April 30, 2006

Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Did you watch Stephen Colbert's performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner? I love Colbert, but it was a little scary watching him do his "Colbert Report" character outside of his brilliantly comical studio set that frames him as a ridiculous right-wing blowhard. We love the humor in context, but when the targets of the humor are there in the room with him, we can't dissolve into hilarity. We're completely distracted by thinking about how the live audience is reacting and whether Steve the actor has the -- well, as Stephen Colbert would say -- balls to stay in character, to stay pompous and righteous when he knows he's sticking it to the people Steve the comedian would normally depend upon to buoy him up with laughter.

Colbert could have tried to go on as a decent guy being a nice guest and supplying some perfectly pitched stand-up humor, the way Drew Carey has done in the past. But Colbert really isn't a stand-up comedian, and his humor is always set inside a character who is not him. He's an actor, and how hard, how monumentally awkward, it must have been to stay inside his character with such intimidating people around him. Wouldn't the sheer instinct for self-protection make him want to twinkle and say I kid but I love?

Wasn't it awful to perform without laughs? Maybe he should have filed the edges off a couple of jokes, but, basically, he did what he had to do to maintain his credibility with his real audience, those who watch "The Colbert Report." And we'll remember the horrible laughlessness of that night and marvel at the steely nerve of Stephen Colbert.

47 comments:

sockpuppet230 said...

I only read the text at editorandpublisher.com, but superbly done, I will scan for the c-span replay today.

I can imagine it was strange, when the studio audience usually laughs and applauds for Steve, and as you say that was lacking at the correspondents dinner.

Great fun, a true roast.

Ann Althouse said...

Sock: There's video of the performance at my link.

TWM said...

There was more laughter than I expected from your commentary, Ann, but it was obvious that the media and the left wasn't amused by many of his comments. That should have been expected however since the left has absolutely no sense of humor.

It was brave of him though. But then it is brave for any entertainer to favor the right, even if they are just playing a character.

M.A. said...

TWM, if you think Colbert "favors the right" I don't think you're paying attention. The whole point of his routine was to slam the mainstream media for its pro-Bush bias ("We didn't want to know what Bush was doing and you were good enough not to try to find out") and Bush for his exploitation of the media ("Whatever happens to America, the President will be there with a beautifully staged photo-op"). He got few laughs because his jokes were stinging, and because the reporters aren't used to being called out on their pro-Bush bias.

Finn Kristiansen said...

I was hoping you would mention something about the Correspondent's Dinner, as I caught the tail end of it (or part of it, it seemed to be the end) on CSPAN last night (Saturday).

I did a double take seeing two Bushes up on the dais. Bush, and an impressionist, seemed to be doing some sort of "what you hear me saying/what I am really saying" act that was kind of fun.

I wish these types of events would be broadcast on the networks at night, so that the average citizen could see the human side of Bush (or any president).

Also, it would let people see that while two groups can be antagonistic toward each other, that it is still possible to laugh and enjoy each other's company.

(In other words, it would fight the impulse among people to assume that issues/opinions trump relationships, or that "others" (whether politicians/lawyers/journalists/police/etc.) are somehow less human, or more corrupt, or less intelligent than the average person).

David said...

That tension is the difference between entertainment and parody. Parody is intellectual while entertainment is transitory and superficial.

Shakespeare is a feast while entertainment is the fast food equivalent of street theater and self-aggrandizement.

TWM said...

m.a.

. . .but it was a little scary watching him do his "Colbert Report" character outside of his brilliantly comical studio set that frames him as a ridiculous right-wing blowhard Is what Ann wrote and that is the character I saw him playing on the video.

And you are kidding about his act slamming the media for a "pro-Bush" bias, aren't you? Other than the gig at Fox News, all I saw was the liberal media getting slammed for, well, being liberal. It was an act of course, but no way was it slamming them for being pro-Bush.

Hamsun56 said...

Thanks for the C-span link. I thought it was a very clever and very ballsy performance. Seems like he violated an unwritten rule of comity by being so hard-edged and unrelenting in his criticism of the war in Iraq. Scalia seemed to enjoy the performance.

John Jenkins said...

Typically, talk about media bias tells you only from where the speaker is coming. Almost to a man, the media are left/liberal. Surely we can't begrudge them the biases that entails. So long as everyone knows what's going on, it's not a big deal. The idea that the mainstream media are pro-Bush though, well, that's funnier than anything Colbert said last night. Now, if you want to say that they are lazy and bound by their preconceptions, (which is what that line seems to be all about) then you're probably right.

Hamsun56 said...

twm, you write: "all I saw was the liberal media getting slammed for, well, being liberal".

That's because he forgot to put on his large "I'm being ironic" T-shirt.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TWM said...

