July 28, 2009

In which against every fiber of my being I side with Sarah Palin over William Shatner

Before NBC began frantically pulling it off YouTube -- in an apparent attempt to forestall any awareness of its programming among people under 40 -- today's hottest viral video was the clip from last night's Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien of William Shatner reading Sarah Palin's farewell speech. (The clip is still available on the NBC web site so I've embedded it below on the off chance you haven't seen it.) At the risk of offending every one of my Facebook friends who posted it, the bit simply wasn't funny. That's not just my opinion, it's a provable fact, and if the target hadn't been one we're by now completely conditioned to laugh at, everyone would have seen it.

The problem isn't that the punchline doesn't land (though Shatner does seem a bit shaky at times) but rather that the premise is all wrong. Introducing the performance, Conan declares that he's watched the speech a few times and "it suddenly dawned on me this morning: it's a poem! It was always meant to be a poem."

Except that... it really was always meant to be a poem. OK, not a exactly a poem, but definitely poetic.

...with fireweed blooming along the frost heaves and merciless rivers that are rushing and carving and reminding us that here, Mother Nature wins.

What did Conan think that was, a policy speech? All the flowery language that Shatner goofs on is supposed to be flowery. Some of it is literally about flowers. Palin's speech isn't inadvertently poetic the way that Donald Rumsfeld's press conferences or Lindsay Lohan's interviews are. Those gags work because there is a surprising result from presenting ordinary, discombobulated language in verse form. Palin's speech announcing her resignation probably could have been treated the same way effectively. But her actual farewell speech is in itself intentionally poetic.

Sure her imagery is hacky, her construction is inelegant, and her delivery is choppy. And there's the oddity of a politician attempting to speak poetically when she is quitting her job and pretending that it's normal. But to say, "Ha! It sounds like a poem!" when that was the intent makes Conan, not Palin, sound like the dummy.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Mmm, disagree, Dan. Conan's setup (and perhaps likely the sentiment behind it) was unfunny (for precisely the reasons you identify), but as a concept, I think it's gold, Jerry, gold!

But it's Shatner. Shatner makes it funny.

Yeah, opportunity squandered. They took the easy way out in their approach.

Dan, I totally agree with your insights, but not the conclusion: It was funny because Shatner SUCCESSFULLY illustrated that the defects of her speech were mostly in the delivery. Well-delivered, you could forgive the over-embellished language.

What hurt the bit for me was the use of a couple edited grabs -- parts that appealed to Alaskan locals -- instead of one rambling excerpt. It's easy to make anyone look stupid in tiny chunks, and it's insulting to mock regional knowledge. (Fireweed is everywhere up there (as is fire), and it's lovely.) The result - people tittering at Native American words! - was lower as Leno's Jaywalking spots.

And the manipulation was unnecessary! Huge chunks of that speech were ripe for comic recitation, and an extended interpretation by Shatner (clearly not into it) would have killed.

Also: People under 40 know where Hulu is. It's one of those web successes or something.

Reversal of Opinion
And he hits one in the hole
They're gonna have to hurry.
They got him.
How do you like that.
Holy cow.
I changed my mind before he got there.
So that doesn't count as an error.

--Phil Rizzuto


Her speech was very poetic - especially this part:

Conservatives like me,
The media hates me,
Guess I'll end my term.
Making fun of my kids names
Ethical violation claims:
Inventions of lib'ral worms

I'll quit the first one
Won't try a second one
I will twist the "lame duck" term
Don't call me "quitter", son
My career may not be done
Wait for the worm to turn

As JohnnyB backhandedly points out, your contention that it was meant to be a poem is negated by the fact that, duh, it didn't rhyme. Next!

This debate puts the "Feh!" in e-feh-mera.

Conan O'Brien is a guy who still thinks that facile "Bill Clinton is a horndog" and "Larry King is old" jokes are hilarious and worth repeating endlessly. Of course this was lazy and unfunny.

Conceptially perfect, just under-rehearsed.

oopsy - conceptually.

Mssr. Radosh, you overthink dis time! It wasn't funny because it wasn't funny. That's all.

The concept is one that relies entirely on the performance, and Lord Shatner didn't deliver.

For what it's worth, I'm comfterble with conceptially, J.D.

I've been living under a rock and hadn't seen the clip.
Thanks for posting it.
I loved it simply for the guy playing the bongos in the background.
Do they give emmy's for overacting while playing a musical instrument during a comedy skit?

Total war, man, total war.

I don't like it because it reminds me of Robert Service. Which I guess is your point. What bothered me most about her speech, except for all of it, was her misunderstanding of what apologetics are. She's the American apologist, not the Blame-America-First-Libruls! Stupid fucking idiot. She shamed our troops in her misuse of that word. And you'd think as a "Christian" she would have some goddamned understanding of what apologetics are. Jesus.

I'm curious if this hackery was penned by Lynn Vincent, features editor at the Christian conservative magazine World, and designiated ghost wirter for Madam Palin's forthcoming HarperCollins autobiography?

oopsy - not "hackery," I meant "fuckery."

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