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Thursday, May 04, 2006


Stephen Colbert, yes. The Colbert Report, no.

I raved about Stephen Colbert's performance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. I thought he was the best part of The Daily Show when he and his deadpan face and his arched eyebrow were featured on that show. But, as I have written before, I'm no fan of his new show. This post is to elaborate just a bit on why.

Here's a transcript (my transcription) from last night's show, which occured while Colbert was showing footage of the April 29 antiwar rally in New York City:

"Somehow these hippies managed to break free of their drum circles long enough to march in a straight line. Usual cut-and-runners were there. No surprises by the faces in this crowd [Cindy Sheehan, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson]. These are people giving aid and comfort to our enemies."
Now commenters here tell me only stupid people don't get Colbert's humor, and it's satire. I'm sorry. That was not satire. It wasn't irony. It wasn't funny either. What it was was a right-wing rant. The fact that it comes from someone who is not actually a right-winger doesn't make it funny, or satire, or irony. And this is not atypical of the material on his show.

Many progressive bloggers, and again I think some commenters on this blog, have raved about how Colbert destroyed Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol on his April 28 show. This claim seems to have been largely based on this exchange:

COLBERT: You were a member, or are a member of the Project for a New American Century, correct?


COLBERT: How’s that Project coming?

KRISTOL: Well it’s…

COLBERT: How’s the New American Century? Looks good to me, right?

KRISTOL: I think it, I…I’m speechless.
Yes, Kristol was flustered by the question. But he quickly recovers by saying "we fought back after 9/11 and I’m proud of what we’ve done in Afghanistan and in Iraq, yes," a remark shortly followed by "If we had finished the job in 1991 it would have been a lot easier." Both are not only unchallenged by Colbert, but supported. Some will say, but that's just Colbert pretending to be a right-wing talk show host. I'm sorry, if you cannot tell the difference between what he has to say and what a real right-wing talk show host would say, it's not satire. It's a right-wing talk show.

What follows that? An exchange in which Colbert prods Kristol about Iran, ending with the Kristol arguing for military action and Colbert agreeing but pressing for the "nuclear option." Now that would be satire if the "nuclear option" were such an absurd idea that it would be recognized as such. But the fact of the matter is that the U.S. government has plans for that option, that there are undoubtedly people within the government pressing for it right now, and there are certainly real right-wing talk-show people saying the same thing. Once again removing this exchange from the realm of satire into the real (or surreal) world of an actual right-wing talk show.

And how does this interview end? (This is from my transcription of the video; it's not in the Think Progress "full transcript")

KRISTOL: Iran is a real threat, Bush has basically tried to do the right thing, we didn't execute Iraq as well as we should have, but it was the right thing to do, and we're going to prevail. Iraq will be better off, and the Middle East will be better off.

COLBERT: Sir, you're preaching to the choir.
The entire interview is an unchallenged opportunity for an authentic right-winger to present his views, and if anything to have those views reinforced in the mind of the listener by the interviewer. I repeat what I have said before, if you showed this entire segment to someone from another country, who was totally unfamiliar with Colbert, this would be viewed as a right-wing talk show, period. Yes, a right-wing talk show with a humorous host. But a right-wing talk show nonetheless. The fact that you "know" that Colbert really isn't that personna is, in my opinion, entirely irrelevant.

And if you do "get the joke," the principle target of that joke isn't the subject matter (e.g., an attack on Iran), but the right-wing talk show host himself. Who cares about that? People like Bill O'Reilly are already self-parodies. The purpose of political humor is to speak (with a humorous slant) truth to power, not to speak truth to Bill O'Reilly.

What Stephen Colbert did the other night in Washington just demonstrated all the more how much he is wasting his talents on the Colbert Report.

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