Let’s gather ’round the water cooler and game out Stephen Colbert’s move to network late night. I’m concerned that his migration to CBS could be a big net minus for American satire.
His performance artistry, staying in character as a right-wing blowhard, presenting Stephen Colbert as “Stephen Colbert,” was perfectly suited to a culture soaked in postmodern irony. Who else was making deadpan journeys to Kentucky, to expose the gay hairdressers who are destroying our nation? Who else could headline a White House correspondents dinner and faux-praise President Bush with a rap like this:
“We’re not so different….Guys like us, we’re not some 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. Now, 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….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.”
And who else in the humor world “celebrated” the rise of Super PACs by creating one of his own (Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow), positioning it to the right of Mitt Romney, airing an anti-Mitt TV ad, and surfacing on ABC News as the Super PAC’s spokesman? (In character: “I don’t want any untrue ads on the air that could in any way be traced back to me. I don’t know if Mitt Rommey is a serial killer. That’s a question he’s going to have to answer.”)
But with Colbert tapped to replace David Letterman, is his gain our loss?
His political satire flourished in part because he had a niche audience on cable. But starting next year he’ll be working for a network that wants boffo ratings and a mass audience. Colbert has already announced that he will no longer be “Colbert” – his first major adjustment to the tired talk-show format that has long been set in stone.
You know the format: the drapes, the band, the desk, the couch, the monologue. Heck, you can hear the show in your sleep: “We’ve got a great one for you tonight, Blahbitty Blah is here…Will you please welcome…Tell us about your new movie…I hear you’re opening in Vegas on the 15th…Come back and see us again soon…”
My fear is that Colbert will be fatally housebroken. But my hope – perhaps not against hope – is that he tames the format more than it tames him.
I can envision him finding a way to simutaneously embrace and mock the format, to indulge the predictable celebrities with a knowing wink – in short, to craft a seamless blend of late-night host and “late-night host.” Forget the Johnny Carson tradition, which still has Jimmy Fallon in its thrall. Perhaps Colbert, an instinctive ironist, can freshen the format by pioneering a new tradition.
And leave it to Rush Limbaugh – the un-fake right-wing blowhard – to freak out about Colbert’s hiring. Rush is truly worried that Colbert’s absurdist spirit will leach into the talk show: “What this hire means is a redefinition of what is funny, and a redefinition of what is comedy! They’re blowing up the 11:30 format!”
Rush says that like it’s a bad thing.
Speaking of absurdism, let’s update the saga of the lip-lockin’ lawmaker. As I mentioned here the other day, married Louisiana Republican congressman Vance McAllister was caught on a Christmas-season video mingling tongues with a married aide – one month after he’d successfully campaigned as a faith n’ family Christian conservative. Now the calls for his departure are mounting.
Louisiana’s GOP chairman says that “a breach of trust of this magnitude can only be rectified by resignation.” Gov. Bobby Jindal says that the family-values fraud has “embarrassed” the GOP, and that “the best way to get privacy and work on putting his family back together is to resign.” And House Speaker John Boehner says, in classic Washingtonese, that McAllister has “got decisions to make.”
Got decisions to make…That sounds polite, but Boehner was actually channelling Michael Corelone. Late in The Godfather, Michael told Carlo Rizzi, “Get out of my face.” Minutes later, Carlo was garroted in a car.
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