Andrew,

I do recognize irony. I'll even concede he was using it. But my point was, however badly put, that the liberal media did not seem to be taking it that way.

Hamsun56 said...

TWM, Fair enough. Sorry if I was snarky - it just seemed obvious to me that Colbert was tearing into the media for not being critical enough at times.

Jacques Cuze said...

Hey, why did we invade Iraq?

Sissy Willis said...

What passes for humor these days makes me laugh.

Wade_Garrett said...

You've got to admire Colbert. With his performance at the Correspondent's dinner, he officially reached "I'm Keith Hernandez" status, for having the nerve/confidence/balls to say anything he wants and have the game to pull it off.
He wasn't the MVP in '79, but he played the WHC dinner in '07.

Troy said...

Colbert doesn't do live as well. He did a good job a couple of years ago at the Chevy Chase roast which was more of a monologue than a cross between his show/stand-up. Ballsy is fine, but my 3 year old daughter is the most courageous thing on 2 feet -- which is why I'm always getting her off of things.

I'm his audience -- I liked it though it wasn't as funny Anne (you are correct) without the Word, etc. He should've done a tip of the hat wag of the finger thing and perhaps one of his awesome interviews (a taped segment) with someone -- John McCain, Laura Bush, -- wouldn't one with Scalia be incredible?.

Only a kool-aid drinker who thinks Bush is Hitler and that the media is conservative (MA and quxxo perhaps?) would whole-heartedly love it, though I do admire the chutzpah and whomever booked him should've known basically what they were getting.

Perhaps next year they can have Louis Black. I would pay for that.

Jacques Cuze said...

Glenn Greenwald: ...a commenter at the site of Jonah's mom, Lucianne Goldberg, said that "Steve Colbert was utterly disgusting. . . He was rude, snarky and unpatriotic toward the President and First Lady." One can be unpatriotic towards one's country, but not to the Leader, and certainly not by expresing criticism of the Leader, even to his face. The efforts to shield the President from criticisms of any sort has been one of the most significant factors enabling the lawbreaking pathology of this president, who clearly has come to see himself as a shielded king. The belief that an American citizen is unpatriotic by virtue of criticizing and opposing the president is one of the most pernicious ideas to take hold in some time. What Colbert did took real courage and - like Savage - he should be commended for reminding us of the kind of country we are supposed to have, and the kind of country we aren't supposed to have and, until this administration, never had.

and ...

Planet Doug: "Man, this was funny but really edgy. It's like doing comedy about Iran in Iran in front of clerics."

Ann Althouse said...

Andrew: Thanks for bringing up Scalia. I forgot to write that: Scalia was cracking up. Wonder if he watches the show. I think the show is enjoyable whether you support Bush or not.

Troy: Good idea! Scalia should go on the show!

Troy said...

Ann (I mistakenly gavethe dreaded "e" earlier -- sorry.),

Scalia would be genius TV -- if his ego would allow the prodding (and I think it would).

I can't wait for Better Know a District with McKinney's district -- Colbert may get bitch-slapped if he doesn't watch it.

Ver. Word: "azcoc" (There's a McCain joke in there somewhere but it would be too crass

Johnny Nucleo said...

I'm not sure what your point is, Quxxo. Is it that a lot of the commenters at Lucianne are dopey? And? The place is red-meat central. You want to compare dopey comments on the left and right? I could win that game using your comments alone.

Have you noticed that the minions of Althouse like Colbert? Does this throw you for a loop? Do you think, "How is this possible?" Does it make your head hurt?

And making fun of the president is not like making fun of the Iranian Supreme Leader. I've been to the Iranian Supreme Leader Correspondents dinner. The comedians are heavily censored. The food was great, though.

realist said...

Colbert masterfully gave us truthiness a few months ago, and now he adds laughiness. It means the material is spot on and daring beyond belief, but you can only titter nervously for fear that people will think less of you if you laugh out loud.

realist said...

Re Nucleo at the Iranian "dinner": Censorship, be it imposed by state or media outlet or self, is still censorship. Most American media mavens censor themselves because they fear loss of access or loss of their cushy jobs. Truth loses out. Without truth and transparency, real democracy dies.

K said...

Le Colbert' Reporrr'!!
*Points pen at the camera a.k.a your direction*

ChasingMoksha said...

I was so nervous for him. The audience was cruel indeed. But I am glad he did it. Did you notice when it was over just as many people came up to him as they did George Clooney.

Brendan said...

