Saturday, May 06, 2006

Deconstructing Colbert at the White House Correspondent's Dinner

There's a lot of controversy on the Web over whether Stephen Colbert's performance at the White House Correspondent's dinner was appropriate and/or funny. I've already said that while I can see enjoying seeing someone say right to Bush's face what many of us on the left have been thinking, I simply didn't think it was funny.

Obviously, humor is subjective and I can't say someone is necessarily wrong for enjoying it and even thinking it actually was funny. Of course, some liberals don't think this is quite so inconsequential a moment. They're calling those of us who disagree "apologists for the status quo." They're saying that a Democratic Congressional leader who said "some of it was funny" but Colbert “crossed the line” with many jokes that were “in bad taste" isn't a "real Democrat." As Brendan points out, liberals are as desperate for anti-Bush catharsis as conservatives were for anti-liberal catharsis in the heyday of PC, thus explaining the popularity of Rush Limbaugh's rantings.

Given all this, I thought it would be useful to go through the transcript and evaluate some of the main points in Colbert's speech to see whether they were funny and/or stinging. So here we go:

To actually sit here, at the same table with my hero, George W. Bush, to be this close to the man. I feel like I'm dreaming. Somebody pinch me. You know what? I'm a pretty sound sleeper -- that may not be enough. Somebody shoot me in the face.


A Dick Cheney face shooting joke. Always good for a little chuckle, but I think we can all agree this topic is just a bit overdone.

if anybody needs anything else at their tables, just speak slowly and clearly into your table numbers. Somebody from the NSA will be right over with a cocktail.


Again, vaguely amusing, but a very old joke.

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.


This is essentially the same joke Colbert tells on his show every night. It's funny only if you have never watched it for more than a minute or you just enjoy seeing him say it 10 feet away from the President.

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.


This joke isn't just old on "The Colbert Report." It's old on "The Daily Show." with Craig Kilborn.

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.


China makes cheap shit. Wow that's funny.

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.


Not remotely original as a political point, but it's a little funny to say it when playing a conservative character.

I believe in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. I believe it is possible -- I saw this guy do it once in Cirque du Soleil. It was magical.


This has no teeth. It's just a super lame joke about how the people in Cirque du Soleil are flexible.

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.

This is kinda funny.

Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32% approval rating. But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in "reality." And reality has a well-known liberal bias.


The one laugh out loud line in the speech.

Next comes the joke Colbert blows about the glass that's 2/3 empty, but we won't hold that against him.

Does he stay down? No. Like Rocky, he gets back up, and in the end he -- actually, he loses in the first movie.


The joke is that Colbert forgot Rocky loses. Not very funny.

So don't pay attention to the approval ratings that say 68% of Americans disapprove of the job this man is doing. I ask you this, does that not also logically mean that 68% approve of the job he's not doing? Think about it. I haven't.


The fact that Colbert doesn't get this makes no sense doesn't make up for the fact that it's a joke that makes no sense.

And that sends a strong message: that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound -- with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.


No matter how stupid Colbert's character is supposed to be, he wouldn't actually praise photo-ops. So the joke dies on that ground. Plus it's the kind of obvious insult that people have made against politicians since the camera was invented.

This president has a very forward-thinking energy policy. Why do you think he's down on the ranch cutting that brush all the time? He's trying to create an alternative energy source. By 2008 we will have a mesquite-powered car!


Nobody can honestly say that was funny.

I'm sorry [Laura Bush], but this reading initiative. I'm sorry, I've never been a fan of books. I don't trust them. They're all fact, no heart. I mean, they're elitist, telling us what is or isn't true, or what did or didn't happen.


If you're the kind of elitist liberal who thinks conservatives literally don't read books, I suppose this is funny. And as a bonus, you play into the very effective right wing strategy of saying that liberals think everyone who disagrees with them is stupid.

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.


Again, not an original point at all, and there's no comedy laid on top of the old criticism of Bush. That being said, maybe you enjoy it because Bush is sitting right there.

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.


Fox News is right wing. Who knew?!

But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super-depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished. Over the last five years you people were so good -- over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.


I suppose this is the point liberals swoon over because Colber, as Joan Walsh said in Salon, "exposed the mainstream press' pathetic collusion with an administration that has treated it -- and the truth -- with contempt from the moment it took office."

Now, I co-wrote a book about how President Bush has spun the public in large part thanks to a media that transmitted his spin, so I have something to say about this.

Colbert admits the media has served a very valuable role in exposing secret prisons and NSA wiretapping. He certainly has a very good point to make that the media did a pathetic job on WMD intelligence, going along with Bush administration spin even when they should have known better (they have tried to make up for this recently, but it's obviously too little too late). Tax cuts? As we wrote in "All the President's Spin," the President "generally received a pass from the supposed watchdogs in the press." So while it's not as much of a slam dunk as WMD, it's valid to include.

