February 26, 2006

Why do all those members of Congress agree to go on "The Colbert Report"...

... where they are subjected to all manner of foolery?
At a time when surveys show younger voters turning away from the mainstream media in favor of blogs and late-night television, politicians and their strategists recognize that "The Colbert Report" is a powerful way to reach a swath of Generation Y.
Yeah, it's because of blogs... (Or were you just trying to get me to link to this?)
"We really don't have a broadcast medium anymore; we have sort of a narrowcast," said Chaka Fattah, Democrat of Pennsylvania, another Colbert guest. "So you've got to look for opportunities."

Mr. Moran said 40 percent of his Northern Virginia district was composed of highly mobile, transient voters in their 20's and 30's. "They're very difficult to develop a relationship with," he said. "Now they see me on the Colbert show, they think at least he likes the same show we like."

Rich Galen, a Republican strategist, sees the youthful hand of hip Congressional aides at work. "The younger staffs of these folks are convincing their bosses that if you really want to be president of the United States some day, you've got to get in with the crowd on Comedy Central," he said.

Thus did David All, the 26-year-old press secretary to the 50-year-old Representative Kingston, persuade his boss, who is also the vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, to be Mr. Colbert's guinea pig, his first guest. Mr. All then sent an e-mail message to other House Republican aides urging their bosses to do the same, and arranged for a showing of Mr. Kingston's Colbert clip at a recent weekend Republican retreat.

"We're all about the new media," Mr. All said, adding, "It's good that Republicans can be humorous."

But so far only one other Republican representative, John L. Mica of Florida, has appeared, only to suffer as Mr. Colbert poked fun of his less than elegant hairpiece. Some Democrats say that the dearth of Republicans proves that Republicans have no sense of humor, while others say that no Republican in his right mind would agree to appear on such a blatantly liberal outlet....

Mr. Colbert's victims — er, guests — report that the interviews can last as long as two hours, all boiled down to a few minutes on air. Most, with the notable exception of Mr. Frank, said they would do it again. Mr. Moran said he thought Mr. Colbert "let me off kind of light," and Mr. Pascrell said that while the interview was "like going through water torture," he had "no complaints."
There's the real danger, that loss of control, as Colbert goes on and on, trying to produce something that will be really funny in the edit. It's the same with real reporters too, though. They talk and talk and talk to you, and then they use one sentence that might be entirely different from everything else you said. Later you read the paper, see the quote, and suspect that that's the thing they were hoping all along that you would say and that's what all the questions were designed to elicit. So you've got to keep your wits about you through the whole interview. But anyone who's going to be a member of Congress has got to know how to do that.

Should Republicans stay off the show because Colbert is obviously a liberal (playing the role of a conservative fool)? I think all the members of Congress are in danger of coming off badly. They key consideration shouldn't be whether a given representative is Democratic or Republican, but whether he's sharp enough to understand the situation and poised and good natured enough to let the humor flow around him.

It's not really a matter of who has the better sense of humor. The representative has to be a good straight man. Being good natured and relaxed is much more useful in this situation than being a good humorist yourself. Thus, Barney Frank seemed utterly humorless on the show, though, I think, when he has the floor, he can be pretty funny. But he did badly on the show, because he got pissed off.

20 comments:

Ron said...

What a sad day it is when politicians feel it's important to get on Comedy Central! What's next, desiring the approval of Sinbad? Carrot Top? and when will Jeff Foxworthy replace Bill O'Reilly just for the obvious ads alone?

And when will we see Gallagher smash a watermelon to open a session of Congress on C-SPAN?

37921 said...

Yes, sad, look what we've come to, etc. Next thing you know, presidential candidates will be appearing on Laugh In.

knoxgirl said...

"others say that no Republican in his right mind would agree to appear on such a blatantly liberal outlet...." This was my first thought. I mean, why go somewhere in an attempt to look "cool" when they're going to do everything they can to make you look stupid.

I certainly don't watch every episode, but from what I've seen these shows (Colbert and Daily Show) don't really try equally hard to make democrats look stupid. Not even close.

Anyway, I don't think it really helps any politician to go on those shows. Who remembers or cares how Senator X did on "Colbert"--I mean in a way that affects how they vote? I doubt very many people do.

Palladian said...

"The representative has to be a good straight man... Thus, Barney Frank seemed utterly humorless on the show..."

You're right, Barney Frank does not excel at being a good straight man.

"Rich Galen, a Republican strategist, sees the youthful hand of hip Congressional aides at work. "The younger staffs of these folks are convincing their bosses that if you really want to be president of the United States some day, you've got to get in with the crowd on Comedy Central," he said."

