Just In Case You're Not on a Blog IV Drip…

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…and have somehow missed the profuse linkage, water cooler topic for the day in D.C. is Stephen Colbert's acerbic performance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Crooks and Liars has video, as does YouTube, in two parts. The routine got a lukewarm response from the journos in the audience, about which Jim Henley has a theory.

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  1. By coincidence I caught a piece of Colbert’s routine. I thought he simply wasn’t funny. His timing was dreadful and he blew a couple of setups. In addition to the extremely acerbic nature of the routine, which was clearly meant to leave no survivors, he himself seemed very uncomfortable with it. Maybe it was all those SS submachineguns…

  2. I thought the Hindenberg joke was clever.

  3. He does need to work on delivery some, but that was a tough crowd.

    In any case, his “welcome” to Scalia was worth the price of admission.

  4. Well, I’ve never liked his show as much as I like TDS. His “always on” persona/schtick gets old after awhile. Often, I go for minutes without cracking a smile. I’m thinking of canceling my DVR timer for it.

    Having said that, he did have some funny stuff, but most of it was so over the top that I was more impressed with his balls than I was his comical talent.

    I also suspect that it seemed less funny to the viewer because the audience was not laughing much. Things seem funnier if everyone else is laughing at it.

  5. I am disappointed that he didn’t bring Stephen Junior, or at least show some footage of his namesake bald eagle hatchling, with “Let the Eagle Soar” playing in the background.

  6. I read about this before I saw it. I got the impression that Colbert’s more pointed approach kind of broke the unwritten rules for these kind of events, where you poke gentle fun but aren’t supposed to score any real hits. Like, if this had been during the Clinton era, jokes about a fondness for cheeseburgers might have been expected, but jokes about adultery probably would have been verboten.

    So I guess some in the audience were taken aback by Colbert, when he didn’t restrain himself to making jokes about the pronunciation of “nuclear.”

    It might have been rude, but it was also funny. I would have enjoyed it more, but I actually felt a little sorry for Bush to get zinged like that, unexpectedly.

    One thing about Colbert’s delivery: He seemed a little rushed compared to the way he is on his show and TDS. Some of the lines were funnier to read about than actually see delivered.

    The Hindenburg line was one of my favorites.

    I also liked the “audition tape.” And my favorite part of that was when he was fumbling for his keys as in many a horror movie.

  7. Personally I thought it was hilarious. The press didn’t laugh because all the jokes were more or less completely at their expense. Nobody likes to have their nose rubbed in their own incompetence.

  8. I also thought it was hilarious. I wish I could have seen more reaction shots of squirming pols and press.

  9. Bumiller refuses to even say COlbert was there (letting alone the host!) in her NY Times piece today.

    Good for Colbert for giving the sycophantic press and Bush some well placed jabs. The video piece did drag on too long though. He should have done a follow up on George’s “where’s the wmd?” schtick two years ago.

    He mighta thrown in a line about Jenna and Not-Jenna volunteering for the war. 😉

  10. Everyone’s an armchair comedian. I thought there were many, many funny lines and it took relatively large balls to tell them. Interesting how hard Scalia was laughing. Good sport, that Scalia.

  11. The video did drag a little, but the main problem is that there was no audio feed of audience reaction, which had been there before, so it seemed to go over flat.

    Usually, such segments (at awards shows and such) get an audience feed.

  12. I thought it was a bit scattershot and uneven, but I’ve only read the transcript; delivery makes a huge difference. I loved the “democracy is our greatest export” and “Mallomar” bits. The “audition tape” segment struck me as a little weak, though.

    And I think Stevo Darkly hit the nail on the head. Colbert seemed angry about things, and the mood of these events is supposed to be light. Nothing really substantive is ever supposed to be brought up, and Colbert was breaking the rules.

  13. Rules? Jesus, comedy’s pussed out if there’s rules. Virtually everyone who got nailed by Colbert is rich, powerful, and influential — in short, they should be able to handle being mocked.

    Scalia, for all I disagree with him, handled it just fine. It’s not Colbert’s fault the President is too damn prissy to hear the truth — even lubed by comedy.

  14. BTW, for those unable or disinclined to watch the video, you can also find a complete transcript here:

    http://dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/4/30/1441/59811

    If you can, you should still see the video. Especially for the “audition tape,” which I personally thought was great.

    I also thought the “Mallomar” bit was great. I forgot about that one.

  15. “I would have enjoyed it more, but I actually felt a little sorry for Bush to get zinged like that, unexpectedly.”

    I know. But hey…at least it evens out some of the zingers Bush has let fly in the past. Like how he used to routinely and enthusiastically sign off on death warants for retards and stuff. Man, them was some real zingers. I feel better now.

  16. Morat20 – I really meant “for White House invitees”, not “for comedians”. I should have been more explicit about that. Still, there are a lot of safe and predictable comedians out there…

  17. “The routine got a lukewarm response from the journos in the audience, about which Jim Henley has a theory.”

