Saturday, May 06, 2006

Funny or Not, Colbert Hit the Mark

Last week saw a mini-controversy in the wake of Stephen Colbert's appearance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. (A complete transcript of Colbert's remarks is available.) Colbert had been invited by the AP to do a version of his schtick from his Comedy Central show The Colbert Report (pronounced col-bare re-pore), in which he parodies pompous right-wing talking heads like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. Colbert delivered in spades, pretending to praise Bush while skewering him with sarcasm at every turn. Bush could be seen chuckling during the early part of Colbert's talk, but by the second half he was clearly seething.

Fox News
, which was the recipient of several of Colbert's barbs, was quick to condemn him as having transgressed "over the line." Other members of the press, perhaps feeling stung as well by Colbert's reminders that they had collectively given this administration a free pass until recently, piled on with comments like, "rude, ungracious, not funny." By contrast, everyone seemed wonderfully amused by Bush's silliness at the opening of the festivities, in which he and comic double Steve Bridges uttered parallel -- but contradictory -- comments.

If "taste" was the primary concern, then how to explain the nearly universal acceptance of Don Imus' comments at the same affair in 1996, in which he basically got up and insulted Bill and Hillary Clinton? Or, more to the point, Bush's extremely tasteless video sketch at the Radio and Television Correspondents' Dinner in 2004 in which he scours the White House looking for the "missing" WMDs? Is the White House Press Corps still so afraid of offending President Dimwit that they rush to defend him from a satirist?

And, while we're on the subject, let's remind ourselves what "satire" is. It's not the sophomoric silliness that passes for comedy on most of the network sitcoms these days. Satire is supposed to make you think -- even scratch your head for a moment before recognition and mirth set in. I'm old enough to remember a satirist named Mort Sahl. When he spoke, you weren't exactly rolling on the floor laughing, but you got it, and you felt you had shared a special kind of understanding with the man.

There is something more than little disingenous about the American media, who parade the exploits of empty-heads like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears as if these people actually had any redeeming qualities, and then get on their high horses and act offended because a comedian dared to tell the truth about a president who can't stop lying for a second.


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