Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Wolcott "gets it" about Stephen Colbert

James Wolcott has the best take I've seen so far on Stephen Colbert's blistering satire at the White House Correspondant's Dinner:

A note about the Stephen Colbert monologue at the Correspondents' Dinner that Elisabeth Bumiller seems to have slept through face-down in her entree. No question the stint played better on TV than it did in the room with C-SPAN cutting to gowned lovelies in the audience with glaceed expressions and tuxedo'd men making with the nervous eyes, but to say he "bombed" or "stunk up the place" (Jonah Goldberg's usual elegance) is wishful thinking on behalf of the wishful thinkers on the right, who have nothing but wishful thinking to prop them up during the day....

..... Instead, Colbert was cool, methodical, and mercilessly ironic, not getting rattled when the audience quieted with discomfort (and resorting to self-deprecating "savers," as most comedians do), but closing in on the kill, as unsparing of the press as he was of the president. I mean no disrespect to Jon Stewart to say that in the same circumstances, he would have resorted to shtick; Colbert didn't. Apart from flubbing the water-half-empty joke about Bush's poll ratings, he was in full command of his tone, comic inflection, and line of attack. The we-are-not-amused smile Laura Bush gave him when he left the podium was a priceless tribute to the displeasure he incurred. To me, Colbert looked very relaxed after the Bushes left the room and he greeted audience members, signed autographs. And why wouldn't he be? He achieved exactly what he wanted to achieve, delivered the message he intended to deliver. Mission accomplished.
Not much else to say, really. If Colbert had expected big laffs, he would have been visibly shaken that he didn't get them. Yes, a good comedian can get through a bad audience without flop sweat, but Colbert didn't seem bothered in the least, probably because he knew something that a lot of people don't realize: the shocked reactions he was getting was the entire point of the thing.

Stephen Colbert didn't need to make those people laugh. He has nothing to prove as a comedian, or as a satirist. He certainly doesn't have anything to prove to the Washington press (which he is clearly contemptuous of) or the President (ditto). He didn't need to, and he didn't try.

Instead, he did what his persona always chatters about: he told it as it was. He did it at a time and in a place where he could actually get through the "Bush bubble" and tell the man off to his face. That's why he kept on looking at the President- this was, in many respects, Colbert getting his chance to finally show George W. Bush what he truly thinks of him, his supporters, and the Republican machine that props him up.

As Wolcott said: "Mission accomplished".

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