This event has always been pretty dicey for presidents and emcees. It's the one night of the year when POTUS can let his hair down, tell a few un-PC jokes and not get a lot of grief in return. To his credit, Bush acknowledged his flaws with a barrage of self-deprecating humor. Colbert screwed up by playing the event like a Comedy Central roast. It's not. I loathe comics like Stewart and Colbert because, unlike the loveable Ted Baxter, their jokes are always on someone else, never themselves. In short, they're smartasses, and that doesn't play well in all zip codes. The audience wasn't so much humorless as annoyed, and considering the one-sidedness of Colbert's barbs, I can't blame them.

dave said...

Colbert is definitely Keith Hernandez.

gutsy.

Johnny Nucleo said...

Realist,

The point of the Iranian Supreme Leader Correspondents dinner gag was that there is no Iranian Supreme Leader Correspendents dinner, because there is no Iranian free press, because Iran is a totalitarian nightmare and comparisons between it and the United States are moronic. Get it?

Colbert was ballsy in the showbiz sense, not in the truth to power sense. A lot of people on the left don't seem to understand this simple fact: When you criticize the president or government of the United States it's no big deal. It's allowed. No one's going to come get you. I doesn't take balls. If it took balls, real balls, people in showbiz, the biggist sissies on Earth, most certainly would not do it.

chuck b. said...

"I wasn't pushing you away. I was pulling me toward myself."

Yay!

Troy said...

Johnny Nucleo (or is that "nukulo"?)

Amen! The "ballsiness" of any of our entertainment elites is akin to the unsmiling irony of that great band "Rage Against the Machine". If they had ever raged against a real machine they would've found themselves blindfolded against a wall with their families getting a bill for the bullets. Green Day is another of my favorite "punk" bands with their multi-album Multinational corp. contract. They are exceedingly brave.

I do like Stephen Colbert, but he ain't brave. If he took his Christianity to China and spread the Word or supported those who do -- that would be bravery.

Wade_Garrett said...

Troy - Oh please. It takes calls to stand ten feet away from the most powerful man in the world and say that he should ignore his low poll numbers because polls are based in reality and reality has a well-known liberal bias. The fact that he won't shoot you in the back of the head and bill your family for the bullets doesn't change that.

As for the bands you mention, I don't know if you've noticed, but over the past couple of years the pro-establishment country types have been branding themselves as rebels. Being a rebel is cool, even if you're 100% behind a President who's the son of a President who's the song of a senator who's the son of a millionaire.

realist said...

I got it, Nucleo. That's why I put dinner in quotes. Did you get my point about censorship, on which you didn't comment. Maybe you haven't thought about it. But hey, it you don't think about it, maybe it doesn't exist.
Colbert's bit was totally truth to power, from mesquite-powered cars to McCain at Bob Jones University. It was rife with truth.
Allowed to criticize or even to comment? Tell that to the two women led out of the State of the Union speech for wearing T-shirts, one pro-war, one anti-war. They didn't say a word but wore the wrong shirt. There are numerous other instances you'd know about if you were paying attention.
Colbert was so full of truth that the mainstream media are afraid to even mention what happened. It isn't easily explained, like the Bush impersonator bit, which was lame as lame could be. But it was simple and easily understood, making use of the stereotype like it did.

Hecla Ma said...

Terry, I have to ask...do the Kennedy and Kerry (and now Clinton) millions bother you as much as the Bush Millions?

Wade_Garrett said...

Thecla - Read my comment again, maybe you'll get the point this time.

Timothy said...

Before watching the video, I was told by a friend what it contained. I was dumbfounded that some well-meaning fellow had booked Colbert without knowing what Cobert's act was. In fact, just before Colbert speaks you get to hear that guy introducing him. My prediction: that guy won't have the same job this time next week.

I have to admit, I was wincing throughout the performance. I kept expecting somebody to drag Colbert off-stage.

The absence of a laugh track was very noticeable ... and made the whole thing even more disturbing.

I tip my hat to Colbert for having the guts to play his character without pulling any punches. I wonder if he managed to get any sleep in the preceding week.

Johnny Nucleo said...

Realist,

I didn't comment on your censorship stuff because it's childish. Adults censor themselves all the time because adults understand that there is a time and a place for everything. They do it because they fear to offend, or they fear to piss people off, or they fear to lose their jobs. They don't do it because they fear the government of the United States.

If speaking truth to power in this country is so risky, why are you doing it? Aren't you afraid the government might disappear you?

And this...

"Colbert was so full of truth that the mainstream media are afraid to even mention what happened."

...is delusional. Bush's approval rating is -6000 percent. Everyone, I mean everyone, hates the guy. Bashing him is popular. Explain to me exactly what the mainstream media are afraid of?

You think they're protecting Bush, don't you? You think their corporate overseers ordered them to give it the kibosh and, weaselly lackeys that they are, they obeyed.

Most conspiracy theorists have never worked in an office because if they had they would realize that human beings are, more often than not, bumbling idiots.

