat to Stephen Core and a Wag of the Finger to the Washington Press Core!

Well, I watched it and Bush's skit and didn't think either one was very funny. I love Colbert but I think maybe his "character" doesn't translate very well to a straight up speech.

As for Bush, I actually find it depressing when our president makes light of his own stupidity. It's not charming, it's sad.

Stupid or preoccupied? A lot of sound and fury runs through the Whitehouse.

The war-planning for Iran, and the perpetual hyper-neoPuritan War on Sex take a lot of time and energy.

Top Priority

Americans must be constantly and unrelentingly demagogued about this boogie man or that, in order to the keep the people an a constant state of anxiety. Gee, how about that National Anthem in Spanish, oh my!

Stephen Colbert's amusing caricature barely came close to lampooning the psychosis in the American body politic.

Every hysterical demagogic law that gets passed, is merely a prelude to even more Draconian laws down the road. They simply never stop, only ratchet up.

Daniel Radosh arrogant? The burden of having a mind as sharp as that is an amount of suffering that few will ever have to know. When Radosh has been unfair, he confronts it. No doubt Stephen Colbert will do the same should he one day unfairly characterize somebody.

By mere virtue of living within the United States, we're all already jaded.

I thought Colbert was funny. But, oddly, I wasn't laughing. I suspect the reason was because I was picking up the cues from the audience, who were aware that they were also being chastized.

Its as if Colbert was playing the dozens, and went too far against his opponent, who now wants to kick his ass. Colbert was right on, but I had this strange sympathy especially for the "liberal" press.

And then I shook it off.

"Frankly, I can only take Colbert's TV show in very small doses."

You're ignoring Colbert! STOP IGNORING COLBERT!!! (See? Silly, ain't it?)

One might note that Chris Lehmann, scathing critic of beltway insiders, is himself in something of a compromised position. His Wonkette-wife is precisely the kind of apolitical Washington schmoozer--I'll drink with anyone!--whom he might otherwise condemn. And, he, too, was running around the Hilton (I gather from the piece) trying to schmooze with DC bigwigs, to give his piece the usual NYObserver indiserliness. So critic, heal thyself.

"To be fair, the Bush skit had some pretty funny moments too ("Some of my critics in the international community call me arrogant. I will not even honor that with a response. Screw 'em.")"

See, I agree with Dashiell -- this kind of stuff isn't really funny. Funny would be if the President had a reputation for, say, dressing poorly, or tripping over his own two feet, or singing loudly and off-key, and joked about that. But it's not funny to make light of the very things that have put this country in the state it's in. Imagine the D.C. sniper joking, "Good thing I sold that white van," or a Vioxx executive joking at dinner, "I would have been here earlier, but I took a Vioxx before I left home, and we had to make a quick detour to the hospital."

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