I think politicians should be careful listening to the advice of hip Congressional aides. One of the major problems with the Democratic party today is that too many politicians in the party are trying to appeal to the "crowd on Comedy Central" - that is not the way you get to be the President of the United States. A majority of American voters do not (yet) think like Jon Stewart.

Ann Althouse said...

Palladian: ""The representative has to be a good straight man... Thus, Barney Frank seemed utterly humorless on the show..."

"You're right, Barney Frank does not excel at being a good straight man."

See, I'm a good straight man (despite being a woman).

Ron said...

37921: Presidential Candidates? How's about sitting Presidents on Laugh-In? I think Nixon was POTUS when he went on to say, "Sock it to me?," right?

reader_iam said...

Boxers or Briefs?

reader_iam said...

And that is my serious answer to your question, Ann.

Ann Althouse said...

Reader, I know. I was going to mention that... and Arsenio. Clinton was elected. That's a historical fact.

XWL said...

From an electoral college standpoint going on The Daily Show or Colbert Report doesn't make sense.

They are most popular with the bluest of the blue populations in the bluest states.

Even if you sway a few of those voters you'll still lose in those states and have the added negative of possibly saying something that will be ridiculous enough to escape from that bubble into the greater public consciousness.

And I refute your assertion that Colbert is obviously liberal. His writing staff undoubtably is, but awhile back I posted (inspired by a post here, actually) that Colbert is in the closet, and I'm sticking to it.

The Tiger said...

It all depends on the politicians themselves.

Some are good in that sort of forum, some aren't. Know thyself.

(But I really do appreciate those who are good at it. That's why we still, for one reason or another, really do love Bill Clinton.)

Palladian said...

What you mean "we", Kemosabe?

If I recall correctly, Clinton didn't answer the underwear question. I'm sure there is someone out there we can ask if we really need to know the answer.

Tony "Digger" Lynch said...

I have seen 4-5 of the episodes and Colbert has lampooned both parties but generally in a fun way.

And I disagree with whoever said Colbert is a lib. In fact, his show is really the new and IMPROVED Daily Show...where everyone is a target not just those nasty republicans.

And I am from Philly where Chaka Fattah is from. I thought he was very uptight in the bit that aired.

Ann Althouse said...

Tony: In interviews, Colbert owns up to being a strong liberal.

Brad V said...

I don't get the sense that Colbert's a strong liberal either, though, at least in his persona on the show.

His hyperbolic imitations of Bill O'Reilly etc. actually get so outrageous that they allow him to say things that viewers are thinking, but would never say.

More importantly, he's not as acidic as Stewart. Watching a single show, it's hard to detect his biases outright.

Ann Althouse said...

Brad: If you listen to the old "Fresh Air" interview he did, he talks about how he wasn't political at all, then when he joined "The Daily Show," Jon Stewart pushed him to be political, and then he was surprised to discover how liberal he was. Maybe that was the influence of others on the show. As his O'Reilly-like character on "The Colbert Report," he's so good at stating extreme right-wing positions that it really does seem that he sees the point of the arguments he's making and that the Colbert inside the character is actually experiencing some sort of liberation. The audience's reaction has a similar feeling sometimes.

XWL said...

I still stick to my 'closet' analogy.

Colbert is just acting out what Rock Hudson did in Pillow Talk.

In real life he was a gay man, denying his gayness to portray a straight man, and in the film he was a straight man portraying a gay man.

Well I still suspect that Colbert is a conservative, denying his conservative-ness portraying a liberal who on TV plays a liberal portraying a conservative.

The parallels are uncanny.

To be out as a conservative would be deadly to his social standing and marketability in NYC and on Comedy Central so he is forced to publicly portray himself as just as liberal as his buddy Jon Stewart, but in reality he swings the other way.

And I think the Prof. secretly agrees with me, in her comment about Colbert stating his new found liberal-ness she mentions how much affection he brings to the role of the arch-conservative and how oddly persuasive his exaggerated arguments can be.

Would someone who didn't secretly agree with those views be so convincing?

My short answer is no, my long answer is all the meandering thoughts above.

Ann Althouse said...

XWL: Fascinating theory. You're right that it's something I've been considering. So, did you think that when Carroll O'Connor played Archie Bunker so well, it was because he was somewhere deep inside really a bigot? Do you think all this talk about how Don Rickles is really a gentle, lovable man is wrong and he really is a bastard underneath it all?

I'm thinking there is a good chance that for the kind of people who go into acting, there are just a lot of layers, and there is no fundamental political position, just a capacity to understand lots of perspectives and embody them. I kind of think the same thing of myself, and one reason I love being a law professor is that I get to argue all the positions and try to make each one real and believable. I think that is more interesting than having a position (leaving aside certain hateful positions which I don't find fun to pretend to have).

XWL said...