But if you're right, and the bad guys are so clever, how do you think you have a chance? You think you and Kos Kids can outsmart them? They eat punks like you for breakfast.

How do you know Kos isn't one of their agents? Every candidate he backs loses. Weird. Or Michael Moore? It's almost as if he helps Bush whenever he opens his mouth. Weird.

Walt said...

I have never witnessed a comic routine that I would say after seeing it, "I will always remeber where I was when I saw the most amazing comic routine in history." Hyperbole, perhaps, but I, at this moment feel like I will never forget it. Stephen Colbert used the pregnant pause to perfection throughout his act. In his most cutting moment, when he mentions how difficult it is to send people into battle from a computer room, he pauses and everyone is silent. Instead of moving on, he makes everybody in the room uncomfortable about the statement. Perhaps, and if he did this, then it was truly a monumental feat, but perhaps, he made the press feel a sense of blame for helping generate false headlines that answered the question, "Why did we go to war?" Of course, this means he knew his audience perfectly.

I thought it was also a great gesture to have Helen Thomas sit by him at the head table. I didn't notice, but I wonder if Bush ate anything knowing she was just a couple of feat away. Thomas, representing the only journalist in the White House Press corpse who would question the obvious, was the only true journalist in the room. God Bless America!

And as for some of the previous comments who think that Colbert is truly right wing, that is classic and proves Colbert is one of the finest comedic actors in my generation. What, did you not get the whole guts-head bit.

joe said...

over here a better quality video (and downloadable)

Steven Colbert Whitehouse correspondents:

http://files.ww.com/download.html?id=13906 (16 min / 65 Mb Quicktime: top quality)

Bodie said...

I have to weigh in an second Walt's comments. Further, after watching the video, it seems clear to me that Stephen Colbert went in knowing that he was not going to be getting laughs from this audience. He went in to make some points and he made them exqusitely. Steely nerves, indeed.

peter hoh said...

Following Joe's link, I can hear much more audience laughter than I heard the first time I watched this. Perhaps, as in the Howard Dean scream, so much depends on the mic.

sparky said...

I suspect that the audience came expecting humor, which they got from Bush. But humor is not the same thing as satire. Perhaps the lack of Colbert coverage came about because most people don't enjoy being satirized. See the NYT report of the event as an example.

smasha said...

Amen. I loved it. It was exhilerating to watch him. I was scared, shocked, and elated. I have watched it again and again.
His commentary on the media moved me the most. It doesn't take balls to critizie Bush, it takes real courage to criticize the corp. media. It has the power to destroy an individual's reputation or prop someone without regard to the truth. It doesn't have the intrest of the American people at "heart", only corporate profits, as far as I am concerned.
It wasn't just what he said, it was what his character illustrates to all of us about the media.

Media blackout aside, the word is out. I am optimistic and look forward to watching the future of the (colglamorate) corporate media.

joe said...

Over here a good quality download of Steven Colbert Whitehouse correspondents:

http://files.ww.com/download.html?id=13906

(16 min / 65 Mb Quicktime: top quality!)

diandrasmom said...

I sent myself the video to my home email from a link from youtube.com. When I tried to put it on, I got a message saying the video was not available because of copyright issues!!! BIG BROTHER HAS SPOKEN!! The Stephen Colbert Routine DID NOT EVER HAPPEN!! You can still view it on Crooks and Liars, a good place for it. STEPHEN COLBERT ROCKS!!!

internum1 said...

Stephen Colbert is cool!
electronic circuits

Amchop said...

Johnny Nucleo, you cannot be serious. It takes a lot of guts to do what he did just a few feet from the POTUS. And its priceless to watch Bush just sit and have to take it. And Walt is right about the media squashing it. They've squashed it because the punishment was meted out against them as much,if not more so, than the President. Walt isnt saying they are covering for the President. They're covering for themselves. And anyone who doesn't realize he never thought he was going to get laughs has missed the point. Those pauses were CALCULATED for effect. Brilliant! If anyone wants to see the ineptitude that surrounds this administration....this is it. I guarantee the person who invited Colbert just didnt get the jokes and thought he was really right wing. Sad, but I guarantee true.

Amchop said...

Johnny Nucleo, you cannot be serious. It takes a lot of guts to do what he did just a few feet from the POTUS. And its priceless to watch Bush just sit and have to take it. And Walt is right about the media squashing it. They've squashed it because the punishment was meted out against them as much,if not more so, than the President. Walt isnt saying they are covering for the President. They're covering for themselves. And anyone who doesn't realize he never thought he was going to get laughs has missed the point. Those pauses were CALCULATED for effect. Brilliant! If anyone wants to see the ineptitude that surrounds this administration....this is it. I guarantee the person who invited Colbert just didnt get the jokes and thought he was really right wing. Sad, but I guarantee true.