October 19, 2005

The trouble with making fun of punditry.

A negative view of "The Colbert Report" in The New Republic (free link!):
"The Colbert Report" dragged through long laughless parts. Why? For two reasons: First, the people Colbert is ridiculing are already widely viewed as cartoonish; and second, he has chosen parody, rather than mockery, as the vehicle for making his point....

During his interview with [Stone] Phillips, Colbert complimented his guest's neck, boasted about his own Emmy and Peabody awards, and debated the merits of different tie knots. Basically he teased him. This kind of light banter is key to [Jon] Stewart's interviewing technique, but it's usually inlaid with more sincere questions. The balance of funny and anodyne keeps the report buoyant. But in his parodic mode, Colbert couldn't retreat into normal conversation. And his frantic humor seemed to discomfit Phillips, the audience, and the cameraman (the interview was a series of awkward angles and cuts).

Phillips's uncomfortable turn as a guest raises a question about "The Colbert Report": Is it lampooning newscasters, or is it promoting their senses of humor? Up until the interview segment, the show seemed like a straight-up O'Reilly spoof. But O'Reilly doesn't interview fellow cable newsmen; he talks to officials, congressmen, scandal-ridden citizens. He does so with an inane ferocity, while Colbert interrogated Phillips with a prankish, but gentle, buffoonery. So "The Colbert Report" has a split personality--on the one hand, making fun of punditry; on the other, winking along with it. The scheduling of future guests such as Lesley Stahl indicates that this schism will persist.
It is hard to do the comic character while interacting with real guests. Martin Short was able to do it as Jiminy Glick, but most of his guests were comedians, who had some ability to play along with the game. (Jerry Seinfeld was truly sublime as a guest on that show!) So far, Colbert has had only newsfolk on, and they are so preening about their images and not much good in the acting department.

1 comment:

Troy said...

Ann, I thought the interview he did with Congressman "what's his name" from Savannah, GA was great. It tracked the stuff he'd done on Daily Show, but was funny -- especially when quizzing him about his fraternity and looking for girls. I always assume the politician knows he's getting prodded, but the editing is fabulous and it's hard to tell if the deer in the headlights look is real or edited in.

I don't mind getting a peek at Stone Phillips' sense of humor. Quite frankly, it's nice to know he has one (same for Leslie Stahl). It makes him seem less pompous in a way.