Sunday, April 30, 2006

Colbert in DC

I've read quite a bit of commentary on Stephen Colbert's act before the White House Correspondent's Dinner. I'm not surprised that the most doctrinaire Bush-supporters seemed to find it unfunny. But the vituperation from Lucianne Goldberg (calling him a "psychopath" and a "coward" among other things) indicates that the jokes weren't entirely lost on them.

There seems to be a consensus that Colbert didn't get a lot of laughs. I'm not sure about that, since these things are miked so you can't really hear the room noise. Maybe the people in the peanut gallery were enthusiastic. Bush did get laughs for his toothless routine with an impersonator-- but people generally laugh at the boss' jokes, and his routine was fairly well crafted by his writing team.

Colbert is a strange creature to be appearing at such an event. Usually when people think of after-dinner speakers, they think of what is essentially standup comedy. Setup. Punch line. Repeat endlessly.

I doubt Colbert has done much, if any, standup comedy. He has come out of the improv comedy world, which has a different ethos. Even more important than getting laughs is creating a world, fully inhabiting it and committing to it, and exploring that world to uncover new angles to it. The laughs are almost incidental.

Colbert has committed to his world in a way that few of his ilk manage. He becomes his faux-Colbert rightwing tubthumper, and virtually never surfaces out of character.

Quite a few of the jokes he delivered were funny (to me at least) when abstracted from his persona. But, if you're in on the character, they're even funnier. Gestures and asides become more meaningful. For instance, Shakespeare's Sister comments:
Throughout the entire thing, he would periodically look evenly at Bush, holding his gaze and addressing him directly as “Mr. President.” Bush looked back at him with a face of stone (save for one time when Colbert flubbed a set-up). Standing in front of a room full of people who didn’t, couldn’t, laugh, letting them have it with everything he’s got, sweating bullets, Colbert would look dead at Bush and never blink.

Now that's committing to a character!

I've come to appreciate Colbert's skill since I've been watching The Colbert Report. I believe the only time I've seen him completely emerge from character on that show is when he busted out laughing at the compound name (a la "Branjelina") for the couple of Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy: Filliam H. Muffman. For a few seconds, he was laughing as Stephen Colbert, not the "Stephen Colbert" character. Even then, his real self was revealed not by words, but by laughter.

I loved his Correspondent's Dinner bit. Here is a roundup of blog commentary. Watch it via or download it via torrent.

On other thing from Lucianne's commentary, pointed out by Glenn Greenwald. Lucianne wrote:
Steve Colbert was utterly disgusting. . . He was rude, snarky and unpatriotic toward the President and First Lady."

You can't be unpatriotic to the President and certainly not to the First Lady. They are not America.

It's also, of course, highly ironic that Lucianne thinks pointing out the weaknesses of the President s "unpatriotic," considering her history with Bill Clinton. I suppose her apparent obliviousness to irony may help explain her reaction to Colbert.

For a visit to an alternate planet, check out the Free Republic thread documenting their responose to the Dinner. Including this gem:
t's so hard to remember these people aren't be ironic! example: I suppose you're right. He wasn't trying to be funny. He was taking the opportunity of being face to face with one of the greatest, kindest, most loving men on earth to shoot arrows of evil at him.

In stead of being angry with Colbert last night, I should have been praying for the spiritual protection of the President and First Lady.

I confess that I didn't think of that until later, when I did pray that any wounds they may have received would be healed.

God bless them both, and protect them from the attacks of the Evil One!
The great thing about that thread is that it's full of statements like that: words which Colbert could say in character and the very same people would, I presume, find them repugnant.

I laugh at that kind of thing whether it's from the Freeper freaks or from Colbert's mouth--though there's a meta-laugh when it comes from Colbert. Free Republic is like a ready-made idea factory for Colbert.

No comments:

Web Analytics