Sunday, May 07, 2006


Nobody has asked me for my observations on the Colbert v. Bush episode at the big Washington Insiders Banquet or my opinion on the question of how truth-to-power acquits itself when compared to the good old days when people, especially those in the comedy performance trade, knew their place.

The most interesting aspect of all this for me was to discover, by listening to KQAK in the morning, specifically a spot of local radio hosted by former mayor Willie Brown and political/topical comic Will Durst, that a number of comedians, Durst among them, felt that Colbert was out of line for making Bush the butt not just of the majority of his gags, but of his entire set. Will, and evidently some others, embraced the comics' principle that if you are going to take a group's money, you do not then go on to ridicule them, unless that is the point of the performance.

I don't know how universally among comics this comics' principle is adhered to. I moonlighted as a standup comic for about 8 years, and for the most part, I agree: the audience is your source of income, and if they are meeting you even halfway--not drunk and drowning you out with babble or insipid heckling, etc.--you don't go for laughs by insulting them. Unless you're an insult comic, Rickles and Bobby Slayton being prime examples, but in such cases, everyone in the audience is, almost invariably, there with that understanding.

But this was not a club gig, performed in a standup comedy venue for people out to hear somebody tell jokes or say things amusingly enough to make them laugh and forget the wretched hopelessness of...
Sorry, getting off the track there.

Again, it wasn't a comedy club gig. Nor was it your typical private comedy performance for some gathering of professional or social group members being rewarded with a few laughs. It was a performance in a situation where people knew there was some likelihood of jokes being made at their expense. This has been the case at these Press Club events since the Early Bob Hope Era. The jabs were much milder then, but nobody in the audience--or the White House--was being widely accused of stealing elections or violating the Constitution or leading us toward a Christian theocracy back then either.

Again, I'm getting off the track. And here's the track:
Colbert was very indiscreet, impolitic, rude and maybe even unprofessional in zapping Bush, but this was a gathering of top-level politicians, media pros, and political fixers and shakers, hardball survivors with skin like kevlar, not the Livermore Kiwanis or Pep Boys' Golden Palm Managers. There has always been a kind of "roast" subtext to these affairs. These are people who make their own rules to fit the situation. Colbert was simply behaving in kind. The verdict: Not out of line.

P.S. As I noted in an e-mail the other day, one Colbert gag that particularly resonated with me was that the Secret Service code name for new White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was "Snow Job." As it happens, a related thought had been popping up recurringly in my thoughts the past few days: "Tony SNOW? They picked a guy to spin to the press and his name is SNOW? How did this fly right through the radar? What, was there nobody named Hal Totalbullshit available? Darleen Packofselfservinglies wouldn't leave her job flacking for Wells Fargo?"

I still can't get over it.


Blogger ....J.Michael Robertson said...

If it weren't at night, I would go out to the book shed, perched on the sloped and ready-to-slide verge of our wedge of the Oakland Bumps -- for we are not high enough to merit the appelation (French pronunciation, please) of hill, as Lord Wieder is -- and dig out one of my textbooks that describes the psychology and philosophy of humor. Bereft of my underpinning, I can only say that I can't quite figure out what those who thought Colbert was rude and/or unfunny wanted him to do. He was there defending his brand, which is Bush knocking, both rude and unkind though heretofore done at a distance. Did they expect him to damage his career by softening his brand by cozying up to Bush and the attendant journalists? Champagne bubbles and diarrhea pools in the gutter. A thing must be itself or what is it? That he changed minds is unlikely. That he wounded his listeners is even less so. That he satisfied the expectations of the majority of those who watch his show regularly -- the howl of the wind sweeping across the Bloggerian Steppes speaks for itself. I know this is a small point but still. Colbert's business is his *business.* He took care of it. He preserved the brand.

Bush's brand is Iraq. No one expects him to dilute it. More fool they if they do.

May 8, 2006 at 11:26 PM  
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May 11, 2006 at 7:41 PM  

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