    I have a theory as well – it wasn’t very funny. I was reminded of Steve Buscemi in “The Wedding Singer,” ostensibly making a toast at his brother’s wedding but drunk out of his mind and just spewing sarcastic hate.

  18. I thought it was funny.

  19. I have a theory as well – it wasn’t very funny.

    Well, maybe not to you. But there are lots of folks who laughed it up (including Scalia!) and there were lots of people laughing in the audience.

    I think these are good jokes.

    “And though I am a committed Christian, I believe that everyone has the right to their own religion, be you Hindu, Jewish or Muslim. I believe there are infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.”

    “Sir, pay no attention to the people who say the glass is half empty, because 32% means it’s 2/3 empty. There’s still some liquid in that glass is my point, but I wouldn’t drink it. The last third is usually backwash.”

    “The greatest thing about this man is he’s steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man’s beliefs never will.”

    “As excited as I am to be here with the president, I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of Fox News. Fox News gives you both sides of every story: the president’s side, and the vice president’s side.”

    “Mr. President, my name is Stephen Colbert and tonight it’s my privilege to celebrate this president. We’re not so different, he and I. We get it. We’re not brainiacs on the nerd patrol. We’re not members of the factinista. We go straight from the gut, right sir? That’s where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. I know some of you are going to say “I did look it up, and that’s not true.” That’s ’cause you looked it up in a book.”

    “Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that’s how our nervous system works. Every night on my show, the Colbert Report, I speak straight from the gut, OK? I give people the truth, unfiltered by rational argument. I call it the “No Fact Zone.” Fox News, I hold a copyright on that term.”

    “I’m a simple man with a simple mind. I hold a simple set of beliefs that I live by. Number one, I believe in America. I believe it exists. My gut tells me I live there. I feel that it extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and I strongly believe it has 50 states. And I cannot wait to see how the Washington Post spins that one tomorrow. I believe in democracy. I believe democracy is our greatest export. At least until China figures out a way to stamp it out of plastic for three cents a unit.”

    “In fact, Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong, welcome. Your great country makes our Happy Meals possible. I said it’s a celebration. I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.”

    These are pretty solid jokes. The thing that makes them especially valuable is that he told them with a relaxed smile on his face while standing next to the president.

  20. Just a question for those who thought he wasn’t funny…besides that performance, and Franken’s a few years back at the same venue, has anyone ostensibly from the right done anything remotely as funny and timely? Ben Stein? The Blue Collar TV guys? Just curious. I haven’t caught many of these little White House press love-ins, but I seem to remember mostly pussyfooting going on when toadies from the right have the podium, whereas Colbert and Franken cast a reasonably wide net with their jokes and skewered a pretty nice mix of folks.

  21. re: unwritten rules– don imus mocked clinton’s sexual proclivities to his face back in the 90s. this was widely regarded as a laff riot.

  22. You have a mongrel perception of humor, nothing more; a multitude of you possess that. This multitude see the comic side of a thousand low-grade and trivial things — broad incongruities, mainly; grotesqueries, absurdities, evokers of the horse-laugh. The ten thousand high-grade comicalities which exist in the world are sealed from their dull vision. Will a day come when the race will detect the funniness of these juvenilities and laugh at them — and by laughing at them destroy them? For your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon — laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution — these can lift at a colossal humbug — push it a little — weaken it a little, century by century; but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand. You are always fussing and fighting with your other weapons. Do you ever use that one? No; you leave it lying rusting. As a race, do you ever use it at all? No; you lack sense and the courage.”
    — Mark Twain, _The Mysterious Stranger_

  23. Just a question for those who thought he wasn’t funny…besides that performance, and Franken’s a few years back at the same venue, has anyone ostensibly from the right done anything remotely as funny and timely? Ben Stein? The Blue Collar TV guys? Just curious. I haven’t caught many of these little White House press love-ins, but I seem to remember mostly pussyfooting going on when toadies from the right have the podium, whereas Colbert and Franken cast a reasonably wide net with their jokes and skewered a pretty nice mix of folks.

    This is actually the first (fragment of a) Correspondent’s Dinner I ever watched, so I have no basis for comparison. Just happened to run into it on Cable. I’ve caught a little of Colbert’s show and I know he’s not my favorite comedian at the best of times, though good for an occasional laugh. At this event he just seemed uncomfortable to me; his material was solid, but his timing was off.

    Of course, even if he’d put on the best performance since Cosby at the Apollo, the essential train-wreck nature of the event might still have made me uncomfortable. In a way it was like watching one of those weird Andy Kaufman routines, designed to offend everyone there. Only funnier than that.

  24. Stevo is correct: the etiquette of roasts is “good-natured joshing,” not “angry partisan and personal attacks in joke form.” Sure, some people will find the latter funny, but as a whole, it seemed over the line and made people uncomfortable, which is generally death to laughter.

    For a complete explanation, dig up a copy of the excellent Enjoyment of Laughter by Max Eastman.

