Truthiness in a Tux
NOTE: Reader Margot tells us that C-Span will be replaying the dinner in its entirety beginning at 12:30 pm ET. In case you missed it, this truly is a bravura performance and worth the watching.
Comedy is difficult under the best of circumstances — timing, delivery, audience receptiveness are all really, really tough to get on the same page at the same time. One of those little tidbits about my life that I haven’t really shared here is that I did some stand-up during my time in college, mostly open mike stuff at a pub called the Iron Horse in Northampton (when I was at Smith as an undergrad). The biggest moment of my comedy life was the night that Stephen Wright showed up, and laughed loudly at a couple of my bits. Never quite got the nerve to go try out for SNL, though, so you guys are stuck with my particular brand of snide here instead.
You learn a lot about yourself, and about your audience, in a very short amount of time, standing up there all alone in the spotlight trying to pull laughter out of half-drunken frat boys and locals — but your job as a comedian is not just to make them comfortable by riffing off that which you know they will enjoy — skewering their worst enemies while leaving them alone, playing to the obvious politics of the room or the social sentiments — making fun of the "other guy." That’s too easy.
The toughest job in comedy is to do a roast — where you skewer your audience and your host — with some biting satire, some painful truths and some harsh reality, all the while cloaking it in a sheen of laughter. Comedy is a means of speaking truth to power in a form of message that allows the truth to sink in long after the laughter has died away.
Stephen Colbert pulled that off in spades last night at the WH Correspondent’s Dinner — and the sting of his delivery is going to ripple out for days among the press corps and the sentient members of the Bush Administration. And the reason is this: no matter how much they try to bury it, by ignoring the Colbert portion of the evening in the teevee news, or burying it with a one-paragraph bit in the print media — online it is going to gather steam and take on a life of its own.
The buzz of truthiness, ladies and gentlemen, knows no boundaries in the computer age. (And thank you C&L for helping that along. Bravo.) Especially when it is coupled with some seriously funny satire.
Video clips and quotes are going to make their way through e-mails everywhere — and the butt of all those jokes is going to have to come to terms with some harsh reality, or become even more of a joke.
E&P has some choice quotes from Colbert’s routine:
Colbert, who spoke in the guise of his talk show character, who ostensibly supports the president strongly, urged the Bush to ignore his low approval ratings, saying they were based on reality, “and reality has a well-known liberal bias.”
He attacked those in the press who claim that the shake-up at the White House was merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. “This administration is soaring, not sinking,” he said. “If anything, they are re-arranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg.”
Colbert told Bush he could end the problem of protests by retired generals by refusing to let them retire. He compared Bush to Rocky Balboa in the “Rocky” movies, always getting punched in the face—“and Apollo Creed is everything else in the world.”
Turning to the war, he declared, "I believe that the government that governs best is a government that governs least, and by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq."
He noted former Ambassador Joseph Wilson in the crowd, just three tables away from Karl Rove, and that he had brought " Valerie Plame." Then, worried that he had named her, he corrected himself, as Bush aides might do, "Uh, I mean… he brought Joseph Wilson’s wife." He might have "dodged the bullet," he said, as prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald wasn’t there.
Funny stuff. Even funnier when you watch the delivery on video done in Colbert’s on camera O’Reilly-skewering persona.
Some of his best lines were reserved for the media themselves — bet they are sorry now to have asked Colbert and his truthiness along for the dinner (And honestly, how could they have not known, given his show persona, that they were in for a bumpy ride — it’s his schtick, after all, and he wasn’t going to change it to avoid blistering some of the biggest egos on the planet, was he?). E&P has a couple of my favorite quotes from the evening:
Also lampooning the press, Colbert complained that he was “surrounded by the liberal media who are destroying this country, except for Fox News. Fox believes in presenting both sides of the story — the president’s side and the vice president’s side." He also reflected on the alleged good old days, when the media was still swallowing the WMD story.
Addressing the reporters, he said, "You should spend more time with your families, write that novel you’ve always wanted to write. You know, the one about the fearless reporter who stands up to the administration. You know– fiction."
Mwahahaha. How can you not laugh at that? Well, I suppose if it hits a little too close to home…but hey, the first step to fixing the problem is realizing that you have one.
UPDATE: DU has the full transcript of the Colbert appearance. Just as funny when you read it. Freaking brilliant.
UPDATE #2: USA Today has a take on the dinner that includes an extended section on Colbert.
(This is a publicity still for The Colbert Report by photographer Martin Crook, and I just love it. The clarity of the photo, the cocked eyebrow of the persona, the steam cleaning of the flag — brilliant imagery when put together in one tidy package. I can’t quite get the image to work with our software as clear as it was in the publicity shot that was sent to me, but I think you can get an idea of how amusing it is. And how perfect for the aftermath of yesterday’s WH Correspondent’s Dinner, dontcha think?)