Stephen Colbert's sizzling performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner Saturday night has all of liblogland cheering and throwing confetti, so allow me a few belated tosses of torn paper as well.
Unlike a lotta libs, I'm not a huge fan of Colbert's Fox News character -- not that I don't respect what he's doing, or that he hasn't made me laugh very hard on more than one occasion. It's just that for me, the fake sincerity bit, especially when aimed at rightwing shills, is incredibly limited and thus prone to immediate repetition. Mocking the obvious lasts thirty seconds tops, and that Colbert has stretched it over five years, most times quite effectively, is a testament to his comic talent and a sign of the squalid times in which we live. In a healthy political and social era, a caricature like Colbert's would make no sense, save as some abstract reminder of a deservedly forgotten age. Sadly, we are mired in endless bullshit and blood; and given our national "character" and collective inability to extract ourselves from this mess (poll numbers do not equal political action), it appears that this dreadful period will continue for some time. This reality enriches only a handful of constituencies: weapons dealers, corporate criminals, and political satirists. Colbert and his former colleagues at "The Daily Show" have plenty of carrion on which to feed, perhaps too much. A steady diet of rotten flesh does little to sharpen your appetite.
All that said, Colbert really brought it Saturday night. And if his performance won him countless new fans and viewers, it also may have marked his character's prime. Once you humiliate and shame your targets to their faces, the President of the United States included, your job is pretty much done. All subsequent performances are for those who are in on and share the joke -- a reinforcement of their political prejudice. Colbert seems on the verge of mass acceptance; and when "60 Minutes" gives you the soft profile treatment, what's the point of your satire?
Still, you had to love the tepid nervous laughter from the DC insiders who withered under Colbert's none-too-subtle assault. And watching Bush's pissed off expression was glorious. (Good thing for Colbert that this isn't the Middle Ages, or his head would've been on a pike before the banquet tables were cleared.) From what I could see, Colbert bombed, but righteously so. And the shocked, angry silence that followed this bit --
"I've got a theory about how to handle these retired generals causing all this trouble: don't let them retire! Come on, we've got a stop-loss program; let's use it on these guys. I've seen Zinni and that crowd on Wolf Blitzer. If you're strong enough to go on one of those pundit shows, you can stand on a bank of computers and order men into battle."
-- must have been as gratifying as a standing ovation. Lesser comics would've panicked in that vacuum; but Colbert, at least on the surface, remained calm as he flipped through the pages of his script. I thought that perhaps he had more in this vein, but decided to skip ahead to someone a little less controversial, in this case, Jesse Jackson. When in doubt, knock Jesse Jackson, always a favorite with upscale white audiences. But to his credit, Colbert didn't linger on the Reverend, using him as a segue to one of the better jokes of the night:
"Haven't heard from the Reverend in a little while. I had him on the show. Very interesting and challenging interview. You can ask him anything, but he's going to say what he wants, at the pace that he wants. It's like boxing a glacier. Enjoy that metaphor, by the way, because your grandchildren will have no idea what a glacier is."
Of course, once Colbert finished his act (ending with a very funny if too long video of him playing Bush's Press Secretary), the official explanations and dismissals began. (In this morning's New York Times, Elisabeth Bumiller completely omitted Colbert's act from that which is Fit To Print.) According to Editor & Publisher:
"Those seated near Bush told E&P's Joe Strupp, who was elsewhere in the room, that Bush had quickly turned from an amused guest to an obviously offended target as Colbert’s comments brought up his low approval ratings and problems in Iraq.
"Several veterans of past dinners, who requested anonymity, said the presentation was more directed at attacking the president than in the past. Several said previous hosts, like Jay Leno, equally slammed both the White House and the press corps.
“'This was anti-Bush,' said one attendee. 'Usually they go back and forth between us and him.' Another noted that Bush quickly turned unhappy. 'You could see he stopped smiling about halfway through Colbert,' he reported.
"After the gathering, [Press Secretary Tony] Snow, while nursing a Heineken outside the Chicago Tribune reception, declined to comment on Colbert. 'I’m not doing entertainment reviews,' he said. 'I thought the president was great, though.'”
A line worthy of Colbert's creation. You can make this stuff up.