Collected comments on Stephen Colbert’s monologue at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.
Colbert was not just a failure as a comedian but rude. Rude is not the same as brash. It is not the same as brassy. It is not the same as gutsy or thinking outside the box. Rudeness means taking advantage of the other person’s sense of decorum or tradition or civility that keeps that other person from striking back or, worse, rising in a huff and leaving. The other night, that person was George W. Bush.
Colbert made jokes about Bush’s approval rating, which hovers in the middle 30s. He made jokes about Bush’s intelligence, mockingly comparing it to his own. “We’re not some brainiacs on nerd patrol,” he said. Boy, that’s funny.
Colbert took a swipe at Bush’s Iraq policy, at domestic eavesdropping, and he took a shot at the news corps for purportedly being nothing more than stenographers recording what the Bush White House said. He referred to the recent staff changes at the White House, chiding the media for supposedly repeating the cliche “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” when he would have put it differently: “This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg.” A mixed metaphor, and lame as can be.
Why are you wasting my time with Colbert, I hear you ask. Because he is representative of what too often passes for political courage, not to mention wit, in this country. His defenders — and they are all over the blogosphere — will tell you he spoke truth to power. This is a tired phrase, as we all know, but when it was fresh and meaningful it suggested repercussions, consequences — maybe even death in some countries. When you spoke truth to power you took the distinct chance that power would smite you, toss you into a dungeon or — if you’re at work — take away your office.
But in this country, anyone can insult the president of the United States. Colbert just did it, and he will not suffer any consequence at all. He knew that going in. He also knew that Bush would have to sit there and pretend to laugh at Colbert’s lame and insulting jokes. Bush himself plays off his reputation as a dunce and his penchant for mangling English. Self-mockery can be funny. Mockery that is insulting is not. The sort of stuff that would get you punched in a bar can be said on a dais with impunity. This is why Colbert was more than rude. He was a bully.
I call him brave when he mocks Mohammed on the air. Until then, he’s not even a bully. He’s just a comedian, only one who’s not being very funny.
For those of us in the smart political set who are right about Bush being wrong in Iraq and elsewhere, it was hard to swallow. At the White House Correspondent’s Association dinner Saturday night in Washington the President embarrassingly outironicized Stephen Colbert. If, as Kierkegaard long ago understood, the capacity for ironic self-reflection is a sign of deep intelligence, what did it mean?
I surprised myself by saying to Mort Zuckerman that “a man who is that funny can’t be all bad.” And his timing was better than Jerry Seinfeld’s…
Bush may not be able to beat the Iraqi insurgents or Osama bin Laden, but he surely put Steve Colbert’s performance afterward to shame. Has he disarmed Comedy Central by being funnier than they are? I certainly thought so.
Joshua Trevino sums it all up.
H/T to Glenn Reynolds.