I'm thinking there is a good chance that for the kind of people who go into acting, there are just a lot of layers, and there is no fundamental political position, just a capacity to understand lots of perspectives and embody them.

I'm going to respectfully disagree there. I've known some actors socially (none too famous, though) and I don't recall a 'lot of layers', many other great qualities, but 'layers, no. Have you paid attention to the twittle and twattle that emanates from Hollywood? I'm pretty sure Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Barbra Streisand, Gwenyth Paltrow, et al have a 'fundamental political position'.

To pick out a specific example of Alda, Baldwin and Clooney, they have taken to playing the corporate heavies/thugs recently, and generally they add layers of preening and menace to their portrayals of these types (example Alda in The Aviator, Baldwin in The Cooler, and Clooney in Syriana just to name Academy nominated examples).

I don't think you are supposed to feel a moment of sympathy for any of these folks (having not watched Syriana I can't say for sure, but the other two, definitely).

As far as All In The Family, can't stand the show, can't really discuss it.

But in all the hours that Norman Lear has produced and written I don't think he's produced as many laughs and insightful writing as a single 13 episode season from Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Cartman is how you write a sympathetic/unsympathetic character, they don't sugarcoat it, he's a full on nazi at times, but he's also the quickest to see through other's crap (even while being deluded by his own).

As far as Rickles, he's one of the great all time comics, and he wouldn't have had his longevity had he not infused every character and every insult with love, sympathy and mutual understanding. His insults aren't about ridicule they are about dialogue. So the gentleness always shines through and there is no problem with him being a horribly insulting person, and a sweet man simultaneously, so there is no outer bastard to be obscured by the sweet to hide the inner bastard. (and given the number of out-of-wedlock births, bastard shouldn't still be used as synonomous for mean, just to be falsely PC for a moment)

In your position it pays to be able to discuss a topic from multiple viewpoints and I appreciate that here, and I suspect it's a great asset within the classroom.

My theory about Colbert is just a simple musing that doesn't claim any greater truth or meaning (though maybe does contain a touch of 'truthiness').

It may simply be a way for me to consume the show in a more positive way and nothing more than my own personal justification for finding his act enjoyable, or not.

That my argument contains enough possibility to illicit a counter-argument is purely happenstance, and incidental. I'm just glad that I (or at least my meanderings) can from time to time be fascinating.

Personal Development said...

Neurolinguistic Programming

In the early 1970s in America Richard Bandler, then a young college student studied the work of Fritz Perls and later Virginia Satir and found that he could reproduce their high-level therapy skills to a degree that even surprised him. Bandler seemed to have a natural ability to mimic (model) the language patterns by Virginia and Fritz.

At the University of California at Santa Cruz, Bandler who was well versed in the teachings of patterns in mathematics and computers teamed up with a college professor, John Grinder to help him understand the processes that were at work. Soon Bandler and Grinder, who used what he knew about patterns in linguistics, created a new model for personal growth called NeuroLinguistic Programming.

Bandler and Grinder had set out to model the hypnotic skills of Milton Erickson. They had astounding results. They built a communication model about human "thinking" and "processing" and used that model of how we see images, hear sounds, reproduces smells and tactile experiences in our mind to track and model the structure of subjective experiences.

Sounds very complicated but really it works very simply. Here is an example as used by Paul McKenna - probably the best & most successful hypnotist in the world.

Close your eyes and think of a negative memory. Become involved in the situation as best as you can. Feel the emotions that you felt, see the things you saw and hear the things you heard.

Now take that memory and project it onto a mental screen seeing yourself in the picture. Put a frame around the picture and view it as if it is an old photograph. Next drain all the colour from the picture and shrink the screen to the size of a matchbox.

Have the feelings associated with the picture decreased in any way?

Another good example of NLP involves Anchors. Have you ever smelt a certain perfume or aftershave and had it remind you of a certain person or situation? Gone to a certain place that brings feelings long forgotten flooding back? Or been in any situation that creates emotional responses that would not normally be associated with it? Well if you can answer yes to any of these then you have experienced anchors. Some anchors are associated with positive feelings and some with negative emotions. However, you should be aware that anchors can be consciously installed or already existing ones altered. Here is an example:

Think of a time when you were really happy. If you can't think of one then imagine something that would make you feel really happy. See what you would see, hear what you would hear and feel what you would feel. Really get into the picture and try to experience it as though it were happening now.

Now brighten the colours and make them richer. Increase the volume. Make the picture bigger, brighter, louder. That's it and more and more....

Now press your first finger against your thumb and fully experience your happy feelings. Do this everyday for 2 weeks and you will create an anchor that will instantly recreate these feelings. Whenever you want to feel like that again just press your thumb and first finger together and wham the feelings will come flooding back! Don't believe me? Just try it and see!!! personal development