Category: Late Night

Review: Stephen Colbert’s “I Am America (And So Can You!)”

Filed Under Late Night, Print

The cover to Stephen Colbert's Book, I Am America (And So Can You)One of the things people wonder about “The Colbert Report” is: “How long can they keep this joke going?” At almost two years now, the character of “Stephen Colbert” shows very few signs of wear. The book “I Am America (And So Can You!)” is a little risky to the persona. You don’t have the contained screwball charm of Stephen Colbert, the person, to back up the jokes. For more than a few of the jokes to land, you have to have that character in your head and read in his cadence. The writers even somewhat acknowledge this in the second chapter:

“That was a joke, in case you couldn’t tell. I don’t blame you if you couldn’t. Can’t tell if someone’s making a joke if you can’t see that person’s face. Big reason I don’t like books. No faces. Can’t tell when they’re being funny.”

Of course, quite brilliantly, they put a picture of Stephen’s smiling face right in the margin there. Still, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book as someone first exposure to Colbert. But for members of the Colbert Nation, this book is just about perfect.

The book is constructed as opinions on facets of American life (including Family, Religion and Sports) and everything considered to oppose it, which is roughly every other chapter. The essays have plenty of lists, pull quotes and factoids - making it perfect for jumping right in anywhere instead of reading cover to cover. In keeping close to the show’s segment “The Word”, the margins of the text have additional jokes in red - although these are more throwaways rather than counterpoints as they often are in the show. It can get a little distracting going back and reading each little joke as you go through the text, but if you’re reading in nuggets rather than chapters, tracking down every joke should be just fine.

Probably because I did read it straight through, some of my favorite parts of the book are the breaks from the character in Stephen Colbert via essays from characters who agree with Stephen Colbert. My favorites among them are God on why he doesn’t answer prayers and the reader’s soulmate who tortures us with the knowledge that she/he would have been right there if we had just made a different choice with our lives. Perhaps some of the most brutal gags in the book are in “The Fun Zone” section particularly in a word find for racist words and a match the ball sack to the neutered dog game which includes Bob Barker as one of the choices.

Not every Colbert show joke makes it into the book - particularly surprising is the lack of an “Alpha Squad 7 Tek Jansen Adventure” - I don’t think it’s even mentioned in the book. Maybe this might take away from Colbert’s calls on publishers to pick up the unpublishable book on the show. Or perhaps, it’s just perfect for the sequel.

One of the most valuable parts of the book is the complete transcript of Colbert’s now legendary address at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner. It’s one of the shining lights of satire in this century and done straight in the face of those who needed to hear it most. This book’s not for them, but for those who recognize truthiness when they see it and find reveling in it, rather than cursing it, to be the best way of getting through to 2009.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 03:24 PM | Comments (3)

How Much News is in the Daily Show’s Fake News?

Filed Under Late Night, Satire

A little while back, a blogger for CBS News talked about “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” being no substitute for regular news. It’s been funny to watch the mainstream media clamor to attach meaning to both shows - despite any disavowals from Jon Stewart & Co. It’s a little natural that perhaps a little professional jealousy will rise up to try and tear down what they themselves have built up.

CBS’s blogger takes issue with “Daily” and “Colbert” as news sources because when viewers were tested on knowledge of news facts they knew less than most of other news sources, using the same Pew Research Center study that many use to prove the satire shows’ importance. One of the things that he neglect to mention is that the people who get their news from comedy show is taken in the most broad way possible. They’re counting SNL, Leno and Letterman in there. Though there’s definitely political jokes in there, there’s very little news content. So to dismiss the informative qualities of “The Daily Show” when it’s paired with many less-than-news sources isn’t very fair. I’m pretty sure that if you test Daily Show or Colbert viewers on their own, the results would be much higher on the scale.

Particularly because, as far as news content, The Daily Show was studied by Indiana University and found to be as substantive as regular network news. And that is why some people probably can and do use it as a sources. I’ve said this before, but for a joke to land, you can’t let the spin and the falsehood be the set-up. You have to use facts. Truth. So much of network news has been simply presentation without critical thinking, which allows the spin to drag their news content down.

The CBS post closes with by trying to parallel the Daily Show with dessert after a meal of regular news, but with the amount of spin and obfuscation that’s seeping into our news, what the Daily Show really is is the menu that tells you what the hell you just ate.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 06:49 PM | Comments (2)

Letterman Baseball Joke in Play

Filed Under Late Night

It’s a bit after the fact, but I wanted to point out this post about an “Ill-Timed Baseball Joke” by David Letterman on Huffington Post’s “Eat the Press” blog. Essentially, it says that the writers for Letterman should have considered triming a segment once they knew that Yankee’s pitcher Cory Lidle had been on the single engine plane that crashed in Manhattan last week. There’s really no reference what about the joke was offensive, just that it was about baseball.

I’d missed the segment myself but after doing some digging on Letterman own site, I found their “Wahoo Gazette” which describes the bit as:

ALAN KALTER’S MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL MINUTE: Alan grabs the microphone and starts singing Fergie’s “London Bridge.”

  “All my girls get down on the floor
  Back to back, drop it down real low.
  I’m such a lady, but I’m dancing like a ho,
  Cause you know,
  I don’t give a ‘givl’, so here we go!

  How come every time you come around,
  My London London Bridge wanna go down like
  London London London wanna go down like,
  London London London, we goin down!”

