Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Was Colbert 'Funny'?


It doesn't matter.

Both or Neither

Just as you can't miss someone unless they go away; just as drama without a conflict isn't drama; just as a liar who doesn't know the truth isn't quite a liar; just as release is impossible without tension; just as you can't be truly strong without being capable of vulnerability; just as 'trust but verify' is, strictly speaking, non-sensical; just as freedom can't exist without discipline - so too: comedy can't be comedy without a foundation of knowing what to be serious about, or without being serious about anything. (And of course, seriousness is impossible without comedy.) You might laugh in spite of yourself if, for example, someone ties you up and tickles your feet - but feet-tickling isn't comedy.

There were lots of complaints yesterday that Stephen Colbert's roast at the White House Correspondent's Dinner wasn't funny - ranging from libertario-conservative Robert George to young progressive fuddy duddy (and wonderful blogger) Matt Yglesias. The basic objection is that a comedy event sponsored by the White House press corp and featuring the President is not an 'appropriate' place to...satirize the White House press corp and the President. Got that? I happened to think Colbert's speech was funny, but whether you thought it was good 'entertainment' or not is immaterial. Our official culture has lost sight of what's serious and what isn't. Satire like Colbert's attempts to make us remember. Without that distinction, there will be neither comedy nor tragedy, but rather just a big postmodernist Nothing - a fatuous, reflexive, mirthless giggle standing in for both 'bang' and 'whimper'. Odd that neither the Greeks nor Nietzsche were familiar with the concept of 'dramedy'.

Why was Bush's performance at last year's event ('There's gotta be some WMDs around here somewhere!') not funny? Because Bush's routine attempted to drain all meaning from the fact of his having started a tragic, devastating war - in which tens of thousands of people die - for fake reasons. Mr Colbert's performance ought to remind us that satire - real satire - isn't necessarily 'ha ha'-funny either, but it affirms meaning rather than obviates it. Satire may seem anarchic sometimes, but it's not nihilist; it's the opposite of nihilist. There's a reason Bush wasn't laughing at Colbert on Saturday night, but it's not because the jokes weren't 'funny' enough....

Comedians Attempting to Defend Comedy From Annihilation


(JON) STEWART: You know, the interesting thing I have is, you have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.

(TUCKER) CARLSON: You need to get a job at a journalism school, I think.

STEWART: You need to go to one. The thing that I want to say is, when you have people on for just knee-jerk, reactionary talk...

CARLSON: Wait. I thought you were going to be funny. Come on. Be funny.

STEWART: No. No. I'm not going to be your monkey.

STEWART: How old are you?
CARLSON: Thirty-five.
STEWART: And you wear a bow tie.

BEGALA: Go ahead. Go ahead.

STEWART: I watch your show every day. And it kills me.

CARLSON: I can tell you love it.

STEWART: It's so -- oh, it's so painful to watch.


STEWART: You know, because we need what you do. This is such a great opportunity you have here to a actually get politicians off of their marketing and strategy.

CARLSON: Is this really Jon Stewart? What is this, anyway?

STEWART: Yes, it's someone who watches your show and cannot take it anymore.


STEWART: I just can't.

CARLSON: What's it like to have dinner with you? It must be excruciating. Do you like lecture people like this or do you come over to their house and sit and lecture them; they're not doing the right thing, that they're missing their opportunities, evading their responsibilities?

STEWART: If I think they are.


CARLSON: I wouldn't want to eat with you, man. That's horrible.

STEWART: I know. And you won't. But the thing I want to get to...

(PAUL) BEGALA: We did promise naked pictures of the Supreme Court justices.

CARLSON: Yes, we did. Let's get to those!


BEGALA: They're in this book, which is a very funny book.

STEWART: Why can't we just talk -- please, I beg of you guys, please.

CARLSON: I think you watch too much CROSSFIRE.

We're going to take a quick break.

STEWART: No, no, no, please.

CARLSON: No, no, hold on. We've got commercials.


STEWART: Please. Please stop.

CARLSON: Next, Jon Stewart in the "Rapid Fire."

STEWART: Please stop.

CARLSON: Hopefully, he'll be here, we hope, we think.



CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

We're talking to Jon Stewart, who was just lecturing us on our moral inferiority.

Jon, you're bumming us out. Tell us, what do you think about the Bill O'Reilly vibrator story?

STEWART: I'm sorry. I don't.


STEWART: What do you think?

BEGALA: Let me change the subject.

STEWART: Where's your moral outrage on this?

CARLSON: I don't have any.

STEWART: I know.


BEGALA: Don't you have a stake in it that way, as not just a citizen, but as a professional comic?


STEWART: Right, which I hold to be much more important than as a citizen.


"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(*After a pause.*) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

Review, by Thaddius J. Lenno: Come, come, my dear Clemens! We all enjoyed the rough-hewn felicities of 'The Jumping Frog' and the like - rather vulgar of course, but bracing and delightful in a rude, vigorous way; but now you are casting a crepuscular shroud upon us with your witless 'War Prayer'! Surely in this time of national alarm, shouldn't you ought to be lifting and lightening our spirits?....

[edited for clarity - I hope]

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