But global warming? In researching the book, we found more evidence of the press standing up to Bush on scientific issues, including this one, than any other. And I think in general it would be very tough to claim that the media hasn't reported consistently on the overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming exists and is largely due to human behavior. It seems pretty undeniable.

But did Colbert "expose" anything? No way, Joan. This is a very old point that we and many others have been making for a long time. Again, liberals just got a hard on hearing somebody say it with Bush and the Washington press corps nearby. And it's only funny for the same reason.

Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home.


One of the main points of All the President's Spin is that the press does this too often, so it's certainly a valid criticism. But once again, it's neither original nor clever.

This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg!


Like the photo-op joke, you have to believe Colbert's character is mentally retarded for this lame joke to even work.

. They still support Rumsfeld. Right, you guys aren't retired yet, right? Right, they still support Rumsfeld. Look, by the way, I've got a theory about how to handle these retired generals causing all this trouble: don't let them retire! Come on, we've got a stop-loss program; let's use it on these guys. I've seen Zinni and that crowd on Wolf Blitzer. If you're strong enough to go on one of those pundit shows, you can stand on a bank of computers and order men into battle. Come on.


Every mildly clever news reporter has pointed out that it's only retired generals criticizing Rumsfeld (for obvious reasons). And making fun of generals for standing on computers and ordering men into battle? That's actually kind of tasteless. Are we saying officers who work their way up to general aren't brave? That generals should fight on the front lines? Really?

Jesse Jackson is here, the Reverend. Haven't heard from the Reverend in a little while. I had him on the show. Very interesting and challenging interview. You can ask him anything, but he's going to say what he wants, at the pace that he wants. It's like boxing a glacier. Enjoy that metaphor, by the way, because your grandchildren will have no idea what a glacier is.


Unoriginal and lame Jesse Jackson joke. Unoriginal and lame global warming joke which, by the way, contradicts the assumption that the Colbert character doesn't believe in global warming.

Justice Scalia is here. Welcome, sir. May I be the first to say, you look fantastic. How are you? [After each sentence, Colbert makes a hand gesture, an allusion to Scalia's recent use of an obscene Sicilian hand gesture in speaking to a reporter about Scalia's critics. Scalia is seen laughing hysterically.] Just talking some Sicilian with my paisan.


Kinda funny to do this right to Scalia.

John McCain is here. John McCain, John McCain, what a maverick! Somebody find out what fork he used on his salad, because I guarantee you it wasn't a salad fork. This guy could have used a spoon! There's no predicting him. By the way, Senator McCain, it's so wonderful to see you coming back into the Republican fold. I have a summer house in South Carolina; look me up when you go to speak at Bob Jones University. So glad you've seen the light, sir.


Kind of funny point about the press corp's obsession with McCain being a "maverick." Doesn't fit the Colbert character at all (except at the end), but I kind of like it.

Mayor Nagin! Mayor Nagin is here from New Orleans, the chocolate city! Yeah, give it up. Mayor Nagin, I'd like to welcome you to Washington, D.C., the chocolate city with a marshmallow center. And a graham cracker crust of corruption. It's a Mallomar, I guess is what I'm describing, a seasonal cookie.


If a conservative made a joke about New Orleans the "chocolate city," I don't see liberals going for it.

Joe Wilson is here, Joe Wilson right down here in front, the most famous husband since Desi Arnaz. And of course he brought along his lovely wife Valerie Plame. Oh, my god. [looks horrified] Oh, what have I said? I -- Je- minetti (sp?). I am sorry, Mr. President, I meant to say he brought along his lovely wife Joe Wilson's wife. Patrick Fitzgerald is not here tonight? OK. Dodged a bullet.


Most obvious joke possible.

And, of course, we can't forget the man of the hour, new press secretary, Tony Snow. Secret Service name, "Snow Job."


I take it back. THAT was the most obvious joke possible.

Then comes the long and completely unfunny "audition" of Colbert to be press secretary where he avoids questions just like McClellan always did. It's a combination of weird and unfunny inside jokes based on the personalities or names of White House reporters and incredibly obvious points about the Bush administration’s unwillingness to answer questions, especially about Iraq.

And that's it. A couple of funny lines. One or two points that aren't incredibly unoriginal and/or obvious. Overall, I just don't see what there is to enjoy besides seeing somebody say what liberals think right in front of the people liberals hate (the President and the press). This is really groundbreaking? Damning? Funny? I don't see it.

2 comments:

Kelly said...

If you

Kelly said...

Why are you more interested in critiquing the degree of his 'Funiness' than the content of his 'Truthiness'? Maybe it's just easier to play art critic than it is to be a responsible social commentator.