So first off, it’s pretty specious to claim that a bit should be censored because it’s about a sport a victim played - particularly since at least one playoff game (Detroit vs. Oakland) was played that night. It’s a fair target. The bit leads one to think it’d be about the day’s game highlights. But on top of it, the bit isn’t even really about baseball! It’s not in “poor taste” or “tacky and tone-deaf”, it’s just a bit of nonsense that wonderfully silly.

The post even evokes the silliness surrounding the Conan’s Emmy bit - which not one family member of a plane crash victim complained about, but rather an overanxious local broadcaster. For now on, if there’s a chance someone might get upset a joke, let’s let one of the actual victim or victim’s families complain about it first before we jump in, OK? Maybe they’ll see the humor when you can’t. I understand the need for comics to be sensitive about recent tragedies, but this is horseshit.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 04:52 PM | Comments (7)

Rob Corddry Hates You

Filed Under Late Night

In Rob Corddry’s Wednesday report on the Daily Show entitled “Racist Like Me”, he ends his report stating that people might say “he’s a pretty decent guy, unless of course, you’re one of these things. In which case I hate your guts.”

After the jump the nearly 200 groups Rob Corddry hates…

Read More »

Posted by Todd Jackson at 05:23 PM | Comments (25)

“Daily Show”, Jon Stewart Still Funny

Filed Under Late Night, Satire

The Boston Globe ran a rather ridiculous op-ed today entitled “Why Jon Stewart isn’t funny”. The argument isn’t so much about Jon’s mirth-creating abilities, but rather the effect of “The Daily Show” on younger people who could become public servants.

Using a composite (a la Nick Sylvester), the writer describes a recent graduate, progressive and “Daily Show” viewer who goes into financial services rather than beginning their careers working for, I suppose, local or state government. The idea is that watching “The Daily Show” makes talented minds less likely to engage in our political process because they see it so full of idiots that they feel better than it.

Completely ludicrous. There’s all kinds of paths to political change, and, considering the amount of money required to win offices these days, working in financial services might make you in a better position to run for office than a career politico (see Bloomberg). There’s going to be no loss of brilliant minds to politics because of “The Daily Show.” The show is not responsible for making politics entertainment; it’s the 24-hour news channels which show flacks aiming their talking points at each other and then chuckling when the other gets a good one in. They’ve made it a game and “The Daily Show” points that out regularily and not from some ironic “aloofness”. The show sublimates the anger under it’s fake news persona, but it’s outraged at the level of spin and the lack of the truth from political leaders. Both it and “The Colbert Report” make viewers more engaged in politics simply by making it clear you’re not the only one who feels so frustrated by our current political system. Pointing out what’s broken doesn’t mean that nobody will want to fix it; it makes them want to fix it more.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 12:22 PM | Comments (0)

Cheney Season Still Open

Filed Under Jokes, Late Night

Yesterday the media wrote many stories about the field day Late Night talks show hosts had with Vice President Dick Cheney shooting Harry Whittington. My favorite joke was Letterman’s: “But here is the sad part—before the trip Donald Rumsfeld had denied the guy’s request for body armor.” (More of 2/13’s jokes here.) The White House tried to (perhaps wrongly) find humor of the situation themselves, in hopes of downplaying the event. But then, once it was announced Whittington had a heart attack, the question of how appropriate it was for the jokes to continue was raised (and answered, at least for politcians, as “not at all”).

Last night’s Daily Show was brilliant, again showing the flexibility the show’s unique form allows for making humor about events that have taken darker turns. First the acknowledgement that the story itself has been downgraded from “Incredibly Hilarious” to “Still Funny, But, MMM, Now a Little Sad”, using the much-abused comedic fodder of the Terror Alert chart as an illustration. (The bottom of the scale was “Brechtian”) Then the Daily Show could continue writing jokes which, instead of focusing on the uncomfortable aspects of the actual shotting, slamed the evasive behavior of Scott McClellan in the White House briefing room - a far more worthy target for satire anyway. Pretty consistently, the Daily Show makes great comedy that goes beyond simple punchlines the audience could practically write themselves (and now regularly does, thanks to the Internet). They’re the only comedy show that’s made material about how horribly unforthcoming the White House was about the event or to find humor in the logistics of the hunt - driving up to shoot “flightless wingless quail tards.”

Staying away from the obvious - even on days when the jokes are so easy - is the reason The Daily Show resonates far more than anything else in Late Night today. And even better, when a topic gets hard to find humor in, that’s when their approach really delivers.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 08:02 AM | Comments (1)

Colbert and Stewart: Just Jerking Off?

Filed Under Late Night

The New Yorker review of The Colbert Report takes note, of all things, of the amount of applause the two get when coming back from commercial, calling it “something masturbatory” to leave all the adulation in. Then they reference Portnoy’s Complaint

As Colbert might say, “They don’t get it.” First, the show is live to tape, which means that whatever happens goes right on air, save if they go long (as guest Matthew McConaughey once disturbingly did in telling a story of the sexual habits of his pet goat). Plus, the audience IS that enthusiastic, possibly because nothing else in media demonstrates their level of frustration with the current administration. (Also, because Jon, from all reports, is quite personable with them during the show.) The show in general even resists going for applause, preferring as all comics should, laughs.

It’s a weird thing to point out (and possibly an even sillier blog post), but it would have been far more interesting, comedically, to talk about Colbert inhabiting a character for a half hour and how that affects the show, than about how people seem to enjoy it too much.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 10:18 AM | Comments (0)