  25. How was it “partisan?” This word seems to have lost some of its actual meaning… “partisan” means advancing the agenda of a particular party. The guy, however, skewered the ostensibly “liberal” mainstream media as obsequious and incompetent; he also tossed some excellent barbs towards Democrats such as Joseph Wilson, Jesse Jackson, and Roy Nagin.

    But don’t confuse “viciously ripping the president and his administration apart” with “partisan;” that’s the same tortured logic that has lead to accusations that former Rep. Bob Barr (!!) of all people has become, in recent years, partisan and liberal. Colbert was not that; he was savage towards the President, but just as much so towards the entirety of the press corps (“I share your contempt for these people” — and he sure showed it).

    As for me, I found the entire segment hilarious. Aside from the fact that Colbert had some brilliantly witty lines and maintained his persona perfectly without cracking, the video was great (kudos to Helen Thomas; who knew she could perform so well?)… and it was pointed. It was savage. Guess what, guys? The best comedy isn’t “Tee hee, he can’t say nuclear.” Truly great political comedy is supposed to tear apart the powerful. It’s something the President’s rarely exposed to, and it took incredible chutzpah for Colbert to do it there.

  26. Ethelred: attacking both the GOP and the media for being “obsequious” toward the GOP doesn’t really mean one has risen above partisanship. It’s the fake even-handedness the Daily Show often falls into: attack Republicans for XYZ, then attack Democrats for going along with/not stopping XYZ. “See, we attack both sides!”

    Granted, he zinged some Democrats, but do you really think that, taken as a whole, his routine was even-handed? Not to say that it needs to be, but isn’t it rather telling that afterward all the Dem./left blogs were cheering and the Rep./conservative blogs tended to think the routine fell pretty flat? If members of one party tend to cheer, and members of the other party tend to frown, yes, partisanship may have occurred. (No doubt there are exceptions to this, but I’m referring to this incident.)

  27. Papaya,

    I didn’t say his attack was even-handed. The Democratic Party was clearly not the focal point of his attack — which, one would have to think, makes some bit of sense given that they are not the party currently controlling the executive, judicial, and both halves of the legislative branch of the government. So no, it was not even-handed. The people in power should get the brunt of the criticism, mockery, and questioning; to do so, however, does not equate to partisanship. To assume that it does is highly faulty reasoning.

    Colbert attacked the media for not doing its job, in that it simply, in his view, repeats back what it is told without questioning, investigating, or challenging authority. He accused the media of failing to report on anything the administration didn’t want it to report (until recently). Again, there *may* be a partisan motivation there behind his attack, but nothing about it is by necessity partisan, and there’s no evidence that partisan support is why he did it. I would think the concept of “questioning power/authority” and not being complicit with the political wishes of the government in power… is not a partisan concept by nature, and is in fact one that libertarians or any supporters of civil liberties could get behind wholeheartedly.

    Key idea here: just because something happens to, at any given moment, benefit a particular partisan side… does not mean that that something is by nature partisan or was done for partisan motivations.

  28. I understand and agree with your key idea, but I still think you’re avoiding the fact that Colbert’s act has a general political point of view identifiable with at least one wing of a particular political party. Honestly, would any politically-aware person listen to Colbert’s act and not know where he falls on the political spectrum? I call that “partisan.” You don’t have to, though.

    Finally, I think the fact that the act was not very well-received (except by partisans who agree with Colbert’s p.o.v.) shows that, by being too partisan/serious/angry/whateveryouwanttocallit, it went beyond the good-natured joshing that one expects at roasts. That’s really my point, regardless of the definition of “partisan.”

  29. “Finally, I think the fact that the act was not very well-received (except by partisans who agree with Colbert’s p.o.v.) shows that, by being too partisan/serious/angry/whateveryouwanttocallit, it went beyond the good-natured joshing that one expects at roasts.”

    I agree with you entirely on that point, then. Colbert definitely went well beyond good natured joshing — he told the assembled audience that he found them contemptable, that their idealized conceptions of themselves were fictitious, and that they were, in general, inept pawns. That was certainly not what they were expecting, and it’s no surprise that they weren’t laughing.

    I guess we disagree on whether or not that’s a good thing. I think it very much is. I think it’s delightful to see an assembled bunch of buffoons told to their collective faces that they’re failures, and to have it told in a very pointedly funny way.

    Impolite, yes. Bad comedy, though? Not hardly.

  30. The Republicans are in power. Of course they’re going to get made fun of more than Democrats. It’s the price they pay for being in power, not to mention being disingenuous and incompetent. On his show, Colbert makes fun of Democrats quite often and when they’re back in power, he’ll have plenty of opportunity to make fun of them (since they’re every bit as disingenuous and incompetent as Republicans). And then Democrats will probably accuse him of being partisan.

  31. It was funny.
    It was brave.
    It was (mostly) right on target.
    And as Steve says, a lot of folks didn’t “get it”.

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