Thursday, May 04, 2006

You know how Colbert is always talking about people "getting it"? Richard Cohen doesn't (Edit: Now with someone that does)

Richard Cohen doesn't:

Colbert made jokes about Bush's approval rating. 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.
Either Cohen has absolutely no idea about the Colbert persona, or he's got the single worst sense of humor I've ever seen.

He referred to the recent White House staff changes, chiding the press for supposedly repeating the cliché "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.
Ok, it's both. He doesn't get the joke, and doesn't get that a principal part of Colbert's persona is his satire of wingnuts' desperate desire to spin in Bush's favor.

Too bad. Cohen can be insightful sometimes, but when you say stuff like this:

Mockery that is insulting is not. This is why Colbert was more than rude. He was a bully
... about someone who is criticizing George W. Bush, you betray that not only do you not get the joke, you've forgotten what your job is supposed to be- to serve as a check on power, instead of its apologist.

Edit: John Rogers, however, does, and he's a comic:

In various circumstances as a road comic, I have seen every comic you can imagine, at some point or another, suck it. Hard. Seinfeld, Leno, Belzer, Ellen*, Ray Romano, pick 'em. Sometimes you just don't gel with an audience, but at that point you've been doing it long enough not to suddenly think the five years of good shows were somehow flukes.

But I have seen plenty of people "bomb" who left me breathless with the genius of their writing. Larry David, who a fair number of even the conservative culture mavens love, was notorious for his spellbinding nightclub routines that comics standing in the back of the room marvelled at but audiences hated. Garry Shandling famously worked open-mike nights for something like SEVEN YEARS before he was able to meld his brilliant writing with something audiences could relate to.

If Colbert "bombed", it was because the audience didn't like him. And you know what -- they WEREN'T SUPPOSED TO. We have been treated to toothless feel-good comedy for so long, we have forgotten what the court jester's job was: he was the only guy who could mock the King. And, seeing as we now have a President who acts like a King, it's only fitting that Colbert revive the tradition in its truest form. If I remember correctly, the toady court followers were also fair game for the Jester, and we could hardly call the modern media anything less these days, can we?
Ok, maybe John Rogers needs to be sent to a Re-Neducation camp for WrongThink, but meanwhile, I think he knows comedy better than Cohen.

Edit: Oh hell, I just read the best analogy I've seen yet for the Colbert performance. From Warren Benedetto's comment in the thread of that post:

Watching Colbert, I suddenly felt that same rush I felt hearing some of those groundbreaking comics for the first time. Not because the material was so shocking or original (though I do think it was one of the most brilliant pieces of comedy writing I've heard in ages), but because of how brazen Colbert was in his choice of audiences. He didn't say anything that hasn't been said on The Daily Show every day for the last 5 years, but WHO he said it to ... wow.

That wasn't an audience not laughing. That was an audience left speechless. They were made uncomfortable in the same way audiences were when Richard Pryor stood up and shoved their subconscious racism in their faces. That just doesn't happen anymore, and it was a delight to witness.
Richard Pryor, like Bill Hicks (whose performances Colbert reminded me of) and Lenny Bruce was one of those comics that didn't always make you laugh, but only because your brain was reeling in shock that "somebody is actually saying that. Now. Here. To THIS AUDIENCE. I love Pryor's material, but even now much of it is truly is shocking to listen to... you laugh, but it's difficult, because the anger and frustration and alienation comes through like a beacon in the dark.

(I still can't get over Pryor's "Bicentennial Nigger" routine. Listen to a live performance of it sometime. People don't laugh, because it's almost painful...but it's also absolutely brilliant, and necessary, and we're better for having had him say it.)

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